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Walking with Magdalens – “Laundry” at the Dublin Theatre Festival.

Laundry - Anu Productions

Laundry is the latest site-specific work from Anù Productions and features as part of this year’s Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival. Barry Houlihan witnessed this historic play that takes place behind the doors of Dublin’s Magdalen Laundry.

‘Sanctus’. The word is cast in elegant stained glass over a doorway that leads to the inner chapel of the Magdalen Laundry on Seam McDermott Street. The ‘Santcus’ is a song of praise to God and to his angels that in the order of the mass is sung  just prior to the consecration – the act of true faith in the mass. For the thousands of women who walked under this word every morning and evening of their lives spent in the Magdalen Laundry, it offered little respite or comfort.

Laundry is the latest work by Dublin based theatre company Anù Productions. Formed as recently as 2009, the company has quickly proven to be a phenomenon of Irish theatre; staging radically powerful works while specialising in site-specific areas.  While far from a being a ‘play’, this performance is testimony to the stolen childhoods and stolen lives of the ‘Maggies’ who were forced to endure life inside the walls.

To read this review in full from writing.ie please click here

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Culture, Theatre

 

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Translations: New Adventures in Language

Following the successful original 1980 production and subsequent tour of Translations by Field Day Theatre Company, Tom Paulin stated afterwards in 1983:

“The history of language is a story of possession and dispossession, territorial struggle and the establishment or imposition of a culture.”

Few plays and fewer playwrights have stirred the question of’ Irishness’ and nationhood as much as Translations by Brian Friel. Since it was staged all of thirty years ago, the first production of the fledgling Field Day Theatre Company, it has become synonymous with the Irish obsession with language, connection to home and to the landscape in which that home is situated.

Denis Conway and Aaran Monaghan. Image courtesy of Abbey Theatre

Translations was written in the shadow and direct backdrop of the Northern Ireland Troubles. Friel, himself a Derry-born Catholic, experienced life on the front-line of this turbulent and bloody time. The political nature of Translations has perhaps taken on a life of its own outside of its intended level of intervention. Friel has often set on record that Translations is not a political play but is only about language. While Friel may have chosen to defuse the situation and down play the political and Nationalist fervour the play has come to be associated with, this is not so readily achievable.

It was unthinkable for many in 1980 to foresee an Ireland that would have later see a Downing Street Declaration, a Good Friday Agreement, a power-sharing executive. Now, thirty years since Translations was premiered by Field Day Theatre Company in the imposing Guild Hall in Derry, for so many it is unthinkable how very real the fear, violence and sectarianism was in the North. Today’sIreland is one more attuned to peace but still tragically not immune to violence. The murder of RIC Constable Ronan Kerr and British army soldiers at Mesereence Barracks have provoked an outpouring and committed resolve for peace in the face of those deluded few who insist on failed violent means.

Translations tackled the question of language like no other play in Irish theatre. Friel recognised that while land and connection to home, wherever that may be, can actually be superseded by a truer from of identity: how we express and communicate. While the threat of violence, eviction and also references to the Great Famine hung over the village of Ballybeg, the idea of knowing one’s identity and place through words rather than physical landscape is the true essence and beauty of this play. As Manus taunts his father Hugh following the ‘standardisation’ of the local place-names, he says: “Will you be able to find your way?”

Friel’s contribution to the identity question surrounding ‘Irishness’ on both sides of the border has been explored in depth in Translations but also in his other ‘language’ plays – Making History and Faith Healer. Friel’s use of the colloquial and local dialogue and speech creates entirely real worlds where his characters are reflections of the society and place that has shaped them. Many similarities along this point can be also be seen in the work of playwright Billy Roche, who has become as synonymous with finding a connection to the thoughts and language of the people of his native Wexford as Friel found with people in the North of Ireland.

If by Fintan O’Toole’s definition of a ‘Powerplay’ – a work being political, challenging and reflective of society and identity, then perhaps Translations is the ‘Powerplay’. It is also crucial to consider, is it just a powerplay of it’s own time? And can it still carry such an impact on today’s audiences as it did in 1980’s Derry? Translations does still have much to offer contemporary Ireland. Earlier this year, the visit by Queen Elizabeth II allowed for a mass re-evaluation of the colonial relationship between Ireland and Great Britain. Our own ability to recognise this visit as one head of state visiting a global equal as opposed to a colonial satellite was key to the mature and considered welcome Queen Elizabeth received. Recent revisions of works such as the Playboy of the Western World in a version by Roddy Doyle and Bisi Adigan put that classic story on a modern footing in contemporary Dublin and explored how immigration was shaping Ireland and the actions, thoughts and words of its people. Also works by The Company, including Who is Fergus Kilpatrick and As You Are Now So Once Were We, go to new levels in exploring questions of connection to place, city, country and the individual. The Company took this challenge to completely new territory, moving outside of the traditional literary text and engaged technologies, forms and ideas that turn the questions of place and language on its axis.

