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Category Archives: Templebar

The Story of Vincent River

Eleanor Methven and Kerr Logan

Vincent River has a story to tell. His life has a story and his death has a story. His brutal murder at the hands and weapons of a hate mob pass the story of Vincent into the hands of his mother Anita and his secret lover, Davey. Prime Cut productions at the Cube in Project Arts Centre present a scene where one’s true self and one’s self recognition is forever held to ransom by the judging eyes and ears of neighbours, of family and of fear.

Vincent is absent throughout the play but lives on through the stories of his life that are teased out via a cocktail of alcohol and drugs from the grieving Anita and Davey. We view the story as it unfolds in the dank and grimy East-end London flat recently inhabited by Anita (Eleanor Methven) the mother of Vincent River. The flat, with its exposed rafters and wooden-frame walls invoke a vision of a through-section cut into the domestic life and memories of Vincent, Anita and Davey (Kerr Logan). This access into the private domestic sphere allow the audience the feeling of being the society and neighbours constantly watching and gossiping on the hidden love affairs of Vincent.

Methven is incredibly natural in her portrayal of the heartbroken and withered mother, worn down by a life of menial factory work, no husband and the threats to her son owing to his ‘precarious’ lifestyle. In fact this lack of a male role model for Vincent is pondered by Anita for her son enjoying male relationships. “He would have felt safe maybe”. The naturalness of Methven is at times at odds with Logan’s character, Davey. His accent wanders from Hackney to Merseyside at inopportune moments and is distracting but his delivery of an anxious, confused and utterly lost teenager is compelling.

Sarah Jane Shiel’s astute lighting, especially on the exterior street provides the only indication of passing time as the street lights glow in the passing night, allied with Philip Stewart’s tingling soundtrack creates a tense and enclosed environment.

Sophie Motley’s direction is well driven and structured with perhaps just the middle section lacking the emotive power of the opening and concluding sections, which incidentally contain the most imagery of the last moments of Vincent’s life, ensuring it is the absent titular character that has the most powerful story to tell. The graphic portrayal of the murder of Vincent, in a toilet cubicle of a disused railway station emphasises the isolation and extreme lenghts these men were going to in order to hide their relationship. The homophobic mob, identified only by their malice; “the one who cut, the one who kicked, the one who punched”, end Vincent’s story before it truly began.

If author Philip Ridley and director Sophie Motley sought to solely examine hate crimes, one wonders is there perhaps more that could be teased out of this work, perhaps learning more about Vincent than just his death and awkward childhood. Prime Cut productions have made an at times gripping and engrossing production that tells Vincent’s story when as so often the case, the victims of street violence are silenced forever.

Vincent River is at Project Arts Centre until 21 August 2010. www.projectartscentre.ie

Touring to: The Alley Theatre, Strabane, 26 August 2010. www.alley-theatre.com

The Market Place Theatre, Armagh, 27 August 2010. www.marketplacearmagh.com

The Playhouse Theatre, Derry, 28 August 2010. www.derryplayhouse.co.uk

 
 

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Behan’s “The Quare Fellow” at the New Theatre

The Quare Fellow, Image courtesy of the New Theatre

In a letter to Ernest Blythe, Director of the Abbey Theatre on 18 May 1946, Behan explains the theme of his new play, The Quare Fellow, “Two men are condemned to death and waiting for the rope – I would send it but better not scare the Department of Justice before we have anything done. There is nothing political in it of course”

The Quare Fellow opened at the Pike theatre on 19 November 1954. Blythe would not take Behan’s play, perhapsin fear of  provoking, as Behan warned, ‘The Department’. It turned out quite obviously that The Abbey’s rejection became the Pike Theatre’s gain. The Pike opened on 15 September 1953 and paved the way for Behan to be  recognised in an international capacity as playwright with the first staging of The Quare Fellow.

