29 May 2022

Watch | Tickets selling fast for 'The First Protestant' in Manorhamilton's Glens Centre

Friday, October 5

Watch | Tickets selling fast for 'The First Protestant' in Manorhamilton's Glens Centre

Michael Roper as Luther and Gerry Farrell actor and playwright plays the Analyst in "The First Protestant" playing the Glens Centre, Manorhamilton on October 5. Pic Dervilla Keegan

When playwright and actor Gerry Farrell thought about writing a play he did what many playwrights do, he drew from his own personal experience.

A psychotherapist for the last 41 years, he also holds a deep love of the arts. Passionate too about history, it was here he was to renew an acquaintance with what some might say the controversial historical figure, Martin Luther, resulting in the birth of “The First Protestant”. Luther made a stand against the Christian church of the time, an overwhelmingly powerful institution, which forced the split we see today.

It was a play desperate to come out. Fascinated by the man, Farrell was to read every pamphlet that Luther wrote. This was in spite of the voices that he remembers from the brothers in his old De La Salle School to his 9-year-old self as he recalls “If I went into a Protestant Church I was going to hell!” he laughs.

Decades on his play “The First Protestant” has gained recent standing ovations and hugely positive feedback.

Farrell says that people with moral courage have always intrigued him. “There are people throughout history who actually believe in the truth and put their lives on the line for that truth.” There’s a glimpse of that courage perhaps in some of the whistle blowers of today. he believes.

The success of the play for many is Farrell’s unique interpretation of Luther feeding from his work as a psychotherapist.
What kind of man goes up against such odds? “Was he saintly or psychotic?” He adds “What would it be like if Martin Luther came to me and said I have awful anxiety?” says Farrell.

Luther was driven to rebel against what he saw as the bad practices of the church. He led opposition to the selling of indulgences to the poor, a practice some would say was exploiting the poor to feel they could buy their own and their families’ way from purgatory into heaven, but was no more than a tax that helped fund the extravagant wealth of the church. “Luther spoke up and said it was wrong,” says Farrell. He advocated that “Faith alone” was the pathway to heaven not indulgences.

But this was such a radical position, Luther risked bringing down not just the church but also the status quo and Pope Leo X plans to rebuild St Peters, financed through the sale of those same indulgences.

“He saw abuses and he wasn’t going to stay quiet,” says Farrell. The play strikes a deep chord with rich parallels drawn from the 16th Century to today. The church was more interested in itself as an institution rather than the truth and what its primary function was, and the Christian message,” says Farrell.

It’s not surprising that the play has been referred to as a “play for our times”.

The similarity between the time of Luther and twenty first century Europe doesn’t stop there. Luther was able to rouse and mobilise aided by the printing press which revolutionised the speed of communication, the social media of their day. So too there was a banking collapse, not unlike our recent one. German Banks insisted on getting their money back from what they lent to the church diocese causing austerity. There was a threat of the Holy Roman Empire breaking up. We have Brexit.

Europe of the sixteenth century had a huge fear too of an Ottoman Empire spreading a radical Islam through Jihad. Similar too to today with “a fear of Islamic State with its brand of Radical Islam and its terrorist Jihad” says Farrell.

The play has inspired a discussion event around its themes, which take splace on Tuesday, Oct 9 in the Glens Centre with the playwright on a panel organised by “Across the lines” based in Manorhamiliton. The cross community project builds on cross border connections and works with partner arts and community organisations in North Leitrim and Fermanagh.

The panel discussion invites interested people“ to take part in a conversation about Luther and his legacy, to share perceptions and consider any meaning, relevancy and implications of ‘standing for principle today’. The First Protestant staring Michael Roper and Gerry Farrell directed by Prin Duignan will play the Glens Centre, Manorhamilton on October 5 at 8pm. The First Protestant will also play Macra Hall, Tulsk, Roscommon on Oct 12.

By Dervilla Keegan

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