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Tag Archives: Don Wycherly

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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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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