The Quare Fellow, provisionally called Casadh Sugain Eile or ‘The Twisting of Another Rope’  was intended to be a homage to Douglas Hyde and his Irish language play Casadh an tSugain or ‘The Twisting of the Rope’. Behan believed a play in recognition to Hyde’s work in title would stand a chance of getting in at the Abbey Theatre. That particular plan would not end in success.

Today the play finds itself in the New Theatre, which by all accounts is as near to the original Pike Theatre in size and fabric as one could imagine. The play is based on the last hanging permitted in Ireland in Mountjoy of prisonor Bernard Kirwan. The title character of Behan’s prison drama is never seen on stage but holds a deity-like presence over the other prisoners. The day in the life of the prisoners is distorted with the overhanging (no pun intended) death and the tense and overwrought expression of punishment through execution. The cast finds itself halved in numbers from the original twenty-eight, but the stage is far from empty and loses little of its intended image of cramped prison life.

Behan’s snappy, dark and at times often-humorous dialogue is handled and delivered well through a capable cast with fine performances turned in particularly from PJ Brady, Conor O’Riordan and the deadpan Luke Hayden whose warder Regan represents the humanist Christian element in the play. The Warder has overseen hanging after hanging and is stoical in his expressions and opinions on the sentence of death for a prisoner.

 Jer O’Leary’s rendition of the Auld Triangle tingles and amazes every audience member cramped into a full New Theatre. What should be revised for future production is the rather pointless interval that disrupts the flow of time, tension and intimacy leading up the eventual death of the Quare Fellow.

In 1954, the columnist for the Evening Press described viewing the first performance of The Quare Fellow, “When he (Behan) finds himself technically the Irish theatre will have another, and I believe, greater O’Casey”. The Irish Times wrote, “One of the positive qualities – and there are many – of Mr. Behan’s work is its power of provoking thought. Like a modern novel, it rounds off neither character nor situation but passes the buck, as it were, to the customer”.

Behan’s plays are O’Casey-esque in their sharp critique of idealism. The rejection by the Abbey was often been said to be for this very reason and also owing to its likeness to the modernist works of Beckett and Ionesco. The ‘idealism’ of serving in an Irish prison to that of a British prison where ‘hard time’ was as pleasurable as it sounded is also explored. Dunlavin, the elderly lag, experiences both in his time as a career prisoner:  “I smoked my way half-way through the book of Genesis and three inches of my mattress. When the Free State came in we were afraid of our life that they were going to change our mattresses for feather beds….but thanks be to God, the Free State didn’t change anythin’ more than the badges on the warders cap’.”

On the opening night of the play at the packed Pike theatre, Behan addressed the audience and said “I didn’t write this play, the lags wrote it”. The stage of the New Theatre mirrors in so many ways the original production in the intimate and miniscule Pike theatre. The stage though restricted in physical size is enlarged by Mark Wheatly’s inventive design which creates a space for the lags that seems to expand beyond the prison walls to the realms of their past experiences and imagination. This helped to bring out one of the play’s themes: The attempt by prisoners to create in words a sense of spaciousness and open possibility that is openly denied them in their daily routine.

As with all good theatre, which this undoubtedly is, its connection to the present time makes it all the more accessible and relevant as a production and to an audience. The last hanging in Ireland on 20 April 1954 added to the public reception of the play’s original production and its anti-hanging propaganda. Behan, who stated that this work was written for and by other inmates, created a damning critique of capital punishment and general observations on Irish prison sentences. This past week we witnessed one of the largest media frenzies regarding the release of a prisoner in Ireland. Larry Murphy served just ten and a half years of a fifteen year sentence for a brutal and horrific sexual assault. The case is but one example of many of late where the Irish prison and sentencing system failed in its duty to protect its citizens. In 1954, as the Pike stage belonged to Behan, Irish prisons were being critiqued and examined. The failure to prisoners, the failures to the public and the failures to the State were at critical levels then in 1954. Over a half century later, obvious failures still exist in our prison system. This is a powerful and evocative production of a highly charged and emotive piece that has for too long been absent from the Irish stage.

