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Mephisto’s Journey to “the Honey Spike”.

The Honey Spike

Here is a tale of Irish Roads, of a Tinker and his wife,

It’s a tale of trouble and wildness and a child that’s born to life,

There’s mating in it, birth and death and drink to flood a dyke,

So here’s how they raced the bloody road that lead to the Honey Spike

The review from the Evening Press of “Bryan MacMahon’s the Honey Spike, produced at the Abbey Theatre in 1961 reads: [The Play] has the essential quality of all good drama: vitality – life breathes through this play.” (23 May 1961)

While “The Honey Spike” is indeed a play singing the virtues of life and the fervent dedication of expecting young parents, it is also the fear of death and superstition which supersedes the anxious wait for new life.

A young Traveller couple, Martin and Breda Claffey have travelled the length and breadth of Ireland, on their own journey and adventure as newly-weds. From the cliffs aside the Giants Causeway, on the tip of Ireland’s East Coast, the pregnant Breda is nearing her ‘time’. Her baby is but days away from life. Driven by tradition and superstition and indeed also fear, Breda longs to abide by her mother’s wish, to have her baby at the ‘lucky’ spike – the Honey Spike – back in her home of Dunkerron in South Kerry.

This trek  to the lucky spike also allows for much soul-searching amongst the couple themselves, with touching scenes of genuine warmth and love by a campfire in the wilds of Ireland.  When crossing the Border region, MacMahon characterises this ‘lost world’ of an area without a true attachment of a people. It is a purgatorial space, belonging to no country but yet fought viciously over by those living on either side – the wounded IRA man seeking help identifies with the cause of the Claffeys, depicted as yet another who is seeking to find a true home. As Breda declares to the English soldiers, “What do we Travellers care about the IRA or if the country is in two or two thousand bits – shur isn’t every hand North or South up against us.”

The arduous journey brings the couple on an expedition through the heart and soul of Ireland. They must encounter a Border region “full of smugglers and IRA”, a lifeless midlands and perhaps most troublesome of all – the Puck Fair Festival in Kilorglin.

The symbolism of Puck Fair, being a Festival that many believe to be Pagan in origin and which celebrates the goat as a symbol of fertility, is fantastically written by McMahon and driven with skill by director Caroline Lynch. The passion to return to the Honey Spike at which to birth her child consumes Breda, as does her Catholic fears such as losing her ‘blessed cord’.

Emmet Byrne and Emma O'Grady. Image (c) Mephisto Theatre Company

The mixing of Catholic and Pagan symbolism reminds much of Vincent Woods 1992 play “At the Black Pig’s Dyke” which was produced by Druid Theatre Company. The story tells of families in the Border counties of Leitrim and Fermanagh where local feuds are passed down through generations. This is evoked through using the local traditional customs of the’ mummers’, characters, who since Pagan times, celebrated life, death, growth and harvest.

The oral tradition of storytelling that surrounds the Irish Travelling people is never far from MacMahon’s mind. A volume of his own autobiography is called “the Storyman”, named after a child in the street who stopped him and asked was he the “Storyman”. Characters like Dicky Bird, excellently portrayed by Sèamus O’Donnell, represent the wandering bards synonymous with the story-telling tradition of MacMahon’s North Kerry as much as with the Travelling community.

The play is also so much an exploration of language. Turns of phrase local to those from the Kerry or Munster region differ from those we encounter from the character of Meg McCuteheon from the North of Ireland. These phrases are in turn different again from those purely native to the Travelling community. Dicky Bird, the Traveller, recounts prayers in the traditional Traveller Gammon dialect, which is joined in chorus by those other Travellers around him.

The closing scenes offer a reflection of supreme pathos. As Dicky Bird has confounded all who he encounters with his riddles and rhymes, so too is the confounding riddle of life and death played out at the Honey Spike – the end of a journey. Perhaps most fittings of all to sum up this is a riddle by Bird himself. It is introduced as being written on the gravestone of a poet in the north-west, Yeats himself: “Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horsemen, Pass by”.