Translations will rightly be a classic of it’s time and also any time. Its original staging in the Guild Hall in Derry will be remembered as being one the most powerful symbols of how theatre can reflect and present society as well as crossing boundaries that traditional communication cannot. It is a fantastic opportunity to see the powerplay once again on the national stage. It also affords us the opportunity to consider the next generation of powerplays and guess at where they will come from and what they will focus on. As Hugh says in the closing scenes of Translations; “We must never cease renewing those images; because when we do, we fossilise.”

Translations is on the Abbey Theatre Stage until Saturday 13th August. www.abbeytheatre.ie

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2011 in Abbey Theatre, Culture, Theatre

 

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Colm Toibin wraps up Galway’s literary affair

Colm Toibin, at GAF 2011

The final literary event as part of the 2011 Galway Arts Festival was certainly a resounding way in which to draw a truly amazing Festival to a close. The IMPAC award winner and Booker prize nominee Colm Toibin did not disappoint the sell-out crowd that filled the Meyrick Hotel on a sun-filled Saturday on the final weekend of the Galway Arts Festival. While the thousands were enjoying the festivities on the thronged Galway streets, those with a ticket for Toibin certainly would not swap for any prize.

Toibin was in warm and open form as he took to the lectern on stage in the Connemara Suite of the Meyrick. He started into a story recounting his experiences of regional arts festivals in Ireland. Toibin outlined how the Gorey Arts Festival , founded by his late friend Paul Funge, opened up such opportunities throughout the early 1970’s and onwards as it afforded the locals to see amazing works of theatre, hear great writers read their works and to see the works of great artists.

He talked in particular about visit to the Gorey Arts Festival by Patrick MaGee and Jack McGowran, both renowned acquaintances of Samuel Beckett and also famous actors of his work, so much so that Krapp’s Last Tape actually had a working title of ‘Monologue for Magee’. Toibin spoke of these characters, Beckett, Magee and McGowran as if he was with old friends sharing a drink and a story. This affability, genuine warmth and connection with his readers as well as with the people he is writing on paper about makes Toibin one of Ireland’s most loved and successful of contemporary writers.

Toibin read from his latest work, his collection of short stories the Empty Family (Read my review of this here ) Reading the story Two Women, Toibin presented one of the most memorable stories from the collection. Set in present-day Ireland, a divorced and middle-aged TV producer who has put all of her strength and passion into her career is brought to relive her past lost love when she encounters a woman from the past: a woman she has never met but with him she shares so much experience and people.

The Empty Family

Following this the floor was opened up for questions for Toibin. No shortage of willing volunteers as question after question were ably taken by the guest of honour. When asked about his setting out to write his IMPAC-winning work, The Master, Toibin answered he wanted to really get to know the man, Henry James, and not the outward character which people may have known. To Toibin, James was a mysterious character, often proving to be the opposite of what you thought. James was gay but loved the company of women as well as men, he was often reclusive but ate out every evening in large company. James’ writing, Toibin, described, is full of winding and snaking sentences, full of sub-clauses. You don’t get to know the Henry James, the man, from his writing, as you would be able to know James Joyce from reading his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Toibin was also asked about his inspiration about his Costa Prize-winning novel, Brooklyn. Again delving into his rich personal memory, he talks of the scene at his father’s wake. Colm Tobin is a twelve-year-old and bewildered by the streams of people calling to the house, stayed so long and talked and talked with his family. One woman in particular stood out, even after all these years. She had a pile of letters in her hand, all from Brooklyn: not from U.S.A., not from New York, but from Brooklyn. “That’s the woman whose daughter went to America but came home”, Colm heard people whisper. He never forgot this woman, even over the following forty years or so, and so Brooklyn came to be.

Speaking about the books ending (no spoilers will be given!) Toibin simply outlined how he ended the book the way he wanted to end it but crucially, he got their convincingly. He had conceived other endings but would do a disservice by inserting radical changes that would arrive at a contrived ending.

Finally, Toibin was asked about what contemporary writers he is currently reading. His first response was an American writer who actually also read at this year’s Galway Arts Festival – Willy Vlautin. Vlautin (nearly if not fully) stole the show when he shared the bill with Roddy Doyle. (read review here ) Upstaging Doyle is no easy feat but Vlautin made a new home from home for himself in Galway with his fantastic writing and engaging and humorous personality. Toibin hailed Vlautin as “a real discovery. He writes in beautiful American tones and with an absolute knowledge of rhythm, coming as no surprise that he (Vlautin) is an accomplished musician. Also singled out by Toibin were the Austrian short-story writer, Tim Wenton, Welsh writer Tessa Hadley and of course Canadian Alice Munroe.

