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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Who is Fergus Kilpatrick?

Who is Fergus Kilpatrick? Image courtesy of thecompanyireland.com

Following its award winning debut (Spirit of the Fringe award) at the Dublin Fringe festival in 2009, Who is Fergus Kilpatrick has returned to Dublin and set up residency in the Project Arts Centre. The faceless and rather elusive title character, in a work devised and produced by The Company, will leave you still questioning in fact who really is Fergus Kilpatrick, But it will also leave you questioning the reality of performance, the reality of theatre and even the validity of documented history. 

While being described by The Company as ‘non-theatre’ and  the piece having been created with the deliberate intention of avoiding theatre, you can already see the challenges and questions that this work throws out to an audience coming to see a ‘play’ in a theatre. The piece opens with a documentary being screened on the life of Fergus Kilpatrick, a rebel in early 19th century Kerry. The audience quickly realises the documentary is in fact a work of fiction and addresses questions of who we are, where our lineage has brought us and how our oral tradition of memories and storytelling has often left gaps and inaccuracies in the historical narrative of the story of our country and also of our families. 

Image courtesy of thecompanyireland.com

This work tightly embraces the aid of digital technology and painstaking video and sound editing and blatantly flaunts the presence of pre-recorded scenes and interviews with the cast as a tool for telling the story of how the Fergus documentary came to be. The audience is often left struggling to determine if it is the cast on stage speaking or in fact a video screening. It becomes apparent that the real direction of this work is to challenge what exactly is ‘live’ in theatre. 

Clever devices are implied, such as pre-recorded and humorous interviews with cast members describing their characters and the preparation in finding themselves in each character. The deliberately over-the-top and ham acted scenes, mimicking the rehearsals of this work are described as being devised by asking each cast member to act out one another’s character, thus resulting in a “heightened version of each cast member’s personality and traits.” 

Creator of this work and its director Jose Miguel Jimenez said “it challenges the continual presence of history and challenges the truth in history and in performance and challenges a prescribed present by removing the connection between history and truth by emphasising the role of who writes history. Everyone has a different view of history and different version of a story. Where is the definite truth in all this?” 

Scene from "Who is Fergus Kilpatrick". Image courtesy of Dublin Fringe Fest, Flickr.

The story of Who is Fergus Kilpatrick has strong base in a short story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, entitled The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero published in 1944. Though this work by the Company is not a direct adaptation of the story by Borges, the story acted as a facilitator for the work Who is Fergus Kilpatrick. The framework of truth and believed conceptions of what we know to be reality are dismantled on stage before us. Again heavily influenced by the writing of philosopher Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrilliard, one can also see the presence of French surrealist Antonin Artaud who wrote The Theatre and Its Double in the 1930s. Artaud argued that the act of performance and the presence of theatrical energy lies in the theatre space and with the audience as much as it does on stage.  The ‘double’ of theatre and its mirror image that Artaud mentions is the residual memory that remains in any production space and also with the audience members long after a performance and it is that history which forms a legacy and memory that can be altered or lost in each retelling of the story. 

Jimenez states that the views of Derrida, Baudrilliard et al on “the interaction between the real and illusory in contemporary societies created in us a new interest in theatre: we thought that the relationship between these two concepts relates to the very nature of theatre. We see theatre as the right medium to articulate the arguments between real and illusory since, without doubt, this is the base of any theatrical event.” 

This documentary of misinformation and questioning of history again asks us who we all are and questions our history and certainly leaves one particular questioning hanging over the audience, Who, exactly, is Fergus Kilpatrick? 

 Who is Fergus Kilpatrick runs at the Project Arts Centre until 24 Apr 2010. 

For details visit: http://www.projectartscentre.ie/programme/whats-on/908-who-is-fergus-kilpatrick

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Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Archive blog

 
 

RCPI, Dublin

The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland has recently received funding from the Wellcome Trust for a 21 month project to catalogue its archival collections. As part of the project an archive blog has been set up to provide news and updates on the progress of the project, as well as providing insights into the collections, highlighting interesting finds, and giving an idea as to what an archivist does. 

