This month marks three years since the beginning of #WakingTheFeminists and the movement is still going strong. In July Irish ten theatre organisations, in collaboration with #WakingTheFeminists, launched their Gender Equality Policies. These organisations worked together to comply with individual policies that were tailored to the work they do. They have all committed to regular reviews and reporting of the results of these reviews.
Since the beginning of June, Project Arts Centre’s Space Upstairs has been occupied by Jesse Jones: Tremble Tremble. This visual arts piece was Ireland’s entry into last year’s Venice Biennale. I wasn’t aware of the Venice Biennale before last year, but I became more and more intrigued by Tremble Tremble, the more I heard about it.
(The referendum happened over four weeks ago and I have spent almost that long writing this blog post. When I started writing about this, I discovered that I had a lot to say on the issue and it took some time to wrangle all those words and feelings into something interesting and coherent and not 5,000 words long, but it felt worth doing.)
The Theatre Forum-TheatreNI conference starts today in the beautiful Lyric Theatre in Belfast. The title of the conference is Intersections and there will be discussions on borders, gender equality and arts policy. There’s also a Fun Palaces workshop with Stella Duffy for community groups, after the conference ends on Thursday. I’m a big fan of Fun Palaces – I wrote about it here – and would love to see one in Dublin. You can find the full Conference Programme here.
There’s also a session on climate change, another topic close to my heart. In order to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk the organisers are working to reduce the waste produced by the conference. This means less conference materials, proper dishes used for the catering and instead of a conference bag and printed material, each delegate will get a reusable take-away glass Keep Cup. I love this idea. Waste reduction is so important, particularly plastic which does not decompose for thousands of years. The way we use plastic now – bags, take-away cups, straws, fruit in plastic trays – is learned behaviour, which means that we can unlearn it and start doing things differently. There has been a shift in attitude towards plastic waste this year with things like the Shop & Drop event in April when shoppers were encouraged to leave all their waste behind at the supermarket and the recent EU’s proposal to ban single-use plastic.
It’s not going to be easy – once you start looking, you realise plastic is everywhere – but it’s not impossible. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing to use less plastic this year.
1. I don’t have a Keep Cup because I don’t drink much takeaway coffee, but I do have a fancy glass water bottle. It’s a bit heavier than plastic but I don’t have to worry that chemicals are leaching out of the plastic and into my water! Emboldened by the Refill Project, I’ve often asked staff in bars and restaurants to refill it for me and they’ve always obliged. (These weren’t places on the Refill map, the project just made me feel more comfortable about asking for free water.)
The only place I don’t take it is the airport because I don’t think they’d let me bring glass on the plane. However I have learnt that you are allowed bring empty bottle through security and fill them up at the water fountains on the other side.
2. I switched from hand-wash to solid soap. It instantly cuts down on the amount of plastic coming into the house and ending up in the sea. Bí Urban on Manor Street in Stonybatter do a nice soap which they make using oils discarded in local food production, which is just a little bit Fight Club. It’s a real feel good soap because it’s zero waste and it’s locally made.
3. I started using a bamboo toothbrush. This will make you feel like a bit of a hippy but it’s also a very easy way to reduce plastic and you stop noticing the difference after a few days. (It does feel a bit weird at first!) I got mine in Bí Urban but they are available online as well.
4. I’ve been using more Lush products in their reuseable plastic pots. Some people are very anti-Lush. The strong smell, the bright colours and the overly enthusiastic staff are all too much for them. I have never bought a bath-bomb in my life but I love Lush for their reusable pots. For that it’s worth letting them bombard my senses for a few minutes. They take the pots back off you and reuse them again and again. If you bring back five, you can swap them for a free face mask.
5. I originally started buying stuff from Lush because you can take their solid face-wash and shampoo bars in your hand-luggage when you fly. They also have zero packaging. I love their Angels on Bare Skin face wash and I’ve used Godiva shampoo as well; the jasmine smell is really lovely. I also restarted started using a solid deodorant, I’m not sure how effective it is but it does involve zero plastic!
6. Away from the personal hygiene plastics, there’s the food plastic. I think supermarkets are slowly coming around to the idea that everything doesn’t need to be wrapped in plastic and you can get loose fruit and veg in most shops now. Just because they little plastic bags there, doesn’t mean you have to use them. You can just put six oranges and four apples and a couple of potatoes into your basket! There are also some places like Small Changes in Drumcondra and the Dublin Co-op in The Liberties that are cutting out the plastic used for things like raisins and lentils and pasta. They ask you to bring your own containers and just fill ’em up.