Mephisto Theatre Company have produced a real classic here and in doing have staged an impeccable production. Emmet Byrne and Emma O’Grady (Star of earlier Mephisto production of Grenades) are outstanding as the young Traveller couple who must overcome religion, feuds, prejudice and often their own fears and customs so that their child might live. O’Grady relishes the rich character and language of Breda afforded to her character by MacMahon. Daniel Guinnane also gives a great turn as the drunken Mickle Sherlock. Mephisto are quickly establishing themselves as a company of considerable ability and imagination. It is a truly moving and powerful production, full of lyrical beauty, stories, humour and grief and is not to be missed.

The Honey Spike is at the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, 9 – 13 August 2011.

www.mephistotheatre.org

www.tht.ie

 

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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Galway, Well, It Loves Theatre!

Nuns Island Theatre - Galway Loves Theatre

For the next two weeks, Nun’s Island Theatre will be taken over of near non-stop action. With four performances a day those who are caught up in Arts Festival fever will have ample choice to pick from. Groups such as Mephisto Theatre Company, Galway Youth Theatre and Vagabond Theatre Company, among others, are staging a series of works that range from the comedic, the political, the ridiculous to the deadly serious. The programme of events is directed by Páraic Breathnach.

Highlights include Mephisto Theatre’s Grenades which starred in Galway earlier this year at the Cùirt International Festival of Literature. A dark but engaging account of life in the North during the Troubles, Tara McEvitt’s play is brilliantly written and delivers a sincere and astute performance from its actor Emma O’Grady. In 2010 McKevitt won the RTE PJ O’Connor Award for the radio version of ‘Grenades’ and in June 2011 won a Gold Award at the New York Festivals Radio Awards. Tara is a participant on The Abbey Theatre’s New Playwrights Programme 2011/12. Grenades has been touring Ireland for the past few months and is a great opportunity to see this play on its return to Galway.

Love and Money written by Dennis Kelly is staged by Galway Youth Theatre/Galway Arts Festival. I saw a production of this play in 2008 at the Project Arts Centre by Hatch Theatre Company and seldom has a play stuck in my mind all this time later. The play examines the wreckage lives and relationships are left in when materialism and a culture of greed pervades society and the minds of people that live and interact with each other. A couple struggle in the face of debt to the point where suicide is felt to be the only option as an exit strategy. The play follows the lives of this stricken couple in a reverse and at times askew timeline that runs from debt, death, affairs to love, greed and materialism. In early 2008 this play was eerily resonant in face of what would happen economically in the coming months. Its selection here for inclusion in ‘Galway Loves Theatre’ is an excellent choice and an intimate reminder of where we were and how we were during Celtic Tiger Ireland in comparison to todays more ‘stringent’ times. This will be one to catch. Here is a clip from rehearsal of the production at the Project Arts Centre starring Barry Ward, Kate Ni Chonaonaigh and Will Irvine.

In keeping with current trends there appears to be a nationwide Friel season happening. With works by the great Lovers performed by Galway Youth Theatre. Written in 1967 Lovers consists of two self-contained mini-plays, one being Winners and the second being Losers. Following the lives of two couples and the social expectations and moral examination inflicted on them by neighbours and families, Friel presents their experiences through issues such as unmarried parenthood, Catholicism and family expectations, this is a good chance to see one of Friel’s lesser known works.

The joyously riotous Who Needs Enemies written by Conor Montague and brought crashing onto the stage by Vagabond Theatre Company. Described as a satire on Ireland in love with hedonism. Previously staged at the Bulmers Galway Comedy Festival and at the Body and Soul Music and Arts Festival, the play follows Eoin who returns to Galway following an enlightening trip to the Himalayan wilderness. Now detached from his previously destructive lifestyle, it is up to his beloved friends who chip away at his new-found serenity and drag him back to the dark side of drink, drugs and unregulated mayhem. Here is a clip of a typically ‘restrained’ scene from Who Needs Enemies:

