The Freedom of the City

Written by Brian Friel

Thurs 22nd January - Sat 24th January & Thurs 27th January - Sat 31st January 1998

Directed by Damon Wakelin

'The Freedom of The City' is Brian Friel's most overtly political play. Set in Derry during the aftermath of a civil rights meeting, it conjures the events of "Bloody Sunday".
Three unarmed marchers find themselves in the mayor's parlour in the Guildhall. Oblivious to the panic their presence has provoked, they take advantage of the Mayor's hospitality and talk of life, love and liberty. Friel's play about ordinary people surviving in extraordinary times, "fleshes the awful, numbing casualty statistics and gives them breath and life".

AuthorBrian Friel

Brian Friel (b 1929)

Friel was born in Omagh, County Tyrone. Educated in Derry, he worked as a teacher and councillor. His first radio plays were produced in 1958: 'A Sort of Freedom' and 'To This Hard House'. These were followed by 'A Doubtful Paradise', his first stage play. Friel began writing short stories for The New Yorker in 1959 and shortly afterwards, he took leave from his full-time job in 1960 to pursue a career as writer.

During the early 60s he wrote 59 articles for The Irish Press and found his first success as a playwright in 1964 with 'Philadelphia Here I Come!'. 'The Loves of Cass McGuire' and 'Lovers' followed in the next 3 years and during the remainder of the 1960s and the 1970's Friel produced further works including 'The Freedom of The City', 'Volunteers', 'Living Quarters' and 'Faith Healer'.

One of his more successful plays is 'Translations' which he wrote in 1980. However that decade is marked for him by a dearth of writing. It seems the conflict for his time as Director of the Field Day Theatre Company meant little time for writing. However, following his resignation from that post he was able to rise to prominence again with plays such as 'Dancing at Lughnasa' which was written in 1990 and which is probably his most widely performed and successful play.

An intensely private man, Friel rarely gives interviews or information about his private life. He was elected to the Aosdana in 2006 (being one of only seven living members allowed to hold that post at any one time) and in 2009, The Queen's University of Belfast built a new theatre complex and research centre named after him.

PlayThe Freedom of the City

The Freedom of the City was first produced in 1973. It is set in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1970 in the aftermath of a Civil Rights meeting, and follows three protesters who mistakenly find themselves in the Guildhall. The three unarmed marchers fleeing the tanks and tear gas find themselves in the mayor's parlour. Lily, a cleaning lady and mother to eleven children, thinks it's an adventure. Skinner wants to cause as much damage as possible and Michael uses the time to think. As the police and army exaggerate their presence into "occupation", then into a full-scale armed invasion, they pay with their lives for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The play illustrates their final hours in the Guildhall, their failed escape and the subsequent tribunal into their deaths.

Following a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march on 30 January 1972 in the events now known as Bloody Sunday, in which Friel participated, the British 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment opened fire on the protesters which resulted in thirteen deaths. An early form of the play, having been started approximately ten months prior to Bloody Sunday, was modified following the events of the day to entail certain links to the events. The play was originally presented in Dublin at the Abbey Theatre and in London at the Royal Court.

The Bench Production

The Freedom of the City poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


SkinnerNeil Pugmire
LilyIngrid Corrigan
MichaelMike Hickman
PhotographerSam Emery
Father BrosnanJohn Blackmore
JudgeStuart Hartley
Police ConstableRoy Dorland
SoldiersChris Stacey
Andy Rees
Dr DoddsDebbie Money
O'KellySam Emery
Army Press OfficerAndy Rees
Brigadier Johnson-HansburyJohn Blackmore
PriestAndy Rees
Dr WinbourneRoy Dorland
Professor CuppleyAndy Rees


Director Damon Wakelin
Stage Manager Chris Stacey
Assistant Stage Manager Annie Baillie
Design Damon Wakelin
Lighting Operation David Penrose
Sound Operation Peter Woodward
Photographs John Plimmer
Leaflet Design Peter Woodward
Original Music Rob Finn

Director's Notes

Brian Friel has been a favourite writer of mine since I appeared in the Bench production of 'Dancing at Lughnasa'. His use of language, his ability to transform ordinary voices into the voices of poets is both remarkable and affecting. The seamless transition from comedy to tragedy is the trademark of a truly great writer.

Whilst 'The Freedom of the City' is an overtly political play, concerned as it is with the political situation in Northern Ireland, it is also an essentially humanist play and it was this combination that drew me to it. In choosing any play there has to be a moment in the reading of it that moves me. Joe's death and his son's descent into disillusionment and grief in 'All My Sons'; Kattrin's final act of defiance in 'Mother Courage' and Teddy's touching, hopeless loyalty in 'Faith Healer'. This play is no exception and I don't think you'll have any problem in spotting the moment that caught me.

There is also a great deal of humour and compassion, drawn out through the three central characters, their lives and experiences. The intricate plotting of the piece too provides an intriguing theatrical experience, two or three separate areas being explored simultaneously.

I am greatly indebted to the members of the cast who have all worked extremely hard through a prohibitively short rehearsal period. It has been great fun throughout - just how theatre should be.

Damon Wakelin


The NewsMike Allen

Play so close to home

Painfully close to home. Are the British really so ready to lie and kill in defence of their domination? It rings all too true.

Brian Friel's play is set in Derry during and after a protest march. Three unarmed individuals - escaping tanks, CS gas, rubber bullets and water cannon - find themselves in the mayor's parlour. One earnest young man believes all will be well if they behave respectably, go out and tell the truth. A secure portrayal by Mike Hickman in this Bench Theatre production. A middle-aged mother of 11, even more innocent, prattles brightly and often comically about her family. Ingrid Corrigan in fine whimsical form. But another young man knows they will be shot dead. This is the most complex role and Neil Pugmire grows into it to the point where his awareness of imminent murder is palpable.

But occasionally I was more conscious of the edginess in his acting than of the edginess of the character, teetering between hardness and flippancy.

The News, 23rd January 1998

Production Photographs