Derry Theater Group for Adults with Learning Disabilities to re-enact Chaplin’s film mocking Hitler

A Derry-based theater group for adults with learning disabilities is set to recreate a famous film that poked fun at dictator Adolf Hitler in a new production.

he Stage Beyond production will combine the slapstick humor of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator with a theme close to the actors’ hearts, shedding 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, supported by the National Lottery through the Northern Ireland Arts Council, asks if the way we treat the vulnerable is a measure of our humanity and what It happens when society treats disability as a crime.

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

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

Stage Beyond visiting director Kate Guelke said the group has a natural affinity for comedy. “This is a huge undertaking, but knowing the company’s history of tackling classics, most recently its award-winning ‘Hamlet,’ I knew ‘The Great Dictator’ would work. Many in the company are very politically engaged, especially when it comes to It’s about Activism for the rights of people with disabilities.

“This company is doing really important work, their commitment and interest in the issue and the courage to confront it head-on has been extraordinary,” he said.

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

Bernie Shiels, chairman of the board of directors of Stage Beyond and one of the original members who also performs in ‘The Great Dictator’, said she was immensely proud that the company rose to its latest theatrical challenge. “It is important for us not to shy away from the reality of what has 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 an overall positive message that as people with learning disabilities, We are all part of society like everyone else”.

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

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