At the New Theatre until 4 September 2010.

http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/home.php

 

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John B’s classic revived at Smock Alley

The Highest House on the Mountain received its premiere in 1960 by Orion productions at the Dublin International Theatre Festival. It couldn’t be much further removed from the windswept and isolated rural setting of the play itself, but that fact serves to emphasise that John B. Keane’s work had nationwide appeal that preceded his native Kerry home. This appeal owed simply to the fact that Keane was as gifted and as pure a story-teller as was known in Ireland. Fifty years later, one of his greatly underappreciated works is being staged in Smock Alley theatre.

The play has Jim Ivers directing and in his own personal reflections on Keane’s works, he states that there was a sense of literary snobbery regarding Keane’s work in the 1950’s and 1960’s. “This is a crucial misunderstanding” forces Ivers. “Keane’s works were often deemed ‘unfashionable’ is an evolving Ireland that sought to look away from its past. But instead, Keane’s writing challenged and was centrally concerned with the clash between the forces of change and tradition, agriculture and industrialisation, the family unit and liberality versus sexual repression.”

Tavistock Arts assembled a young and extremely capable cast, including debutants such as Dave Curry and award winning Geoff O’Keefe (Michael McLiommoir Best Male Actor award for Billy Reddin International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival 2010.) O’Keefe turns in an excellent performance as Mikey, the widowed head of the household based in rural south-west Ireland. O’Keefe is spot-on with accent and mannerisms of his character and is hugely comical and also moving as a father who loses his wife and will also lose far more.

The Highest House… comments and delves into the framework of the family unit, including roles and hierarchy. Mikey and Sonny’s existence is suddenly altered by the return from England by Mikey’s son Patrick and his new wife, Julie, excellently played by Eimear Kenny. The play centres on the existence of family and personal secrets and the public and private edifice which family members portray. These hidden lives and false fronts vie with the true reality of the character’s personalities. Sonny retreats to a hermit like existence in face of the church and family and seeks solace in the unassuming and simple mountain folk. Mikey, following the death of his wife, humorously focuses his passions on other means of satisfaction, notably chops and black pudding.

Connie, Mikey’s rogue son enters the fray seeking to break the hatred of him by his father and in turn seek his share of the family farm. With Connie’s return comes also the outing of the deep and terrible secrets of each character’s past. Each has personal shame and Connie exploits these with threats and violence. As Patrick, Julie and Sonny all fall foul of their past, blame is apportioned to who brought this plague upon the household. Death proves to be the ultimate conclusion for many and cleanses all of their sins. Keane, however, also writes of forgiveness and the ability to overlook past flaws for the good of the soul and the god of the family.

The work is an interesting commentary on the mindset of the Irish community and its predetermination on land, land owing, wealth and family. The desire for wealth leads many to their moral and physical destruction and their eventual death. This of course has more than just simple relevance in today’s post-boom society. It strikes with more than just familiarity of the recent classic, The Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant by Tom Murphy at the Abbey Theatre, which deals with a crumbling estate headed by an ailing matriarch undermined by a scheming and land-grabbing son.

 In the striking setting of the stone walled and galleried Boys School stage at Smock Alley, This is an opportunity to see a moving, humorous and at all times engaging story by one of Ireland’s master story tellers.

The Highest House on the Mountain runs at the Boys School in Smock Alley Theatre until 31 July 2010.

www.tavistockarts.com

 

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Nothing Natural About Butler’s Astounding “The Early Bird”

"The Early Bird"

It is the stuff of nightmares for any family and for any parent. Stress and a breakdown in communication lead to a breakdown in marriage and in the family order. What order may remain in this life via the routine of child rearing is disquietly and suddenly fractured and distorted as the fabric of the family union, the child, is torn from its parents.