Newly appointed archivist Harriet Wheelock is behind this initiative to publicize and create an awareness of the hugely important records relating to medicine and education in Ireland at the Royal College of Physicians, Ireland.  Research into the history of medicine in Ireland is currently receiving massive interest from various areas and readers of all backgrounds. The theme of Culture Night 2010 is Science, Medicine and Education so the timing is certainly right for this archive of the RCPI. 

This new blog is a welcome addition to the online presence of archives and is testament to what resources can be utilized to promote archives when opportunities can be limited in the current economic climate. 

The blog can be accessed at http://www.rcpilibrary.blogspot.com/ 

The RCPI Library and Archives web page can be viewed at: 

http://www.rcpi.ie/Pages/Library.aspx#archives

 

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“No Escape” – Documentary Theatre at the Peacock

No Escape, Peacock Theatre

What was on stage last night at the opening performance of No Escape was not drama. There was not a cast in the traditional sense, there was no true playwright.  It was truth and it was documentary. Award-winning journalist Mary Raftery was commissioned by the Abbey Theatre to write and produce a work in response to Justice Sean Ryan’s chilling report into child abuse in Ireland’s residential schools. Raftery, instead of ‘writing’ a piece in response gave the audience something different; she gave them the Ryan Report itself.  From the outset it is a unique and unsettling event at the National Theatre. The front of house welcome urges the nervous audience to “enjoy the show”, as unlikely as that is.

The first voice you hear is of Lorcan Cranitch, dressed in a neat and dark suit, he resembles a host of a prime time current affairs program, or perhaps an undertaker. In either guise, he has chilling news to deliver. The set is a maze of glass walls and mesh frames. Behind each those who were interviewed by the Commission to Enquire into Child Abuse in Ireland deliver accounts of their experiences of abuse and of outright fear at the hands of theses State and Church run schools. The dimly lit, obscurely visible and somewhat muted accounts resemble a feeling of being in the confession box. The mesh and lack of light protecting the anonymity of those speaking.

Cranitch delivers a roll-call of abuse, a litany of crimes perpetrated against innocent children. Weapons of every conceivable element were used to inflict pain, chastisement and fear into those who were already stripped of innocence or anything resembling a childhood. “If you cried you got worse, so I learned not to cry” recounts a trembling Michelle Forbes. Yard brushes, wooden spoons, horse tackle, garden tools, leather straps, chair legs, crucifixes, not to mention the foot, fist or worse as methods of delivering pain on a daily basis.

Elenor Methven is astounding and all too visceral in her portrayal as she visibly hurts in telling of beatings received and years lost as a child. Jane Brennan, Eamon Hunt, Jonathon White and Donal O’Kelly take on multiple roles from children to priests, nuns, Brothers, inspectors and keep a steady flow and rhythm to Raftery’s documentary account. Yet, one is always acutely aware that these are actors merely relaying words of the true victims. While the acting is never truly in question in this work, it is possibly beyond the repertoire of any actor to faithfully portray the stifling fear and horrific memories that haunt all survivors of abuse to this day. The words of the Ryan Report take centre stage here. “You couldn’t tell anyone, but who would believe you anyway”.

Archive boxes of case files are routinely dropped on stage with the files within exhumed and recounted by Cranitch. A back drop of archive boxes piled to the ceiling provide a sickening irony given that it is the very lack of documented evidence and cover up of cases of abuse that facilitated this climate of fear and culture of abuse.

It was an interesting point as the documentary, as it is not a play, drew to a close. Acts of kindness received by children in these institutions were recounted. However this ‘kindness’ was also tinged with a dark cloud. “That Brother would not shout or beat us as the others did, I’l always remember him for that.” The last action of this piece was an empty stage where Cranitch appeared and dropped the 2,700 page, 6 volume, Ryan Report onto the front and centre of the stage. The deafening thud and nervous silence that followed was a fitting end to this truly unique night at the National Theatre.

Mary Raftery, Author of "no Escape".