7. Most of these alternatives do cost a bit more than the plastic-wrapped version. I think costs will come down as it becomes more common to ditch plastic, but if you don’t have the extra cash there are still ways to cut down on your plastic just by being generally more aware of what you’re buy. Bring a bag with you, avoid straws and plastic cutlery if you can, avoid things with an excess of plastic like ready meals or salads in giant plastic bowls.
On April 23 2018, Maser’s Repeal mural was removed from outside Project Arts Centre for the second time. You know the one I mean. It was commissioned by the Andrea Horan of the HunReal Issues in 2016 and since then it has appeared in hundreds of profile pictures, on t-shirts, in windows, on badges and stuck to lamp posts around Dublin and beyond. I’ve often seen it above articles about the referendum in Irish and international press. It was only on the wall in Temple Bar for a couple of weeks but it has spread across the world.
In 2016, Project were told to remove it because they didn’t have planning permission. When the date for the referendum was announced, planning permission was no longer necessary and it went back on the wall. Less than a week later, they were told to remove it again. This time it was the Charities Regulator who had taken issue, and in a very murky reading of the Charities Act deemed the mural not in line with Project’s charitable purpose, and told them their charitable status was at risk if they did not cease “political activity”. Project is an arts centre. Their purpose is to present and develop contemporary art. They presented a mural by Maser, an award-winning artist that has displayed work around the world.
A week after Project received the order from the Charities Regulator, author Una Mullally was told by Dublin City Council that they were canceling her event in the International Literature Festival Dublin. The event was a panel discussion with contributors to Una’s Repeal the 8th Anthology. The anthology is a beautiful collection of stories, poems, essays and photos about the repeal movement and the effect of the 8th amendment. (Available in all good bookshops now!) The reason given by Dublin City Council was that they could not give a platform to one side of a referendum debate. That makes some sense, but the festival programme was announced on April 11th, two weeks after the date for the referendum was set. If Dublin City Council had a problem with the event, why was it programmed? To pull it after tickets were sold feels reactionary and I wonder if the disciplinary action that Project were threatened with affected the decision making process.
But censoring art doesn’t make it disappear. Maser’s mural is everywhere. Since Project painted over (most) of their mural last month (an act that Artistic Director Cian O’Brien described as “defiant compliance”), the image has already popped up on the Amnesty building and currently adorns the windows of Panti Bar. That gorgeous Repeal heart is not going anyway.
The cancelled Repeal event took place last Monday, though not as part of the Literature Festival. Smock Alley Theatre, where is was scheduled to take place, offered to host it as a separate event. I am very glad they did because it was a great discussion. Censorship and gate-keepers came up, as well as stories about people being bullied or shamed into silence by those in power. There were also readings and performances from pieces in the book and it didn’t feel at all like a political meeting.
I’ve been to a few events in the Literature Festival and the referendum has come up more than once. I’ve seen lots of Yes badges and Repeal jumpers on and off stage, perhaps in a show defiance against the cancellation and perceived censorship. Pushing back against censorship is so important. The alternative is a climate of fear that becomes more fearful with each act of censorship and before long, people start to police themselves.
This week, Not At Home, a touring art installation about women who travelled for an abortion, had venues cancel on them days before they were due to exhibit. This is particularly egregious because one of the aims of the piece was to share the stories of women who had been silenced by shame and stigma. Now their voices are being silenced again. The venues quoted the same Charities Act that was used against Project Arts Centre as their reason for cancelling the event. The venues didn’t wait to be told if they were in breach of the law, they pulled out in case it became an issue. In Galway a publicly-funded organisation and two private venues pulled out of plans to present the exhibit. It was supposed to take place at Crawford College of Art and Design’s gallery (in partnership with UCC and Cork Opera House) but the invitation was withdrawn at a late point. The Gallery cited Charities Regulator guidelines and a wish not to “jeopardise” its charitable status or “become a focus for such controversy”.
Does this mean that artists now have to wonder if the art they want to make will be acceptable to venues, or if they might decide it’s not worth jeopardising their charitable status for? What happens if artists don’t feel able to take that risk and instead avoid political issues or “controversial” opinions. It’s not that long ago that talking about abortion or calling for repeal of the 8th amendment was considered a controversial opinion. It’s because people spoke up and refused to be silenced that we get to vote on that issue this week.
Art has to be allowed to be political. It has to be able to explore controversial territory and rail against the status quo. Good art helps spread ideas. It opens minds and helps us see things in new ways. It makes change possible because it shows us new ways of doing and thinking and being. Artists need to be supported and encouraged to do that. We have brave venues that are willing to support risky work but we need more of them, especially outside Dublin.
We should all do what we can to support anyone who speaks up against injustice, whether they are artists or journalists or whistle-blowers. We need to listen to them and do what we can to amplify those voices.
