Christmas Wish-List

As the end of the year approaches, I decided to look forward instead of back and rather than write a review of the year just gone, I wrote a Christmas wish-list for Irish theatre in 2014. If you would like to read a review of theatre in 2013, I recommend Patrick Lonergan’s Irish Theatre Highlights 2013.

In the meantime, here’s my wish list.

1. More plays by female writers, on the big stages and small.

Shush by Elaine Murphy, premiered at the Abbey Theatre in 2013
Shush by Elaine Murphy, premiered at the Abbey Theatre in 2013

I feel like I’m always banging on about this but it is important! It’s been a pretty good year for female playwrights. Elaine Murphy became the third woman since the 1930s to have a play on the Abbey main stage when Shush opened earlier this year, while Deirdre Kinahan has enjoyed great success at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. At the same time it’s worth remembering that women make up 51% of the population (in the theatre community I think they are more in the majority), but we don’t see their stories onstage and I think that’s wrong. It’s an embarrassing wrong that should be corrected. One way to do that it to programme more plays by women because this will encourage more women to write plays. Role models are important. When Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile in 1954 it was a significant achievement. However, his record lasted less than 2 months because suddenly people knew it was possible and set out to break the record.

2. I’d also like to see more plays by non-Irish writers on our stages. Irish theatre does run the risk of being too inward looking. Let’s expand our repertoire with Irish interpretations of great international plays. Patrick Lonergan made a lot of good points when he wrote about British drama and how we don’t see those plays produced in Ireland during the summer. Let’s see an Irish production of a Lucy Prebble play (Enron) or a Laura Wade play (Colder Than Here, Other Hands, Breathing Corpses), or a Polly Stenham play (That Face, Tusk Tusk). Let us see more great plays by non-Irish writers. I would also love to see some Anthony Neilson, Jez Butterworth and Dennis Kelly plays on Irish stages.

3. More money for the arts. A wish-list doesn’t have to be realistic, and it would be wonderful if there was an increase to Arts Council funding next year but I would settle for no more cuts to funding in 2014. The arts allocation in Budget 2014 was 7% less than the previous year. (Source: Theatre Forum newsletter.) As the cuts keep happening year after year, those who are still struggling on have become “the lucky ones” as so many companies have already gone to the wall. More cuts next year, mean more companies, venues and organisation will be forced to shut up shop and that lose of experience and talent could take years to build back up again.

4. In a related point, I’d like to see more plays with big casts in 2014. Lack of money and more profit-share productions means that small casts make sense, often with only one or two actors. This sort of restriction can and has lead to wonderful bursts of creativity and fantastic performances. I have seen some wonderful one-man shows this year – Man of Valour, Solpadeine is my Boyfriend, Howie the Rookie, Pondling, and the granddaddy of them all Silent – but it was also nice to see a stage filled with actors in the Abbey’s productions of King Lear and Drumbelly or the Gate’s Threepenny Opera. Rough Magic had a big cast in The Critic by enlisting the students from the Gaiety School of Acting and Trinity’s Players and I’m looking forward to seeing their production of The Rise and Fall of The City of Mahagonny.

5. My final wish is for more hopeful and inspirational plays in 2014. This is a bit like putting “a surprise” at the end of your Santa-list. I’m not really sure what I want, I just feel that recently Irish plays have tended to be a bit bleak and miserable. The Hanging Gardens at the Abbey almost ended on a hopeful note and then turned darker and sadder in the last few moments. Fishamble’s Guratanteed! was a fantastic piece of theatre with wonderful performances but the factual story was so hopelessly depressing that I felt reluctant to applaud them at the end. Really what I want is a more hopeful country – I want us to look forward and upwards and I’m hoping if we can manage it on the stage, maybe we can manage it in life in general.

