In the history of plays, TV shows and films based on real life events, there has always been a sense of moral duty to those who are being portrayed, and to the incidents the performances are based on. Whether it be a strict historical accuracy, the idea of keeping the character as true to the real life person as possible, or to work within the confines of the reality, there are many considerations to be had about such a work. So, when a piece takes a violent incident so fresh in the collective memory, and dramatises it from a non-biased, neutral perspective, it becomes a new kind of take on a well-known story. The Bombing of the Grand Hotel plays with this idea of perspective and memory, and creates something unique, and remarkably effective.

In 1984, IRA member Pat Magee placed a bomb in the Grand Hotel on Brighton seafront, in order to kill the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who was in town for the Conservative Party conference. In this, he failed. However, his bomb killed five people, and injured a number of others. At the time it was described as “the most audacious attack on the British government since the Gunpowder Plot”. Magee was then imprisoned, but released early as part of the Good Friday Agreement. He then struck up a working relationship, and soon a friendship, with Jo Berry, daughter of Sir Anthony Berry who was one of those killed in the blast, to campaign against violence. The play tells the story of their relationship.

Memory is a key theme in the play. Much of the performance is played out of sequence, memories and alternative timelines leading the audience to understand the differing childhoods and lifestyle of Jo Berry and Pat Magee. While that may sound ambitious, the structure and writing is exceptional here. Lines range from tragic to funny in one moment. Despite being a story of two separate people over decades, it never feels flabby or overdone. It is a true victory for script writers, an exercise in control over, and knowledge of, your subject.

And in delivering that script the cast does not disappoint. The ensemble are solid enough, though with one or two dodgy English and Northern Ireland accents thrown into the mix. Rachel Blackman is wonderful as Berry, showing her transformation from scared daughter, to confident anti-violence campaigner with the nuance and subtlety the script deserves. But the true star of the show here is Ruairi Conaghan as Pat Magee. Conaghan has a unique stage presence, excelling when showing the angry young IRA recruit, as well as the calmer, more academic Magee that begins to campaign with Berry. While he may have the juicier part to work with, the ability to make a packed audience full of people from Brighton emphasise as heavily as they did with the ‘Brighton Bomber’ is no mean feat, and something he should be applauded for.

Indeed, the only issue with the play comes in the second act, during the first meeting with Berry and Magee. It is a tense, extremely long scene, echoing a similar section in IRA hunger strike film Hunger. The actors sit on chairs across from one another and talk for a good 15 minutes, which was clearly intended to be powerful, and a true depiction of what most likely happened. It comes across as extremely static, and is not helped by the fact that The Warren does not have a raised stage, so people were straining their necks just to see what was happening. It is a shame, as this conversation is arguably the most important in the play.

In telling the story of the Brighton Bomber and one of his victims in a balanced way, The Bombing of the Grand Hotel has opened itself up to a lot of criticism. Indeed, there are many out there who believe Magee should never have been released. But it deals with all the issues in an intelligent way, leaving interpretation open for the audience.

And it is perhaps in that way that The Bombing of the Grand Hotel succeeds the most. It is non-judgemental theatre with a powerful message, leaving enough room on either side of the issue for Republicans and Unionists to find common ground about the humanity of war. Wildspark Theatre’s performance is powerfully realised, with all involved in the creative process succeeding. But for a few awkward moments of staging, it is a success. It toys with the idea of memory, perspective and morality in a powerful way, making it a true must see in this year’s Brighton Fringe.

The Bombing of the Grand Hotel is playing at The Warren as part of the Brighton Fringe. For tickets and more information, see the Brighton Fringe website.