After completing a sell-out run at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast at the start of summer, the new adaption of Marie Jones’ ‘A Night in November’ is currently on tour across Northern Ireland, celebrating 25 years since the monodrama was first brought to the stage. Directed by Marie’s son, Matthew McElhinney, the play features actor Matthew Forsythe who seamlessly transitions through numerous characters as drama and comedy unfold.

First performed in 1994, the narrative of the play is from the point of view of Kevin McAllister, a Belfast Protestant and Northern Ireland football fan who begins to struggle with his own identity and beliefs following the events of the FIFA World Cup qualifying game between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland at Windsor Park.

With the tour arriving at the Ardhowen Theatre next weekend, Matthew McElhinney spoke to The Impartial Reporter about the changes in attitude in Northern Ireland over the last 25 years and how his new adaptation of his mother’s script reflects this without “pulling any punches.”

“I am a Northern Ireland football fan and this play didn’t show Northern Ireland support in the most glowing terms,” said Matthew.

He continued: “It was something when I was approaching the material that I thought, ‘how do I kind of atone for its image,’ because it divided opinion, it was written at a very politically sensitive time.”

Explaining that his adaptation of the play is presented 25 years on, with Kenneth looking back at what society was like and asking the question, ‘how much has changed,’ Matthew added: “It’s framed now within the context of today, so recently in 2016, at the Euros, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland fans went over to France and they were awarded the Grand Vermeil, the medal of honour in the city of Paris. They were celebrated for the fantastic atmosphere they brought to the tournament so it’s that in comparison with the football match which is the centre piece of the play in the early nineties in Windsor Park which was so politically charged.”

With his version of the play, Matthew wanted to highlight how as a society we have come forward massively, especially in terms of football support. He said: “It’s been a shining example for the rest of society about how to move forward. That was the angle I wanted to look at.”

He added: “The event is centred around football but it is a story that kind of transcends its context. That is the capitalising event for this guy Kenneth, and it was a capitalising event for Marie as well, it’s really a critique of her own community, which at the time was a very brave thing to do.”

Talking about his theatrical background and how his career in acting has helped him “massively” as a director, Matthew said:

“I went into the theatre, really since I left school. My parents are both involved in the arts, and I ended up going in that direction myself. I tried not to but it was kind of in my DNA so I’ve been working as an actor really since I was about 17 and then the past couple of years I moved towards directing.”

He continued: “I’ve always found that the best directors for actors were directors who have acted before themselves because they have a sensitivity to what it is you do, and as an actor, how you approach material.”

“I think it helps massively in terms of how you speak to actors, how to get out of them what you want,” he added.

Although he has directed productions before, Matthew explained that ‘A Night in November’ is the first play he has directed for a main stage.

When asked if he felt extra pressure directing a play written by his mother, Matthew said:

“Yes and no, the pressure came from two directions because obviously there was the pressure of getting the play right in terms of not distorting it too much and not trying to pull any punches with it and then there was the pressure from the wider social context of the Northern Ireland fans and trying to basically balance it out in my head.”

He added: “Of all the plays I think of my mother’s that I could have directed, this is probably the most challenging in a sense because of that.”

A one-man show, ‘A Night in November’ relies heavily on the actor who plays Kenneth, a part Matthew described as “incredibly difficult” to cast.

“It’s an incredibly difficult part to cast because the guy’s got to be right for our main character of Kenneth,” commented Matthew. “He’s got to embody him and have this kind of ‘everyman’ quality, but he’s also got to have the versatility and range on stage to portray so many different characters so we kind of threw out a wide net with it in terms of casting.”

Out of over 300 submissions, Matthew Forsythe secured the part of Kenneth.

“When he came in and auditioned I thought we’ve found him, because he embodies him so well. There’s no-one on the planet who could play this particular part better, the guy’s fantastic. He’s a fantastic actor but he’s just so right for this part. It was fantastic when we found him,” Matthew concluded.

Presented by Soda Bread Theatre Company, the 25th Anniversary tour of ‘A Night in November’ will take to the Ardhowen stage on Saturday, September 7.