Wishing you and yours a very happy New Year. And if you have any wishes for 2014, feel free to share them below.
2014

HISTORY: Interview with Louise White

HISTORY

HISTORY, the final part of THEATREclub’s trilogy of work about the social history of Ireland, opens in Project Arts Centre tonight. This final piece is about St. Michael’s Estate in Inchicore, while also examining the history of Ireland over the last 100 years. St. Michael’s Estate is a place with a particularly troubled past. It housed imprisoned 1916 revolutionaries after the Easter Rising and was the site of Ireland’s first social housing in the 1960s. More recently, regeneration has been promised four times in the last 15 years but the former residents of the estate are still waiting. Louise White, HISTORY’s Associate Director says the show is about “acknowledging the things that happened there, some of which are very dark and that poorly reflect The State; but it’s also about showing that there were good people there too and that people are strong, resilient and hopeful and they persevere.”

This ultimately hopeful project that been a long time in the making. It was commissioned by Dublin City Public Art Programme three years ago. Louise White is a recent addition to the HISTORY team. She joined the project in October. Louise is a performer, director and theatre maker. This year she won the Spirit of the Fringe award with Way Back Home, a piece that combined live storytelling, games and dance with beautiful, evocative paintings by visual artist Clare Henderson. She is currently developing a piece of work called Mother You, a big site-specific work for a disused commercial building in Dublin’s city centre. Louise says it is “about the cycle of life and the cyclical nature of the function of buildings. It’s about me wanting to nurture and do something spectacular and positive in a totemic representation of the failures of recent years.”

While her work is very different stylistically to THEATREclub’s, the ideas at the heart of their work are similar. Louise discovered this earlier this year, when she took part in MAKE, a theatre residency programme that is jointly run by Cork Midsummer Festival, Dublin Fringe Festival, Project Arts Centre and Theatre Forum. THEATREclub’s Grace Dyas also participated in the programme and the two got on very well together. Louise says “We had lots of conversations about life and art during that time and were mutually supportive of each other’s process.” Talking about how she became attached to the project, Louise says that “I thought the project was exceptional and important from the way she spoke about it and I felt privileged to be approached.”

Louise describes THEATREclub as “ever growing and incredibly ambitious”. HISTORY is a huge project, both artistically and logistically. Not only does it deal with big stories and themes, there is also a large number of funding bodies involved. The development process includes weekly public art meetings to keep everybody informed. This is a large scale, ambitious project that has been three years in the making. Louise says that THEATREclub have “a great integrity in their work” and their ambition is hopeful and aspirational. According to Louise, they are “Aspirational for those they work with; for the people of St. Michael’s Estate, for themselves and for Ireland. It’s a mad and brilliant energy to be around.”

The cast of HISTORY have all worked with THEATREclub before. Lauren Larkin plays Mother Ireland, Louise Lewis plays the statue of the Virgin Mary and they are joined by Shane Byrne, Gerard Kelly and Barry O’Connor. The tag-line for this show – Will you walk with us? – suggests that the audience are required to do a little bit more that sit quietly in the dark. There’s a full scale trad session each night, as well as a public conversation. THEATREclub want the audience to be involved in this history of Ireland so that they can take responsibility for what happens next.

HISTORY runs from December 18 – 22 at 7.30pm, in the Space Upstairs in Project Arts Centre. Tickets are available here and are only €10 for tonight’s show (December 18). Tickets for the rest of the week are €16/12.

Assassins: Interview with Anthony Kinahan

Assassins
Assassins

Assassins by Stephen Sondheim is about the men and women who killed or attempted to kill American presidents, and according to cast member Anthony Kinahan it is a very funny, exciting, fun show; a sort of musical review for these killers. Anthony plays Giuseppe Zangara who attempted to shot Franklin D. Roosevelt but missed and instead killed the major of Chicago. This is a show that also works as a history lesson!

Anthony describes it as a play that gives voice to the disenfranchised; those who have been shoved outside of society. The play does not apologise for these people but attempts to give an insight into why they did what they did. He says that they have been dis-empowered in so many ways that they can only find power through violence and while the story is told through an American frame, he feels that it still has a lot to say to Irish audiences. Anthony, who has an MA in Music Theatre from Central School of Speech and Drama in London says that the use of music in the show complements what’s happening on stage but it’s also insidious. As the audience find themselves humming the tunes on the way out of the theatre, their thoughts are more likely to return to the show and its themes again and again. The overtly performative nature of the show – the characters address the audience directly – also makes it hard for the audience to ignore these characters.