 

As part of “The Drakest Corner” series at the Abbey Theatre, you can meet the makers of “No Escape” at a talk at the Abbey on Thursday 15th April. Tickets 3 Euro. Contact Abbey box office. www.abbeytheatre.ie

Meet the makers of "No Escape" at the Abbey Theatre

 

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Archives in Crisis – Reaction

Action on Archives

On the first sun-filled Saturday of Summer, a darkened and windowless lecture theatre would hardly be the first choice of venue to spend ones day. However, it certainly was for the 250 people who packed the Robert Emmet Lecture theatre to capacity in Trinity College for the Archives in Crisis symposium.

Organised by the Action on Archives group, headed by T.C.D. Research Fellow Dr. Peter Crooks ,the event was also organised in association by the Society of Archivists (Ireland), headed by Cecile Chemin. The symposium was chaired by Dr. Diarmaid Ferriter, Professor of Modern Irish History at University College Dublin. The panel of guest speakers included Catriona Crowe of the National Archives, Eunan O’Halpin, Professor of Modern Irish History at Trinity College and Fintan O’Toole, Deputy Editor of the Irish Times.

The meeting was scheduled to tackle, for the first time by public debate, the proposed merger of the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission INTO the National Library of Ireland, put forward by the Government in the December 2000 budget. Described as the biggest risk to Irish documented heritage and records since the shelling of the Four Courts in 1922, the meeting certainly did address and tackle this issue of merging the Archives and Library, with O’Toole calling it an “idiotic proposal and symptomatic of the back-of-an-envelope and ill-informed politics that has brought Ireland to the current state of crisis it finds itself in today”. Given the crowd and undoubted public interest in the future of Irish records and archives, the meeting also addressed ‘action on archives’ that must be taken nationally and in all aspects of the profession, its funding, its service, its accessibility and its direction from the Department of Sport, Culture and Tourism and its Minister.

Catriona Crowe, representing the archivists’ branch of IMPACT trade union, addressed the distinct lack of storage capacity that prevents the National Archives from acting on its statutory obligations to receive, catalogue, preserve and disseminate the records of the Irish state as appropriate. Today, records even dating back to the nineteenth and eighteenth lie at risk in the government departments as the National Archives, despite desperately wanting the records, do not have space, staff or budget to take in the records. Staffing levels in the National Archives are at 45 people, the National Library of Ireland has a staff of 100 and the National Museum has a staff of 200. These figures are but one reminder of the funding and personnel issues which are at crisis point at the National Archives. Crowe argued strongly for the necessity for the re-establishment of the National Archives Advisory Council, which was established under the National Archives Act of 1986. The NAAC has not met since 2007. A vocal and informed NAAC is an absent and vital cog in the efficient and dedicated service of the National Archives.

Fintan O’Toole has through the columns of The Irish Times, of which he is assistant editor, has long been an advocate for stringent or at least consistent and beneficial policy on archives and state records from the Government and at the National Archives. The ability of any citizens of a nation to truly know one-self and grasp at the idea of national identity is through the actions of its National Archives. In the wake of recent damming and horrific reports of abuse and deliberate destruction of records in institutional schools, Magdalene laundries, mental hospitals and general hospitals, how we as a people and nation respond to these crises will tell forever more. Through the records and archives of these forgotten Irish and forgotten institutions the stories of those who were previously silent can now be heard.

In fact, the theme of health records, with particular emphasis on those records of Irish mental hospitals, drew particular attention and debate from attendees of the symposium. It was obvious from the passionate interest from audience members, with reference to health records in particular, that ‘action on archives’ is indeed needed in many aspects of how records of health and education are documented and preserved.  Events that lie beyond the immediate hands of record keepers such as the fire that gutted Longford town Cathedral on Christmas morning of 2009 must be averted in the future. Countless birth, death and marriage records as well as priceless golden crosiers were destroyed in the fire but it was only from the ashes did officials realise that these records were even kept in the cathedral.