The play focuses on familial relationships: husband and wife, mother and daughter, father and daughter and also father and son. This examination of relationships, responsibility, trust and suspicion is undertaken amidst a super-heightened emotional state and at absolute crisis point. The couple’s only child has, without warning, disappeared and in the resulting void, Cusack’s and Palmer’s characters emit illicit suspicion and little compassion. Alex Palmer’s Jack is cruel and tainted with bitterness about not bonding with his daughter as he would have with a son.  His belittling of his wife, played by his real wife, Catherine Cusack, is beyond reprehensible and spiteful in the utmost, as he callously describes her as “useless” and “cut” in a derogatory sense regarding her post-caesarean body.

The loss suffered by the parents, of their angel, is a consequence of the loss of stability in their own relationship. The breakdown of familial communication and love, demonstrated by the flashbacks to loving embraces on a sun-kissed Spanish beach, has had a knock-on effect on their daughter as she enduring crippling nightmares, foreboding the tragic fate to come. The confinement of the set is matched by the confinement of the nightmare which the parents endure at the loss of their child. Time loses its hold, sentences hang and remain unfinished and moods alter rapidly and more often than not, violently and threateningly.

Catherine Cusack and Alex Palmer

Leo Butler’s text is immensely taut, frighteningly stark in its delivery, frantic but with balance in its pacing. The story retrospectively recounts the movements of the child on the morning she disappears but even no certainty can be attributed to those ill-remembered moments and adds only to aggravated distribution of blame.

 A ubiquitous menace and ominous sense of frustration and grief pervades throughout the performance which often treads on the mark of unsettling. The real strength of Butler’s text lies in its reality and documentary quality but also relying on more pure theatrical elements of fictional presentation. Here, Donnacadh O’Briain, director, must be given credit as he exudes every last element of space, time, anxiety and fear from the restricted space and set and also the spot-on delivery of Palmer and Cusack.

Catherine Cusack, in the role of the distraught mother, delivers a performance of such striking ability and passion, with a final monologue astutely balanced in its delivery and yet tinged with gaping rawness, it will stand as one of the great performances of this or indeed any year.

The sound and score, designed and orchestrated by Philip Stewart, delivers an ambience and soundtrack that can at once force one to shiver, squirm in fear and anticipation and remain totally in tune with the cast and dialogue. The words and actions of the permanently absent child presented through the mouths and actions of the parents are simply chilling.

The set, designed by takis (sic) consisting of a large Perspex box, imprisons its two inhabitants for the duration of the play. The design has Beckett-like elements that restrict the movement but not the graphic expression of the grieving and warring couple. The voyeuristic element of viewing the work through this box presents and challenges many elements of contemporary theatrical formats. It adds a dimension between the cast and audience that must be cognitively deconstructed by all parties in order to experience the heightened emotions of the parents.

The play has many contemporary references with news stories of late with similar theme of loss of a child. While these references will be near impossible to avoid, the relevance of the work as a social commentary reflecting on a lack of trust in society and neighbours and breakdown of relationships and marriages owing to work and personal pressures mark the specific relevance of this intriguing and astounding piece of dramatic theatre. The Early Bird is as powerful a production that reflects in uncharacteristic ways many of the most universal of family issues and creates a forceful deconstruction of family relationships.

Continues at Project Arts Centre until 26 June 2010

http://www.projectartscentre.ie/programme/whats-on/922-the-early-bird

 

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New archival resource guide for Smock Alley Theatre

A new research guide has been published on-line detailing an extensive catalogue of archival and reference sources for the exceptional Smock Alley theatre in Dublin’s historic Templebar. The guide comes as a new website has been launched specifically for Smock Alley. Prior to this, Smock Alley was placed only within the Gaiety School of Acting’s website. The Gaiety School, under the direction of Patrick Sutton and management of Niamh Byrne retains ownership and management of the spaces and buildings of Smock Alley.

Opened in 1662 by the Scottish John Ogilvy, Smock Alley is one of the oldest theatres of it’s kind in Europe. It is celebrated as one of the great English language and post-Restoration theatres and flourished in the late 17th century. Within its management, designers and repertoire of actors it can boast Thomas Sheridan, Colley Cibber, Peg Woffington, Spranger Barry, Louis de Val, Charles Macklin, Richard Brinsley-Sheridan and many others.