It was a fascinating evening and a great if also rare opportunity for an intimate evening with the one and only Toibin. Evening like these are exactly what Arts Festivals are made for –probably along the lines of what Toibin felt like attending the Gorey Arts Festival all those years ago.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Books, Culture

 

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Emma Donoghue at Galway Arts Festival

When Emma Donoghue arrived onto the stage of the Meyrick Hotel to rapturous applause it was evident how comfortable and at home she was to be in the company of such an adoring audience. The unprecedented success of her latest novel, Room, secured her the Hughes & Hughes novel of the Year Award; won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize regional prize (Caribbean and Canada); Won the Rogers Writers Fiction Award (2010) and was long-listed for the Man-Booker Prize as well as being nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction. It is no wonder Donoghue is so accustomed to greeting large adoring crowds.

Donoghue gave the crowd a generous, insightful and honest account of the creation of Room, of the development of the characters Ma and Jack and also into her own career as a writer coupled with her life as a mother of two children. Of course one of the first points discussed was the influence of the Fritzel case on the novel. Donoghue did admit it of course did stir her to create Room  but wished it to be yet separate from the Fritzel story and from the added attention which it would also afford the evil perpetrator of confinement in that real-life case. Felix Fritzel, who is a real-life Jack, was born into captivity. In his walled prison he knew nothing of life or a world beyond his mother, siblings and his captor. Felix was five when he was freed. Jack is five at the start of his story. Donoghue noticed how in a media interview Felix said plainly “the world is nice”, – how a child, obviously scared and bewildered in his new-found freedom had any concept of the “world being nice” provoked thought to what is behind this statement.

Emma Donghue at Galway Arts Festival

Donoghue consciously made Jack to be a five-year old: old enough to communicate his story but still, quoting William Blake, full of ‘innocence and expereince’. She made Jack male also to keep the male-female balance even, creating a insight and perspective of all aspects of the story, even citing the likes of Adam and Eve and Mary and Joseph as examples of such a balance in the stories of the history of mankind.

It was interesting to hear the influence of Donoghue’s own life as a mother and watching the mannerisms, phrases and actions of her young children, thinking about the comforting and innocent lies all parents tell their children, to answer their inquisitiveness and put their mind at ease while also protecting them, as Ma tries so hard to do for Jack. Also, Donoghue examined the point where the ‘Room’ of the novel, the horrific prison space, which was a nightmare scenario for any adult who has life experience was paradoxically a near ‘idyll’ situation for Jack, who was born into this blind world and the intimacy it afforded him with his mother and the security she strove above all else to provide for him. It was a very touching point.

When questioned about the escape scene where Jack flees into which for him is the complete unknown, Donoghue wanted to explore how Jack would see, react and interact with a foreign world and also how Ma would realign herself with her child into a world  and society that she left some number of years ago. What would be totally banal to us would be wonderous to Jack. The dilemma for Ma is whether to stay obedient to her captor, keeping jack ‘safe’ in the Room but also unaware of life outside or else risk his life so that he may actually escape and have a fulfilled life experience.

Room

Donoghue discussed Room not being an overly descriptive or visual book, the space and characters are brought to life through dialogue and conversation, which is the basest form of human experience and which allows one to share and learn simultaneously. interestingly Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is mentioned as a reference as there also, the action is overshadowed by the conversation, the sharing of stories. Like Ma and Jack in Room, at least there were two of them.

For all those who quizzed Donoghue about the possibility of a sequel to Room, that would show how Ma and Jack have adapted to life in modern society, they were met with a considered ‘No’. It is obvious Donoghue has given this considerable thought. She outlined however she thought mother and son had both been through enough and now their lives were as normal and boring as anyone else’s and just wouldn’t make a good book! A consolation prize of a possible film version of Room is a much more definite agenda. She has written a screenplay which at this news arose audible yelps of joy from the audience, but Donoghue teasingly said it won’t hit screens for a few years yet, she wants to safeguard the story and protect it from becoming something it was never meant to be. That level of dedication to her story and characters and near maternal instinct over this book means perhaps Donoghue isn’t so different from Ma after all.

