Mark steps into the shoes of Luke Sharkey for Waterfront debut

THE play, ‘Down’s But Not Out’, starring Lawrencetown teenager Mark Blevins, takes to the stage at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, and the Market Place Theatre, Armagh, this week.

Written by Lurgan man Raymond Murray, it contrasts society’s benighted attitude to Down’s syndrome in the Sixties with the present day and Mark - who has the condition - plays the leading role.

The play first took to the stage in Raymond’s hometown last December and such was its impact that the Housing Executive and part-time playwright decided to bring it to Belfast as well as local audiences.

‘Down’s But Not Out’ plays the Waterfront on Thursday (May 24) and The Market Place on Friday (May 25). Due to demand, an extra date has now been scheduled at the Armagh venue on Saturday, June 9.

Described as a poignant yet humorous look at how one family - generations apart - copes with their child’s condition and the attitude of people around them, the play holds a personal significance for its author.

Raymond has a child with Down’s syndrome, so he wrote straight from the heart for the current scenes, relying on research and anecdotal evidence for the earlier exchanges.

“During the scenes set in 1960, there are some very harsh moments for Mark to endure,” says Raymond. “His condition is ridiculed, but I’ve tried to recreate how it might have been and he has shown great maturity in accepting this.

“I certainly haven’t hidden behind any hedges with the script, but it’s not all tough for Mark, as the scenes in 2010 allow him to show how full a part people with Down’s Syndrome play in modern society. Indeed, this contrast between 1960 and 2010 is the principal theme of the play.”

A frequent performer with Stagestruck in Banbridge and Craigavon-based MADS (Moyraverty Arts and Drama Society), Mark has been involved in amateur drama since the age of four, garnering copious medals along the way and going on to gain a GCSE in the subject - impressivley obtaining an A-grade in the practical part of the exam.