Smock Alley grew and developed its own very rich reputation as a place of immense spectacles, colourful performances and rich history. The building, more recently known as SS Michael and John’s church, has been completely redeveloped and a full archaeological examination has unearthed original structures, walls and vaults. Smock Alley has now been restored to much of its former glory and mystic but even more exciting developments lie ahead. It is envisioned to reinstate the main auditorium to fit the design of the original Smock Alley theatre while also maintaining the black-box studio space and utilize the amazing spaces of the Boys and Girls School adjacent.

Smock Alley is running full time as one of the most exciting and challenging theatre spaces in Dublin. It is a cultural asset beyond measure in value and provides an experience for actor, director, designer and audience member that they will long struggle to forget. A recent production, Knives in Hens, by Landmark productions is one such production that will live long in the memory for those lucky enough to see this powerful and striking production. Smock Alley regularly stages works and participated in various festivals and city-wide cultural events.

Scene from “Knives in Hens” by Landmark productions at Smock Alley.

The guide to the archival sources for Smock Alley is an extremely beneficial tool to any researcher of Irish theatre or social and urban history of Dublin. The guide contains a detailed written history of Smock Alley, a listing and archive/library call numbers of plays and play texts that were produced by the numerous playwrights of Smock Alley, original posters from Smock Alley productions, newspapers which carried coverage and reports and general text and reference books on Smock Alley and on Irish and international theatre of the period. The guide can be downloaded in full from the Smock Alley website along with the full archaeological report and media and press coverage.

http://smockalley.com/theatre/

www.gaietyschool.com

 

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Examining the Project Arts Centre Archive

The Irish history blog, Pue’s Occurences, has published an article detailing the history and archive of the Project Arts Centre. The article discusses the processes of archiving a performance and artistic archive and its value to Irish cultural history. 

http://puesoccurrences.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/building-an-archive-the-project-arts-centre/

The Project Arts Centre is one of Ireland’s most important and contemporary arts venues in Ireland and has been so since its insception in 1966 and continues to promote and develope new and emerging Irish artists, playwrights, actors and dancers. The archive is a vital addition to the documented heritage of Irish culture and is  housed in the Manuscripts Department of the National Library of Ireland.

Full details on the archive are available via the article on Pue’s Occurances and via the National Library of Ireland.

 

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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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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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The Last Daughter of Sodome

“Do you remember Sodome, a city of ruined excess. . . . .Sodome, all you have heard of it is true”.

The resonating voice of the woman in this work performed and translated by Olwen Fouere speaks of a tale of mystic, of memory, of death and resurrection. The Space Upstairs at the Project Arts Centre was transformed by the imaginative brilliance of John Comiskey into a mirrored, metallic and saline prision, in which the Woman awakens and from which she strives to escape.

This work is a translation by Fouere of a French text written by Laurent Gaude and which was published in France in 2009. Fouere was born in the West of Ireland to Breton parents. She has grown up with a duality of language and culture that allows for Gaude’s text and haunting narrative to be transposed so elegantly onto the Project stage. The space becomes an environment rather than a set in which the Woman reawakens as the rain falls and she comes back to life following years suspended buried in salt at the hands of her would be executioners. She is the last daughter of Sodome.

As she escapes her tomb, the contorted body of Fouere holds the gaze of the audience with every controlled movement in an intense and disciplined performance. Her legs, her fingers, her ankles, her toes, the salty stone on which she walks all bear the crippling stiffness of the excess, the shock, the conflict and the ruin that led to the downfall of her beloved Sodome.

The story by Gaude tells of the siege, contagion and slow but deliberate devolution of a city. It is a tale foreboding of innate amorality. A city that has hitherto thrived on excess, hedonistic sexuality and trust is shatteringly brought to a halt by a patient and silent assassin. “I was killing you as I greeted you”. This chilling admission reflects on the conflict and wars that plague our contemporary world, as contagion of distrust, fear, ignorance and intolerance threatens to rule in our world, every bit as forcefully as it did in the mythical Sodome. This is key to the excellent direction by Lynne Parker in a co-production by Rough Magic and Fouere’s own companythe Emergency Room. She creates an atmosphere of where memory is the link to past and future. The present is cyclical. Fouere opens the play by talking in the present, declaring she has always been here but we, as audience and as people in a nation and world have been blind to her presence. 

