Northern Irish playwright who put women centre stage

Christina Reid: March 12th, 1942 - May 31st, 2015

 

Christina Reid, who has died after a short illness, was the first significant woman playwright to emerge in the North. She wrote of her people, the Protestant working class and especially its women.

Her first stage play, Tea In a China Cup, established her reputation when produced in 1983. The play tells of three generations of women in a working-class Protestant family, from the outbreak of the second World War to the early years of the Troubles, all to the background of the 12th of July celebrations.

Because they speak about the experience of working-class Northern communities, some of Reid’s plays are favourites of Northern amateur groups. Women are at their centre, because for Reid women were the tellers of stories.

Civil service

Reid left school at 15, working in a variety of jobs. She spent a while in the North’s civil service, but had to resign on her first marriage in the early 1960s.

Her roots in the Protestant part of Ardoyne shaped her, and she kept in touch with them. The area was close to the Shankill, which always had an undercurrent of radicalism. Her age meant she had matured before the Troubles broke out, giving her a feel for the way society changed.

From childhood, Reid was a reader and wrote stories. As she grew older she continued writing, and had stories published. She made her breakthrough in 1980 by writing the winning play in a competition organised by UTV.

Mature student

She did not just look at the Protestant experience. Joyriders dealt with alienated young people in Catholic West Belfast. Nor did she restrict her writing to the working-class Belfast experience. She adapted Victor Hugo’s 19th-century novel Les Misérables for the stage.

In the late 1980s she emigrated to London, though she subsequently moved back to Belfast for a period. She continued to write for the theatre; for the British National Theatre’s schools’ programme, NT Connections; and scripts for radio and television.

As well as being a writer, she served on the board of Belfast’s Linenhall Library, and was a patron of Youth Action Northern Ireland, a charity serving young people who come from disadvantaged communities or are vulnerable.

As a person, she was noted for her laid-back approach to life. As a playwright, her work and not her personality was central. She was always interested in different styles and genres of writing, and was an enthusiastic theatre-goer. At the time of her death she was working on a novel, which will tragically be unfinished.

Christina Reid is survived by her husband Richard Howard; her daughters Tara, Heidi and Siubhan; her brothers Jim and John; and her grandchildren.