The Action-on-Archives organised symposium on the current crisis in Irish state record keeping was a hugely positive starting point. It is the primary goal and objective of the group to oppose the loss by the National Archives of its autonomous identity. The work by Peter Crooks to bring this event together should not be lost and should prove to be the first step of a united effort to lobby an uninformed Government decision and highlight to a public the vital importance of the consistent adherence of the National Archives to its statutory obligations, they primarily being safeguarding and preserving of records of the Irish State and therefore also, the actions of a people and government.

For Further Information Contact:

Peter Crooks – pcrooks@tcd.ie

http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/group.php?v=wall&ref=search&gid=379393677441

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2010/0412/1224268137886.html

 

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Ireland’s History Through a Lens

 
National Library of Ireland

Looking through the lens of great Irish past photographers is now possible thanks to the The National Library of Ireland. The Library has recently launched an online database of over 34,000 images portraying nearly one hundred years of Irish life.  The National Library of Ireland holds the world’s largest collection of photographs relating to Ireland. Since 2007, the Library has been engaged in a major digitization project to increase online access to an extensive collection of rare and remarkable glass plate negatives.

Collections of photographs include images from Eason and Son, JJ Clarke, a Dublin Medical student, The Keogh brothers of Dorset Street, A.H. Poole of Waterford, Tempest collection, Louth, Independent Newspapers, Dublin, Lawrence Royal and Cabinet Collection and Studio Pair Collection. These unique images depict an unrivaled view of the topographical make up of the East and South of the country, Dublin City and Ireland’s Revolutionary period.

The director of the National Library of Ireland, Fiona Ross, states the “photographs are a rich source of primary research material and as a means of understanding and engaging with the past. They are invaluable because they provide us with evidence of places, events and people who shaped the nation, as well as providing insights into cultural and social history, politics, art landscape and natural history.” The photographs range from 1860 to 1954.

The database can be viewed and searched online at: http://digital.nli.ie/cdm4/index_glassplates.php?CISOROOT=/glassplates

www.nli.ie

Countess Markievicz. Keogh Collection

Pope Pius XII meeting Bishop McQuaid, Archbishop of Ireland. Independent Newspapers Collection

Colosuem Theatre, Henry Street, 1916. Independent Newspapers Collections

 

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Theatre at the Barricades

 “A national theatre’s place is the stage, not the barricades”, argues Mick Heaney in his article (Sunday Times, Culture, 14 Mar 2010) The barricades of which Heaney speaks are those which are currently heaving under the weight of angered and frustrated people who have felt the smothering hand of recession in Ireland the most.  The Irish air-waves and television screens are buzzing with outcry and disbelief directed at the constant surfacing of scandals to hit our banks, corporate boardrooms, clergy and churches. While many feel a saturation point has long been surpassed in relation to round-the-clock coverage to recession themed programming and chilling tales of abuse of power and innocence, a public without an expressed voice and opinion has little chance of beginning to rectify what has brought about these unprecedented times.

Since Fiach MacConaghail took over from Ben Barnes as Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre, he immediately sought to right what he and many others saw as the misdirection the Abbey had previously taken. Debts were rising and audiences flagging. MacConaghail believed that the national theatre should be pulsing at the same rate of the heart of the people. It is the people who make a country what it is. They are who live, study, work, rear families and, yes, also vote within a country. While there is scarcely an individual in Ireland who has not felt the pangs of economic readjustment, it is WE who elected and re-elected a government who rode the highest crest of an economic tidal wave but with seldom a thought to this wave turning into a thunderous tsunami and have it crash on our shores. Public opinion towards government during the Boom years was of indifference and of the laziest type of Laissez-Faire. Now, the national theatre has tried to reinvigorate public debate and opinion and the state of the nation and on our political, social and economic state.

The program of productions at the Abbey and indeed in Irish theatre for the last number of months have been dominated by political responsive works. Even earlier, in April 2009, Love and Money written by Dennis Kelly and produced at the Project Arts Centre foretold an eerily cautionary tale of consumerism based on a high credit-subsidised level that can and will lead to ruin of self, sanity and relationships. The work produced by Hatch theatre company received strong reviews, notably for the roles played by Kate Brennan and Barry Ward and acted as a warning light for what would arrive in the near future in our news headlines but also in our theatres.