We also talked about the Sky Arts Ignition award that Rough Magic and Opera Theatre Company were joint recipients of, for a production of Rise and Fall of the City Mahagonny by Bertolt Brecht, set to music by Kurt Weill, and another play with direct social commentary that uses music to get its message across. And while it’s great to see the two companies getting the opportunity to make work of this scale, Anthony says it’s also nice to see Rough Magic rewarded, as they are a company who do a lot of training. He also has lots of good things to say about SEEDS director Ronan Phelan. Anthony said Ronan was very clear about his vision and what he wanted to do, while still being open to input from the cast. The cast of fourteen includes Ray Scannell, winner of Best Male Performer at this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival, WillFredd regulars Paul Curley and Shane O’Reilly and the wonderful Clare Barrett. Anthony says he feels lucky to be part of this performance and is delighted to get up and go off to work on this play, with these people every morning.

Now the work in the rehearsal room is finished and it’s time to let the audience in on the fun. Previews started last night and it runs at 9.15pm until December 14th. Tickets are €12 this week and €14/16 next week, available here.

Way to Heaven: An interview with Breffni Holahan

Way to Heaven. Image by Lucy Nuzum
Way to Heaven. Image by Lucy Nuzum

Way to Heaven, the Rough Magic SEEDS showcase production, directed by Rosemary McKenna and set in a concentration camp during WW II sounds like a fairly bleak prospect for the weeks running up to Christmas. However, when I voice these concerns to Breffni Holahan, she reassures me that it is not a depressing piece of theatre. She says there is a lightness to the piece as the members of the fake concentration camp attempt to imitate life and convince the Red Cross that there’s nothing untoward happening, everything is fine here, nothing to worry about. Breffni also attributes some of this lightness to Karl Quinn who plays the Nazi guard. She worked with him during this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival on Collapsing Horse’s Distance to the Event and was happy to see a familiar face when she started rehearsals for this show.

Breffni plays a woman in the concentration camp, only known as She or The Plain One. Her other Jewish prisoners are played by Kieran Roche and Ruairi Heading. They are joined onstage by three violinists and a number of children. On working with children, Breffni said she was told “if a child comes up to you and says I need to go for a wee, find a meaningful way to leave the space”. She says it hasn’t happened yet but if it does, she’ll be ready. Other cast members include Will O’Connell as the Mayor of the Jewish camp and Daniel Reardon as the Red Cross Representative. The play, which is based on a real events that happened in 1944, is written by Juan Mayorga and translated by David Johnson.

Breffni worked with Rough Magic earlier this year, on The Critic which was part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. She was one of the students from the Gaiety School of Acting and DU Players who performed a version of Puff’s The Spanish Armada for the writer (played by another Karl, Karl Shiels) in The Ark. Breffni is currently in her third year at Trinity, studying Drama and English. She says that when she started college, English was her main subject and then she got distracted by Players. She is very enthusiastic about Players as an environment to learn and experiment and says she has learnt to “rig a light, sew a hem, sell tickets, make a poster” and just do whatever’s necessary to get the show up and running. She says that Rough Magic’s Artistic Director Lynn Parker describes Players as being her university and she feels that is an accurate description.

Breffni has had a busy year and right now she’s not thinking too far beyond Christmas essays and enjoying a bit of sleep over the holidays. However, sometime in the future she would like to perform all of Sarah Kane’s plays. She has already started working her way through them with Players and has played Phaedra in Phaedra’s Love and C in Crave. She would also like to perform the Beckett piece Not I. Right now though, she is just enjoying learning as much as she can and working with great people.

Way to Heaven opens tonight in Project Arts Centre at 7pm and runs until December 14th. Tickets are €12 this week and €14/16 next week, available here. It is followed each night by the other Rough Magic SEEDS showcase productions Assassins and I will have an interview with cast member Anthony Kinahan tomorrow.