Derry theatre group for adults with learning disabilities to re-enact Chaplin film mocking Hitler

A Derry-based theatre group for adults with learning disabilities is set to re-enact a famous film which mocked dictator Adolf Hitler in a new production.

he Stage Beyond production will combine both the slapstick humour of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator with a subject close to the hearts of the actors – by shining a light on how people with disabilities or learning difficulties have been treated in the past.

The 1940 satirical film on which the play is based, with support from the National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, asks whether how we treat the vulnerable is a measure of our humanity and what happens when society treats disability like a crime.

The play will be performed at the Millennium Forum in the city on June 15 and takes place in Pandora, a country at war where people deemed as ‘different’ are disappearing.

Dictator Heidi (Frank Nelis) has a doppelganger – Brian (Bryan Sutherland), a decorator. When Brian’s sister Hanna (Alison Smyth) goes missing, he discovers a terrible secret at his local hospital. In a bizarre case of mistaken identity, fate offers him the chance to change history.

Visiting director at Stage Beyond Kate Guelke said the group has a natural affinity with comedy. «This is a massive undertaking but knowing the company’s track record tackling classics – most recently their award-winning ‘Hamlet’ – I knew ‘The Great Dictator’ would work. Many members of the company are very politically engaged, especially when it comes to disability rights activism.

«This company is doing some really important work, their commitment and interest in the subject matter and the bravery to face it head-on has been extraordinary,» she said.

Gilly Campbell, Head of Community Arts and Education, Arts Council of Northern Ireland,said the organisation is proud to support Stage Beyond. «They overcame the challenges faced during COVID-19 restrictions to embark on this latest theatrical milestone for the company and I look forward to seeing the energy, commitment, and creativity that they will bring to the Millennium Forum once again in ‘The Great Dictator’.”

Bernie Shiels, Chair of the Board of Stage Beyond and one of the original members who is also performing in ‘The Great Dictator’, said she was immensely proud of the company in rising to their latest theatrical challenge. “It is important for us not to shy away from the reality of what happened to people like us in the past. It has been quite an emotional process at times working openly and inclusively as a team on the script itself and in rehearsals but as with all Stage Beyond productions, there is a good mix of comedy and positive overall message that as people with learning disabilities, we are all part of society just like everybody else.”

Tickets priced £11.50 (concessions available) can be booked at

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