For my review of Room click here http://tiny.cc/pk7dc

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Books, Culture

 

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Willy Vlautin & Roddy Doyle kick off GAF’s literary side

The Meyrick Hotel overlooking Eyre Square in the heart of Galway City played host to an evening with acclaimed writers Roddy Doyle and Willy Vlautin. In front of a crowd of some two hundred people both writers took to the stage and chatted interestedly to each other while waiting for proceedings to get underway. It was this genuine bon-homie between Doyle and Vlautin that made this such an enjoyable evening.

Vlautin was first to read, choosing to take a piece from his latest and award-winning (the 2010 Ken Kesey Award for Fiction) Lean on Pete. Published by Faber, the book was received to widespread critical acclaim and looking at the crowd tuned intently to Vlautin’s stories told in his endearing North Western US accent. Vlautin outlined how he developed his love of writing and thanked the influence of his English- teacher grandmother. Describing himself as a horrible student, Vlautin’s grandmother used to read him The Count of Monte Christo and presented him with his own copy of Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, which set him on course to be a dedicated follower of Doyle’s work. In fact, Vlautin genuinely did seem star-struck to be sharing the stage with one of his literary idols.

Vlautin and Doyle. Pic by Sinead McKee

As Vlautin introduced the character and narrator of his book Lean on Pete, the 15-year old Charlie Thompson, Vlautin explained how he did connect with Charlie as someone who took to the road to travel on the American highways and experience life as he would find it and as it came to him. Lamenting never having a pick-up truck or anything as ‘typically’ suitable to such driving, Vlautin never the less took the road in his ’82 Honda Civic and didn’t look back.

In his book, Charlie is a left to fend for himself by his wayward single-father and takes to the road in search of life, acceptance and also a sense of family normality. He ends up tracing the dirt-tracks of Portland, Oregan and gets work at the local racetrack. Here Charlie tends to a less than thoroughbred horse of the title name of the book. The story is rightly noted as being one of the reads of the year and sets out Vlautin as an author as credible and talented as he is a musician. His band Richmond Fontaine have released their tenth album and they played a sell-out concert at the Roisin Dubh last night, also as part of the Galway Arts Festival.

Roddy Doyle was introduced to rapturous applause. No stranger to reading at Galway’s Festivals, Doyle read at the 2010 Cùirt international Festival of Literature in Galway. Noticeably pleased to be on the bill at this year’s Arts Festival, he explained how we wanted to take a break from touring this year following the extensive promotion of his novel last year The Dead Republic, but simply could not turn down Paul Fahy’s offer to attend the Festival on the bill with Willy Vlautin. With tongue firmly in cheek he declared to the crowd he was delighted to be back in Ireland’s second best city! Doyle read a short story from his recently published collection, Bullfighting. The story, Animals, is a charming, funny and touching story of family life that can resonate with people from any background or place within the family. Mother, father, son or daughter, it matters not your age as all have those cherished, funny or even heartbreaking moments with those additions to the household: the family pet.

In the following Q & A with the audience both writers spoke candidly and indeed gave more time than you would expect to make sure everyone who wanted one got their books autographed and a few words of good wishes to boot. When asked about his writing style Doyle thoughtfully admitted he didn’t have strict guidelines he stuck to when it came to his novels or his short fiction. Simply stating he stayed at his desk in his converted attic “for as long was needed or until it is done, whichever came first”. He did however say he was much fussier at the drafting phase at least, with his short fiction, often writing a paragraph at one sitting, leaving it be and returning to it later. With his novels he would write feverously with the most work coming down the line at the editing phase.

The final question of the evening was put to both writers but fielded by Doyle. It asked where is the place of literature and writing for teenagers in teaching in Modern Ireland, which is faced with ever-growing technology, social networks and computer games. Doyle, himself a former teacher, suggested not to worry so much and outlined he has a lot of faith in today’s youth. He sees them reading a lot more than they used to. Their reading may not be big novels read from cover to cover or newspapers from front to back page, but today’s youth are extremely clued into the world and should be trusted. At his writing club for young people in Dublin, Doyle sees so many teenagers coming in and sitting and simply reading and writing for hours at end. Whilst perhaps less the norm it is still proof the desire for great stories is alive and well in today’s younger generations.