Olwen Fouere in "Sodome, My Love"

The excess of the past, once again threaten to ruin our world. The multimedia backdrops are a montage, a cerebral premonition of what could come and what has come to our society that is dominated by blinding, loud media, over sexualised images and a smothering pursuit of commercialism. The transformation of the Woman in the later cantos of the play reflects the cyclical nature of this. It has brought about the downfall of Sodome. It CAN happen again.

The nature in which Fouere delivers the narrative demands a sensory awareness and response from the audience. The voice of the woman, the water that falls on her skin, the fire that burns Gomorrah, the smoke of the ruins of Sodome, it is an extremely sensory delivery. If one was to shut their eyes, the performance could almost be inhaled from the stage.  

While the later cantos lack the intrigue, imagery and resonance of the opening sections, it is an extremely powerful production. Fouere astounds as does Comiskey’s staging and environment. The resolution is somewhat disjointed, the transformation from mythical past to current and present does not hit its intended mark. The building and rolling tension frustratingly does not spill over into climax as it so often threatens to do. Perhaps this is the only thing that is lost in translation.

Sodome, My Love. At Space Upstairs, Project Arts Centre until 27 March 2010.

http://www.projectartscentre.ie/programme/whats-on/876-sodome-my-love

http://www.roughmagic.ie/Home

 

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Gaiety School of Acting plays on at Dublin City Archives

Gaiety School Archive 

The Gaiety School of Acting’s latest production was not on a usual Dublin stage but it did feature its largest ensemble cast.  Dublin City Library and Archive on Pearse Street has acquired the archive of the Gaiety School of Acting, the national theatre school of Ireland. On 22nd February, the Dublin Room of Dublin City Library and Archives hosted an exhibition and evening of talks to mark this transfer of the Gaiety School’s records into the Irish National Theatre Archive. 

Some of Ireland’s most celebrated actors, directors and writers have graduated, taught at or are simply associated with the Gaiety School of Acting. Managers, staff and past students such as Joe Dowling, Pat Laffan, Mary Elizabeth Burke Kennedy, Don Wycherly, Karl Shiels, Eva Birthistle, Catherine Walker, Keith McErlean, Orlaith Rafter, Stuart Townsend, Flora Montgomery, Rory Nowlan and countless others have made the Gaiety School an established and essential part of the Irish theatre scene. 

Founded in 1986 by renowned actor, director and teacher, Joe Dowling, the Gaiety School evolved to meet head on a distinct lack of acting training in Ireland. Originally offering just a nine week evening course the Gaiety School has grown beyond all realms of belief. According to Joe Dowling, “When we started, there was a dearth of training [available in Ireland]. We wanted people in the profession to train the next generation of actors. I’m very proud we began it”.   

The collection contains all administrative, financial and Board of Directors records from the schools inception in 1986 up to early 1997. This ten year span was crucial in the development of the Gaiety School. It oversaw its growth from a single part-time course to offering full time actor training as well as part time acting courses. This period also records two changes of premises, from humble beginnings on Baggot Street to the move in 1995 to the Gaiety Schools current home on Sycamore Street in Templebar.   

The move to Templebar highlights the Gaiety School as another major cultural institution that relocated to Templebar during the redevelopment of the area in the early and mid 1990s. The correspondence, building plans and other records document the immense planning that went into such a move and are a vital resource for any social researcher or historian of urban redevelopment. The Templebar project grew from transformation of premises that were bought en masse by C.I.E. This urban redevelopment was happening in a period of Irish governance that saw three different Taoisigh from Charles Haughey, to Albert Reynolds to John Bruton, ranging from a Fianna Fail to Rainbow Coalition led Governments that took charge in pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland. 