These are of course just a flavour of what Galway Loves Theatre has to offer. There is plenty to satisfy all tastes and with tickets ranging from 12/14 euro, it is certainly at the more affordable end of theatre tickets these days. Performances are Monday to Friday 11th – 16th July and 18th – 23rd July and are at 1pm, 5pm, 8pm and 10pm and there are variances in productions between these weeks so check the programme for full details of performances and tickets. http://www.galwaylovestheatre.com/home#

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2011 in Theatre

 

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Cuirt Festival brings books, talks and grenades to Galway

The Cuirt International Festival of Literature got off to a strong start in its Galway home yesterday. Events are taking place city-wide and taking place until Sunday. The Festival, officially launched by playwright Thomas Kilroy is in its 25th year and is showing no signs of slowing up after its quarter century.

Cuirt Festival 2011

The Town Hall theatre is just one venue that will be a hub of activity for the week. Things kicked off with a talk with authors Paul Murray and Dermot Healy. Healy’s new novel Long Time No See has been getting a considerable deal of extra attention of late owing to a spat based in the letters page of the Irish Times on various opinions on opinions of Healy’s book. Healy has kept his council on this matter and last night’s talk along with the excellent Paul Murray got focus back on the writing.

In the Town Hall Theatre studio space Tara McEvitt’s play Grenades was playing to a sell out crowd. Winner of the P.J O’Connor award for the radio version of the play, McKevitt presents a stark yet touching portrayal of family, relationships and death in the North of Ireland still reeling in the grip of sectarian violence. The soundtrack is fantastic with true classics from Thin Lizzy and the Undertones, linking the innocence and care-free youth of Nuala and Oran Kelly, who proudly sport the badges of their favourite bands on their denim jackets. They do not so openly display their religion or political beliefs, Nuala, particularly is bewildered by the presence of a gun in her granddad’s shed. Her childhood is shattered suddenly as physical and metaphorical grenades are lobbed into her life and take with them those she loved most. Nuala is brilliantly played by Emma O’Grady is this solo performance piece presented by Mephisto Theatre Company and will definitely be a highlight of the Cuirt Festival week.

Grenades - Mephisto theatre company

For a radio version of the play click here and enjoy: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/drama/

Wednesday’s festivities sees what promises to be a great insight into two leading current female playwrights, Nancy Harris and Stacy Gregg. Both have staged new works (No Romance, Harris) or will stage new works (Perve, Gregg) at the Abbey Theatre. Both authors will discuss their new works with Dr. Patrick Lonergan who lectures in NUI Galway and author of many works such as Theatre and Globalisation: Theatre in the Celtic Tiger Era.

Gerbrand Bakker adds a prestigious international flavour to teh Cuirt Festival. Bakker was awarded the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in June 2010 for The Twin, his first novel published in English, beautifully translated from the original Dutch by David Colmer.

A personal highlight takes place this Friday, 5pm, at Charlie Byrne’s bookshop where Kevin Barry will launch his new novel, The City of Bohane. Barry’s debut novel, following on from his excellent debut collection of short stories, There are Little Kingdoms, has just been released and will be a test of the young writer’s jump from the short form to the novel. His style, themes and language make Barry stand out with huge excitement.   It promises to be an exceptional story and an interesting evening in conversation with the writer.

Barry features again on Saturday in a panel discussion on the short story in Irish writing entitled Granta: the Irish Story. The distinguished panel includes Booker prize winner Anne Enright who edited the recent Granta Book of Short Stories, Phillip O’Ceallaigh and Eilis Ni Dhuibhne. The short story has undergone a major renaissance and rejuvenation in recent years and when better to discuss how and exactly why this has happened is with a new generation of award-winning short story writers. The panel discussion takes place at Druid Theatre at 1 pm.

Of course these selections are just some highlights from an incredible week’s line-up. Tickets are still available from the Festival Box Office at the Town Hall Theatre. www.tht.ie For a full programme of events see http://www.cuirt.ie/

I will keep you posted on as many events as possible over the course of the week. Get your diary out and start filling! Galway is known as a city of festivals and there can’t be a better way to get things rolling that with Cuirt 2011!

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2011 in Books, Culture, Uncategorized

 

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