It was a fitting end to what was a truly great evening. As the crowd wandered from the Meyrick, Doyle could be spotted relaxing and chatting with a pint. It was off to the Rosin Dubh for Vlautin and a concert with his band Richmond Fontaine. It just shows there are few spare moments to be had at the Galway Arts Festival. I have enjoyed catching up with his music as much as I have with his writing and here is one of many great tracks by the four-piece alt-rock/country band based out of Portland, Oregan. Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Culture

 

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Macnas bring the noise, the brilliance and fierce beauty

This Fierce Beauty

If it’s possible for a single group or event to sum up the spirit of the Galway Arts Festival, to really show how it connects to the city, to the West of Ireland and to its people and many visitors, then you need not look past the Macnas parade. This year’s parade entitled This Fierce Beauty attracted huge crowds as the Macnas madness and mayhem snaked its way from the Spanish Arch up Quay Street, Shop Street and along the Salmon Weir Bridge as if heading its way home to the Festival Big Top which loomed and glowed in a blue hue in the Galway dusk. The atmosphere was simply incredible. It was a purely joyous event for the thousands who cheered on the many giant beasts, mystical creatures, drummers, dancers and general unrestrained crazies.

Artistic director Noeline Kavanagh has created something truly special for the Galway Arts Festival which has for long now been recognised as just that – special. The crowd was buoyant and in real festival mood as the smoke and flares that signalled the start of the parade. Winged dragons inspired by Da Vinci, giant dogs apparently representing Shane MacGowan and Patti Smith, a huge seated rhinoceros glowering down at the people represented the poet William Blake but perhaps most striking of all was The Girl, an 18 foot tall walking effigy of hope. With her billowing hair and blinking eyes, you felt like you would blindly follow this girl and her crew wherever they were headed. With an unrecognisable Paul Fahy, dressed as a 10 foot tall navigator at the head of the parade, wherever the uncharted waters ahead may lay, we all could do well to folllow Macnas’ lead.

Click the link below for images, video and just a hint of what it was like to see “This Fierce Beauty”.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/56519887@N08/sets/72157627222072112/

http://www.flickr.com//photos/56519887@N08/sets/72157627222072112/show/

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in Culture, Theatre, Uncategorized

 

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Galway Film Fleadh bringing history to the screen

This year’s Galway Film Fleadh is in full swing across the city. There is an astounding array of film from new Irish short films, new Irish features, international features and shorts, new and archive Irish documentaries and even a series of archive German films. For those with more than just a passing interest in the documentary and historical films in the Fleadh, here is a listing of just a few.

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey

One of the stand-out films of the Galway Film Fleadh is “Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey”. Exploring the life of Bernadette Devlin McAlliskey, hers is a truly remarkable life who experienced life in the North of Ireland during the height of thefight for Civil Rights, the Troubles and in the North that struggled for peace in the face of an unrefined hatred. McAliskey was elected MP for Mid-Ulster in the 1960s at the age of 21 and continually fought for civil liberty and an end to the vicious sectarianism of those who lived and governed in the North. Described by the documentary maker Leila Doolan, “She (McAliskey) has always been a human rights activist. Civil rights has always been at the heart of what she has done and she is a woman of incredible eloquence and clarity.” Doolan and Bernadette Devlin McAliskey will be present at the screening and what promises to be an incredibly powerful evening.

“Blazing the Trail: The O’Kalems in Ireland” was a screening of the earliest works of fiction which depicted Ireland on screen. Produced between 1910 and 1915, the O’Kalem group were led by actor/director Sidney Olcott and actor/writer Gene Gauntier. The works used on-location filming primarily in the Kilarney area of Co. Kerry. It is amazing to consider the representation of Ireland to an American audience at the turn of the Twentieth century. At this very time in Ireland revolution was brewing and it was barely half a century since famine had ensured emigration to America by the Irish was in waves of tens of thousands. “Blazing the Trail” offers accounts of the making of these films as well as the original works themselves.

“A Door Ajar” is a dark treatise on the visit to Ireland in 1937 by French playwright and poet Antonin Artuad. Artuad is best known perhaps for his work “The Theatre and Its Double” which contained his idea and ambition for a theatre that would force his audience to viscerally experience the basic elements of human existence. ‘The Theatre of Cruelty’ as he called would expose the audience to the finest details of their emotive subconscious which would ‘cruelly’ awake them to greater sence of experience in the theatre.

A Door Ajar

"A Door Ajar"

Artuad came to Ireland in 1937 carrying a wooden staff which he believed was the true staff of St. Patrick. Folllowing an arrest in Ireland not much else is known of his visit. “A Door Ajar” discusses this journey to Ireland by Artaud and also looks at his writings, ideas and life.

“On the Box” is a selection of Irish documentaries to be screened on Saturday 9 July at the Fleadh. “Who is Dervla Murphy” follows the life and work of Ireland’s most prolific travel writer who has toured the globe for the past five decades. I attended a public interview with Murphy at the National Library of Ireland in 2009 and found her an incredibly interesting woman with an amazing life of travel and experiences.