Love and Money, image courtesy of Project Arts Centre

The stages of Irish theatres would soon be awash with political works and, counter to the argument made by Mick Heaney, most were extremely strong pieces of drama, extremely well written, produced and acted. Dublin-born playwright Conall Quinn has this year been awarded the Stewart Parker Trust Award, a prestigious recognition of new writing and writers. His play, The Death of Harry Leon performed in the fantastic Smock Alley theatre in January 2009 was a counter factual drama that portrayed an Ireland that had aligned itself with German Fascism in the 1930’s and 1940’s and also alluded to Irish political and military elements active at the time. Quinn asks tough questions about national identity, racial prejudice and distorted ideology that are as much present today as they are in the past. Fintan O’Toole described this work as “terrifically courageous. It does what political theatre should do, taking real risks in order to provoke new thoughts.” The Parker trust recognises Quinn as a writer of brave, thought rendering and powerful drama, which also happens to be political in its tone and resonance.

Conall Quinn at Smock Alley Theatre. Image Courtesy of Irish Times

Therein lies a critical distinction. The elements that make up a well written, well produced and well acted drama should not be diminished or treated as “other” simply because they are political in essence. Thought provoking work on the social, ethical, financial and legislative failures of our government and citizens should not be dismissed in favour of those which steer clear of civic significance. For too long a lack of public debate and discussion on the failures within Irish moral society and business have facilitated a culture of abuse on astounding levels. If theatre and the arts do not take up the mantle of removing the cloak cast upon many aspects of Irish society then there is a very real risk that actions can continue underneath it unabated. Business as usual.

On January 30th 1961, a new play The Evidence I Shall Give was premiered at the Abbey Theatre. Written by a district court Judge, Richard Johnson, the play dealt with, quiet openly, the abuse and fear that prevailed in Irish institutional schools and Magdalene Laundries. Frustrated by the restraint in the Irish Judicial system in dealing with cases of abuse on young people within these state sanctioned homes and the indifference that was also evident among Irish families and parishes, Johnson honed his craft as a writer and used the powerful ally of the stage to create a public awareness and view of self accountability in the face of these systemic and moral failings.

The play had an initial run of 42 performances, quite a substantial run for any work on the Abbey stage by a debutant playwright. More startling was that the play received another 42 performances from 10 July 1961, a further 6 shows on 6 July 1961 and yet another run of 21, 9 and 6 performances on 1 August, 18 September and 9 October 1961 respectively. This run totals 126 performances. This equates to The Evidence I Shall Give being on the Abbey Stage for roughly one third of the calendar year. This was at a time when the Second Vatican Council was still meeting in re-evaluating its Catholic doctrine and role of its Bishops. Johnson’s belief in the power of theatre and ability to create and provoke sincere debate and thought was not lost on this play, but perhaps lost to some degree by an audience who left the performance behind in the theatre and did not question within themselves the themes of abuse raised by the play.

 Following on from this play, which is being revived currently by a reading at the Abbey as part of its Darkest Corner series, Tom Murphy’s play the Sanctuary Lamp, premiered in 1975 caused ructions and was met by outcry in an Ireland that was still heavily subscribed to a burdening fear of the Mitre. The Project Arts Centre at this time also acted as an outcrop and forum for public discourse and discussion in an otherwise indifferent Irish society to tackling social failures that were hitherto unspeakable.

I can understand Mick Heany’s worry at the Abbey or any theatre becoming merely a soapbox and an outlay to vent frustrations at a weak and floundering government. This does not benefit theatre and should not be its goal. However, for any theatre, be it the national theatre or otherwise, it must first come to terms and recognise the true character of the nation and people it is based in and those whom it represents. This means a thorough and comprehensive overhaul of the states many failures and to once again produce an audience that cares about its theatre, an audience that is strongly willed enough to take stock of their individual failures and create a public forum through powerful drama that can leave an audience thinking and reassessing its beliefs as no other medium can do.

Fiach McConghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre. Image courtesy of University of Limerick

www.abbeytheatre.ie

 

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