The history of the Gaiety School, however, runs a lot deeper than 1986. A Gaiety Theatre School existed in the 1940s and was headed by the celebrated actress and director Ria Mooney. Very little documented evidence of this original Gaiety Theatre School exists. However, the archive of the Gaiety School of Acting proudly holds possibly the only documented account of this school. A prospectus of the school from the year 1944-45 in immaculate condition lists a detailed account of the acting training offered by the then Gaiety School and also a statement by the school principal Ria Mooney. Also present is a letter from Ria Mooney to a prospective student who was not successful in her desire to claim a place in the Gaiety Theatre School in 1945. The National Library of Ireland does hold a collection of Ria Mooney papers. These records do not contain any mention of her time at the Gaiety School and pertain only to her capacity as head of the Abbey theatre school, the position Mooney took up following her time at the Gaiety School. This fact acts only to emphasis the importance of the two items relating to the original Gaiety School. 

The Gaiety School of Acting archive also contains all records of graduate productions and showcases from 1986 to early 2010. There is an extensive collection of programmes, flyers, posters, press cuttings, reviews, scripts and ephemera from these productions which present a stirring and visual snapshot of the success and productivity of the school. Scrapbooks of marketing and press information highlight the challenge of promoting an actor training school and also document how Irish media and expectations of advertising also grew during the twenty four years covered by the Gaiety School archive. 

The archive also proudly boasts framed posters from productions directed by Gaiety School founder Joe Dowling at various Dublin theatres including The Gaiety Theatre, the Abbey Theatre and the Peacock Theatre. One of the most striking of these is a poster from the 1988 production of Translations by Brian Friel and directed by Joe Dowling. This production is often noted as being the definitive production of Translations and also starred the late, great actor Donal McCann. 

At Dublin City Archives the launch evening and exhibition was made all the more special by an exhibition featuring highlights from the Gaiety School past that was wonderfully orchestrated by Ellen Murphy, senior archivist at Dublin City Archives. Cllr Kevin Humphries, Deputy Mayor of Dublin addressed the assembled crowd of past and present Gaiety students, Gaiety staff and Board of Directors and those who had fond memories of the School. The event was completed by the presence and speech by school founder Joe Dowling who travelled from his current position as director the Guthrie Centre in Minneapolis, U.S.A. Dowling spoke of how the school came to be and of the effort required on so many fronts to see the school evolve into what it is today. 

At the Gaiety School of Acting Archive launch: Joe Dowling, Gaiety School Founder, Ellen Murphy, Senior Archivist, Dublin City Archives, Patrick Sutton, Director Gaiety School of Archives and Barry Houlihan, Gaiety School Archivist.

Current Gaiety School director Patrick Sutton spoke passionately about the challenges of running such a school in an economic climate that is often quick to forget the Arts when for so long Arts and culture was and is one of the main attractions of foreign tourism and investment to these shores. Sutton also addressed the students and described how to carve a career in the acting industry is not for the ill-committed and how it is not for the long established to call the shots in the industry but how it is ever more important for new creativity to rise and be noticed. 

A video montage, expertly assembled by past student Simon Stewart presented the skill and talent of past and current Gaiety School students. Rounding off the night, Patrick Sutton added: “We are delighted at becoming part of the documented theatre history of Dublin and hope that the archive will prove to be of interest to researchers in the coming years.” As many theatre companies are unfortunately falling victim to funding cuts and suffering as a result, the Gaiety School, which also manages the magnificent Smock Alley theatre is going from strength to strength and the commitment of its archive to a public institution is a great addition to the documented theatre heritage of Ireland.  

Gaiety School of Acting, National Theatre School of Ireland

 http://www.gaietyschool.com/

http://www.dublincity.ie/RecreationandCulture/libraries/Heritage%20and%20History/Dublin%20City%20Archives/pages/index.aspx

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gaietyschool/sets/72157623493226772/

 

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