“Neither Fish Nor Fowl” looks at the collapse of the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. The film includes intimate views into the film –maker Fiona Murphy’s own family. The film compliments well the exhibition of photography “Abandoned Ireland” which featured images of the ruins of grandeur which were previously the glamorous ‘Big Houses’. This was staged by photographer Tarquin Blake at the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway recently. http://www.abandonedireland.com/

Harry McGee’s short film “Coiscèimeanna: the Famine Walk” which discussed the journey of those who died trying to escape starvation in the West of Ireland is an interesting film which traces the devastation of famine and emigration had in the West of Ireland. Part of the ‘New Irish Shorts – Way out West’ series and this film featured earlier this week in the Fleadh.

If you have seen any of these films or plan on seeing those still to be screened please feel free to comment and leave your thoughts.

http://www.galwayfilmfleadh.com/

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Culture

 

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Out of the Archive – and on to the Stage

'Out of the Archive'

If the return of Iceland’s least popular export – volcanic ash clouds – doesn’t interfere then it would be well worth your while taking a jaunt across the Irish Sea to the International Samuel Beckett Conference taking place at the University of York. Out of the Archive is more of a festival than a conference and celebrates the legacy of Beckett and his reputation as one of the greatest of modernist playwrights. This legacy is of course lauded by all those who saw original works by Beckett, those who still marvel at new and engaging representations of Beckett’s work and who read his works, plays and letters and those who study the extensive repertoire of Beckett’s life.

What sets this conference apart is its focus on that unique aspect to any writers legacy: and this is the archive. The collection of manuscripts created and collected by Beckett and preserved by archive services allow for an interaction with the finest elements of Beckett’s character, psyche and thoughts. To the researcher, the archive is the single greatest asset and allows an unprecedented access to what has gone before and allows for the development of original research and thought.

The conference itself is described in the following:

“Samuel Beckett’s is one of the last great modernist archives. A vast, slowly emerging body of archival materials is enabling a “thick description” that details Beckett’s transformation of modern literature. Revised or previously unreleased texts, adaptations of unfamiliar works, and the recent publication of his arresting letters have revealed unsuspected reading habits and writing methods, and documented his immersion in specific intellectual and political contexts. This increasingly historical and empirical vision of Beckett seems at odds with the timelessness and universality presumed in earlier accounts of his work. “Out of the Archive” probes the implications of this contradiction by thoroughly reassessing Beckett’s oeuvre.”

The conference features talks by invited guests, academic papers, exhibitions and performances. Some of the literary and theoretical heavyweights who will be speaking at the conference include Nobel Prize winning J. M. Coetzee, Booker prize winning John Banville, photographer John Minihan and publisher of many of Beckett’s works John Calder.

'Out of the Archive'

Highlights of talks from a series of academics include Dr. Sinéad Mooney (National University of Ireland, Galway), “Beckett, Translation, and the ‘Grey Canon’”, Julie Bates (Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland), “Beckett’s Greatcoats: Paternal Museums”, Elsa Baroghel (University of Oxford, UK), “The Source and the Draft: An Insight into Beckett’s Dramatic Technique”, Anastasia Deligianni (Université Paris VIII, France), “Beckett, The Archetypal Archivist”, Dr. Rina Kim (University of Auckland, New Zealand), “Beyond the Archive: The Case of Beckett’s ‘Psychology Notes’”,  Prof. David Pattie (University of Chester, UK), “‘The following precious and illuminating material…’: Beckett Studies and the Archive”, Dr. Dirk Van Hulle (University of Antwerp, Belgium), “Modern Manuscripts: Samuel Beckett’s works between completion and incompletion”.

These are only a few of the incredible gathered body of speakers that will be present over this four day conference that will cover and discuss the themes of Manuscripts, Translation, Music, Cinema, Philosophy, Alternative Archives, Digital Archives, Politics, Beckett’s finished and unfinished notes and notebooks and myriad other topics.

For further information and full details of the conference visit the website http://www.outofthearchive.com/ and follow the conference on Twitter @beckettfestival

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Archives, Books, Culture, Theatre

 

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Exploring the Irish Short Story

As the arrival of the early summer sun continues to shine, it does so on the start of the Irish cultural festival season. Already this year the hugely successful Cuirt International Festival of Literature brought record numbers to Galway for the week-long festival. Coming up next you could look at a myriad selection of locations hosting literary festivals. Yesterday saw the announcement of the line-up of the Dublin Writers Festival, one of the standout events of the summer. Cuirt, Dublin, Listowel, Ennis, Waterford, West Cork, wherever, these literary festivals have one common trait, that is the frontline presence of the short story. 

