Play based on life of UVF-man turned politician David Ervine opens to standing ovation in Belfast

The Man Who Swallowed A Dictionary, a one-man show tells the story of Ervine becoming one of the leading figures of Northern Ireland’s peace process. Credit: PA

Working-class unionists today miss a leader like David Ervine, the co-producer of a new play on the former UVF man turned politician has said.

The Man Who Swallowed A Dictionary, a one-man show which tells the story of Ervine becoming one of the leading figures of Northern Ireland’s peace process, opened at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast on Tuesday night and received a standing ovation.

With just a giant book and a pipe as props, actor Paul Garrett, whose previous credits include Game of Thrones and Bloodlands, explores Ervine’s childhood, involvement with loyalist terrorists, prison, his political career and a family tragedy which happened shortly before his death in 2007 at the age of 53.

Co-producer Martin Lynch said they spent hours watching footage of Ervine during his life and even sourced the same pipe that the politician enjoyed smoking.

Mr Lynch said he was sent the script by Robert Niblock around two years ago and immediately loved the title.

“Like a lot of people, I’ve always been very impressed by David Ervine as a politician and as a man in terms of what he came through to get to where he got to,” he said.

“A lot of us, including myself, have come through a process like that, rejecting violence in the end. David Ervine did that and did it very eloquently.

“The big achievement he created was he brought the Protestant working-class to the Good Friday Agreement … I think if he hadn’t stepped in when he did, there may not have been the majority (supporting the agreement) that eventually happened.

“That achievement stands to him forever and that’s one of the reasons why we told this story.”

He added: “I think today the unionist working-class population miss a leader like that. There is no question about it.”

Mr Lynch said a one-man show is “difficult to pull off” but “when you do it right, it is very rewarding”.

“I met David Ervine in the playwright Marie Jones’ house one night, very brief conversation, so I didn’t know him very well,” he said.

“The actor, the director and myself have been looking at loads of videos of him and stuff on the internet, loads of interviews so we could see how he behaved, how he carried his language, how he carried his body.

“We actually bought the exact same pipe he had from the shop he got it from.

“There are stories concerning David’s life that people don’t know about, one very tragic story which will have a very powerful emotional impact on the night.”

The Man Who Swallowed A Dictionary will run at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast until September 10 and will later tour theatres across Northern Ireland.

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