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Bangor actor Richard Clements on bringing his war hero relative’s poignant story to the stage
Actor Richard Clements
Richard Clements' grandfather Norman
Richard Clements (grey shirt) in The Fall
John Toner Twitter Email
The Fall actor Richard Clements has spoken of his delight at bringing his grandfather’s poetic voice to life in a new play exploring the war hero’s struggles with PTSD.
Norman Clements returned from the Second World War with severe mental health problems, having served as a lance corporal with the Royal Irish Fusiliers 1st Battalion.
Bangor man Richard wrote a play about his late grandfather’s life, How to Bury a Dead Mule, during the second Covid-19 lockdown.
Ahead of the show’s run at The Lyric Theatre in Belfast this week, he told Sunday Life about the emotional journey he took to telling his grandfather’s story.
“I’ve often wondered what he would think of the piece. He died in 2011 and wasn’t a big theatregoer, not at all,” the first-time producer said.
“He only ever came to see me once in a play. I did a production of Observe The Sons Of Ulster Walking Towards The Somme in 2003. I thought of all the plays that would be one to appeal to him.
“He was standing on the street outside afterwards and said, ‘I enjoyed that. Keep doing what you’re doing’, which I am.
“I don’t know how he would have felt about this play. He might have been a bit bemused by it or equally he could have been really proud of it.
“I think there’s a real poetry in the language and the music. He would have always scribbled fragments of poetry and write little short stories.
“I think he was trying to find a poetic voice himself. I’m sort of helping him get across the line with that. It’s such a lovely thing to be able to do.
“Throughout the lockdowns, the impetus in creating this has been my mum. She had recorded him talking about the war years ago and transcribed it during the first lockdown.
“I was able to lean on those for the language of the time and also to be able to speak to her about growing up in lower Ormeau with him.
“It’s been great as a family. It’s really brought us together in thinking about his memory.”
Richard Clements' grandfather Norman
Banbridge man Norman served in north Africa, Sicily and mainland Italy during the Second World War. He suffered from extreme PTSD as result, leading him to be sectioned several times.
After a run of two nights at The Lyric earlier this year, the play returns this week with new and improved audio-visual components.
Richard said: “We’re back bigger and better than earlier this year with a full week at The Lyric, which I’m over the moon about.
“I’ve spent the last few months deep in production. I’ve never produced anything before, so this has been a year of firsts. It has sent me off on a journey which has led to a lot of interesting partnerships, including with the Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum and NI Screen’s Digital Film Archive.
“We use video as part of the production, and they have been great in helping us achieve that. We have actual footage from the period [that] we are able to use, which is incredibly exciting.
“Part of the reason for doing that is to keep the cultural heritage alive and make sure that stories like this don’t get forgotten.
“My grandfather suffered greatly from PTSD, and the thrust of the one-man show is looking at the impact of that on him and his family. You get this fragmented look at three periods in his life.
“My hope is that people enjoy the story and that we can keep that history alive through the joy of theatre.”
How To Bury A Dead Mule is at The Lyric from Tuesday through to Saturday with tickets available via the website, lyrictheatre.co.uk
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