One of the headline events at the Cuirt Festival in Galway was a panel discussion on reasons as to why and how the Irish short story has undergone such resurgence of late. The panel was chaired by Anne Enright, editor of the recently published Granta Book of the Irish Short Story. She was joined on the panel by three writers who are featured in the volume, Kevin Barry, Eilis Ni Dhuibhne and Phillip O’Ceallaigh. Those in attendance at Galway’s Town Hall Theatre were treated to readings from the Granta volume of Irish short stories by all on the panel. What really gripped the audience was the resulting discussion between the authors who seemed at such ease they may well have been seated at a kitchen table and not on a spot-lit stage.

The discussion raised some key questions that have been asked on more than one occasion of late when considering the current popularity of the short story in Ireland. Anne Enright teased at the ideas of tradition and of nationhood in Ireland. The panel discussed the idea of the novel being a form born out of and perfected by the society of the industrial revolution. It came later to Ireland for this very reason. The tradition in Ireland for telling stories was telling them in their oral form, their purest form: stories told for and to an audience. Eilis ni Dhuibhne really ignited this part of the discussion as she outlined her work as a folklorist and insights into the Irish oral tradition. Enright further added that as Ireland has had this tradition of oral communication, the short story has been an excellent medium to move this form from the oral to the written.

Discussion moved from short story writing to novel-writing and if the panel would consider working in this form in the future. O’Ceallaigh offered a considered but definite no. He outlined his affinity for the shorter form and how it offers a platform to write ‘the individual’, making more intimate a form than its longer cousin. Kevin Barry bucked this trend of course with the recent launch of his novel, City of Bohane. Barry’s Rooney prize-winning collection, There are Little Kingdoms has earmarked him as a truly original voice in the ever-growing stable of the Irish short story writers. Barry spoke of simply ‘knowing that feeling’ when embarking on a story whether it will stay within the short form or extend to a novel. Eilis Ni Dhuibhne mentioned the stress levels and self-doubting are considerably higher when writing a novel as it is just you and ‘this thing’ looking at each other for years at a time!

Barry also gave his ‘breaking news’ prediction on the return to popularity in the very near future of the novella. This form has lain lost between the short story and the novel in a literary limbo of late. The reason proffered by the panel as simply being publishers can’t sell novellas. Barry predicted that the arrival of the E-reader will make novellas a viable option again and will produce a new wave of great Irish works. Foster by Claire Keegan published in 2010 may add a lot of credence to Barry’s prediction.

Looking at Ireland’s neighbours, Enright moved on, there does not seem to be the same emphasise on short story writing in the U.K., she considered to the panel. Are these ‘small works for a small nation’? She offered further that short stories are symptomatic of a nation undergoing change and are more responsive to a people undergoing re-evaluation. While not fully getting to root of ‘the English question’ regarding the short story, the idea of tradition again arose, with the fact that Ireland is proud of its short story tradition and talks about its short story writers more so than any other nation. O’Ceallaigh was quick to add that the form is not a strictly Irish form and that he was hugely influenced by the Russian short story writers of the nineteenth and twentieth century American and Russian short story writers.

The discussion drew to a close with a consideration by all on the ‘long’ short story, such as which have been written by Colm Toibin, William Trevor and Frank O’Connor. Again the idea of the novella was raised as an answer but also the fact that Enright herself considered this point when editing the Granta volume of Irish Short Stories and considered the ‘long’ short story worthy of a volume of its own. That was enough to leave the audience perhaps considering more as they left the Town Hall Theatre as when they came in!

If the Irish short story is deemed a tradition owing to it being talked about as well as being read, it is sure to continue as a proud Irish tradition and a literary form that has something a little extra special to offer its readers.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in Books, Culture, Uncategorized

 

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The Fall-Out of Memories – Mercier’s ‘The Passing’ and ‘The East Pier’

“People around here just want to get on with their lives”, offers Steven, played by Andrew Connolly early in Paul Mercier’s new play The Passing, presented in reparatory on the Abbey theatre stage with his other new work The East Pier.  These two new ‘memory plays’ reflect on our contemporary Ireland, the unease and anxiety prevalent in its people and also ponders our connectedness to each other, or lack thereof.

Put simply, these are works for our time. However, they are not strictly of our time. The Passing and The East Pier share themes and ideas that are a continuation and extension of the themes Mercier has explored from the mid-1980s with his play Wasters, where he examined the disinterested youth of a generation of young Irish that were experiencing mass emigration. Here, Mercier presents a suburban middle-class, those who were cloistered in commuter-belt housing estates but today find themselves lost and very much alone socially, politically and economically.

