Pilgrim – humanity at its best during time of terror

Rex Ryan in Pilgrim, a drama set in Newfoundland in September 2001 after the terrorist attack on New York's Twin Towers.
Rex Ryan in Pilgrim, a drama set in Newfoundland in September 2001 after the terrorist attack on New York's Twin Towers.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

While working as a hotel barman in 2010, Philip Doherty struck up a friendship with a Scottish businessman,  a long-time resident of the hotel.  Over a drink one night, the man told Philip how he’d been on a flight from London to Texas on September 11, 2001. Suddenly and without explanation, two stealth bombers appeared and the plane changed course. Everybody was freaked out.  It was only when the plane landed in a tiny airport in Gambo, Newfoundland, that passengers were told New York’s Twin Towers had been the subject of a terrorist attack. Hundreds of other airlines from all over the world had been diverted to the same airport and for three days, this businessman and his flying companions were forced to remain on the plane for security reasons. Some people went slightly mad, others became quiet and others slept.

When the passengers were finally allowed off, they had to leave their luggage on board and most of them had run out of cash. But the local community came to the rescue, putting people up in halls, churches and even their homes. The town’s only pub was open 24-7 and everything was free.

This episode resonated with Philip, whose bar-work allowed him to follow his real passion, which was writing plays.

“I remember thinking it would make a great story,” says the Cavan-born graduate of NUIG. But Philip, who has a BA degree in English and Sociology and Politics and a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies, wasn’t sure what form it would take.

Philip, who founded the Gonzo Theatre in his native Cavan during the recession in 2009, has form writing for theatre radio dramas.

A few years later, while working with young Dublin actor, Rex Ryan, he got his answer. They first collaborated on The Circus of Perseverance, a full-length play with a cast of seven, that Philip had written and directed for Gonzo, which was staged at the 2012 Dublin Fringe Festival. Philip was blown away by Rex’s performance and it was a similar story the following year, when he played multiple roles in Philip’s drama, The Birthday Man. That performance led to him receiving a nomination for Best Actor at the Fringe.  Philip realised he could tell the story of the Gambo experience by teaming up with Rex for a one-man show that offered one man’s perspective on this extraordinary event, “a positive story against the backdrop of something so terrifying”, says its author.

“For one guy to be walking through this world, exploring it, a guy who is selfish and irresponsible . . .and what a beautiful way for his life to come into focus and for him to change.

For more,  read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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