To say these works are ‘recession plays’ or to label them as a direct comment on banking crises would do them a severe injustice. The dreaded words of recession, banks or bonds are never mentioned. That is not what Mercier is getting at here. He says himself “The Passing and The East Pier may be set in contemporary Dublin, amid the wreckage of a bust economy and a visionless future, but “events like the banking crisis, or whatever, happen every day. We’re either flush with [money] or we’re not. These events have been happening since I first began writing in the 1980s. The times then were challenging too. . . Yes. Ordinary life continues regardless of the economic circumstances.” (Mercier in conversation with Sara Keating, IT) Mercier is exploring the fallout of these crises and where they have been felt hardest and that is in the homes of Irish families.

The Passing is set in one such family house that has ceased to be a home.

The Passing. Image courtesy of Abbey Theatre

The Passing. Image courtesy of Abbey Theatre

Catherine enters the home of her childhood and in the process sets off the alarm, she is like an intruder in her own home. We learn that this house has been vacant for some time and is about to be placed on the market. A series of meeting with her siblings ensue, each by chance, none arranged and none of the meetings are that of siblings on good terms. Anthony Lambe’s set is a through-section of the house, from ground floor to roof chimney and allows the audience a vantage point into the private lives of families, usually kept within the walls of their home. Liam, played by Peter Hanley, is the son who stayed at home and who watched his parents grow old and eventually die. He is the executor, a powerful position to hold in a society where the holder of property has previously been the winner.

This is also a key point which Mercier teases at: a house loses any sense of being a home when it is treated solely as ‘a property’. Negative equity should mean less to those who bought a home to live in, be at home in and not to sell or hold simply as a commodity.

Catherine is brilliantly played by Catherine Walsh, one of the best performances you will see this year.  The ‘passing’ implied in the play’s title is played on many levels: the death of father and previous head of this household, the breakdown of the family as members move away and the ‘passing’ of the house itself into the hands of strangers, which Catherine frantically and desperately tries to prevent.

Mercier really hits some excellent notes in this play. In one of the final scenes, where Catherine talks with the neighbour Steven, they discuss how ‘year after year homes give birth to extensions’, they battle with hedges, trees, fences, boxing each other in and moving neighbours further away from each other, retreating back into their ‘improved’ houses.

We never quite learn exactly why this house has such a powerful connection to Catherine given that she ‘abandoned’ it some long years back. This, aligned with the fact that we never fully know enough about the original reasons for Catherine leaving her home or for the lack of communication between her and her siblings do leave gaps in the story. It is still an intriguing piece and forces a revaluation of the current state of Irish community, family and social standings and sets about a point of reconciliation for a new Irish society.

The East Pier is the second new play by Mercier staged at the Abbey. The audience are brought to the lobby of a pier-side hotel in Dublin’s south coast. The decor of Anthony Lamb’s hotel is aged but clean, worn and now tacky and out-dated. It perfectly accentuates the passing of time from when the hotel was a hub of life and social meetings instead of present day when not even staff are present. These sea-side hotels were once booked-solid for summer getaways but this of course was before the norm of exotic foreign holidays.

Kevin, a plainly suited business-man enters, slightly nervous and waiting for someone. Jean, soon follows. She is also suited in the garb of the successful business woman. It quickly becomes evident these two have a connection and a story that goes far beyond a chance business meeting.

Idle chit-chat is exchanged, job titles, services, husbands, wives, children, the usual ‘elevator talk’ to pass a moment.

Don Wycherly. Image courtesy of Abbey Theatre

Soon, Jean and Kevin are talking about past encounters that one or either remembers while the other can’t recollect. Mercier masterfully controls this outpouring of experience and memory. His direction keeps the dialogue flowing as one delves into their memories of school, youth, summers, debs, embraces, walks and ideas of elopement. While the other might not always remember the exact details, the place or people present, the key is Kevin or Jean have never forgotten each other. Blanks in memories give way to floods of emotions and remembered embraces. Were these deliberately forgotten however?  The fractured lives of this couple and their changed directions mean things seldom follow the path they envisage.

Don Wycherly has been one of the consistently brilliant actors anywhere in Ireland over the last number of years and this is to be no exception. He carries his devotion to his children, to his business and his clients with an innate vulnerability. Andrea Irvine also excels as she portrays Jean who is visibly hurt by Kevin in a former life. There is genuine connection between the two, albeit in the face of years spent apart and spent wondering.

Paul Mercier has done something extremely interesting here. By working with memory and recollection he has ironically created two pieces that deal with the present. He presents Ireland as it stands today, broken, lacking guidance, stung and struggling in the fallout from its memories of happier times.

See www.abbeytheatre.ie for further details.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2011 in Abbey Theatre, Culture, Theatre

 

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