A Yes Vote on May 25th is one way to change the status quo a little bit, and a way to thank those who have spoken out.
At this stage (18 days from the referendum), you probably have to be living under a rock to be online and not know what Together for Yes is; particularly after their huge crowd-funding campaign when they raised half a million euros in seven days. But in case you missed all that, Together For Yes is the National Civil Society Campaign to remove the 8th Amendment from the Constitution. It’s an amalgamation of lots pro-choice organisations who have come together to get a yes vote in the referendum on May 25th.
This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to make Ireland a safer place for pregnant women and to give the women of Ireland control over their own reproductive rights. This yes vote is my no means a done deal. The vote will be very tight and we all need to do our bit to get it over the line.
And really, it should be a yes vote. The only reason to vote no is if you are against abortion in all circumstances and cannot imagine any possible scenario where abortion might be the right and necessary choice. If you feel that’s true, beyond any reasonable doubt, then vote no. But if you do feel that sometimes abortion is an acceptable option, for women who are pregnant as a result of rape for example or when the woman’s health is at risk because of her pregnancy or if there is a diagnosis of fatal foetus abnormality, then you should vote yes. Do it for those women.
And it you know that a yes vote is the only compassionate option and want to see Ireland embrace the compassionate choice, there’s lots you can do to make that happen.
1. Vote! And encouraging others to vote.
Tuesday 8th of May is the last day to register to vote. The form must be stamped by a Garda and be with your local authority by 5pm today. There is still time to get registered, but not much. All forms can be downloaded here.
If you already have that sorted, the most important thing is to go out and vote on May 25th. It’s a Friday. The polls will be open from 7am until 10am. And encourage other people to do it too. We’re a small country, every vote really does count. We cannot assume anything about how this vote is going to go so please talk to friends and family, figure out how and when you’re all going to vote on May 25th.
2. Go canvassing or have the chats at work or at home.
Together for Yes have local groups all over the country going out knocking on doors and talking to people about why they should vote yes. Find your local group and give them a hand. It will mean giving up a few evenings and maybe having a few awkward conversations but it will move us towards a yes vote.
If you can’t go canvassing, maybe have a conversation with work colleagues, friends of family. See how they’re feeling about the referendum, suss out if they have any concerns and maybe make sure they have the correct information. Big areas of misinformation seem to be the fact that the law as it is currently does harm pregnant women, even in a wanted pregnancy and those unrestricted 12 weeks. “Unrestricted” is not the right word to use. A woman will still be making that decision with her doctor, and right now women are buying abortion pills off the internet and taking them up to 12 weeks, which is to my mind is more unrestricted and more dangerous than doing it with the support of a medical professional. Together for Yes have all the facts.
3. Wear a Together for Yes or Repeal badge, t-shirt or a jumper.
If you aren’t able to canvas or feel uncomfortable initiating conversations about the referendum, for whatever reason, wearing a badge is a great way to support the cause and let conversations come to you. Wearing your political intentions on your chest whether it’s a Together For Yes badge or a Repeal jumper tends to get your a few smiles and nods and might even start a conversation or two. It’s a gentle way to support the campaign but there is a great solidarity in seeing all the badges around the place!
Badges and other supportive paraphanilia is available from shops in Dublin, Cork and Galway and from the online shop.
Donating to Together for Yes will help them to print leaflets, hold events and do things like the Conversations Tour which is bringing Together for Yes around the country for the next two weeks.
We need this change to the constitution and we can all do a bit to make it happen. The vote is less than three weeks away. We are ready for this change, we’re been ready for a while. We just need the last little push to get it over the line.
Climate change is a hard topic to get your head around. It’s depressing thing so we avoid thinking about it. It can make you feel powerless. I don’t know much about climate change but I know it’s happening and that we are causing it. And because it’s caused by us, we also have the power to fix it.
We are already seeing the effects of a changing climate in Ireland. Last month we had a major weather event that put the country under lock-down for two days. The Beast from the East was compared to the heavy snowfall of 1982 but just because this has happened before doesn’t mean climate change isn’t to blame. Climate change causes these once in a generation events to happen much more frequently. We’d already had a status red-warning in October 2017 for Storm Ophelia, which started off as a hurricane in the Pacific Ocean. We don’t generally get a lot of hurricane warnings in Ireland. These aren’t the first extreme weather effects in Ireland but they do seem to be becoming more frequent.
A week before Storm Ophelia the Citizen’s Assembly gathered in Malahide to discuss climate change. The topic they had to consider was “How the State Can Make Ireland a Leader in Tackling Climate Change.” This was an extremely ambitious proposition. According to the 2018 Climate Change Performance Index, a report of countries taking action against climate change, Ireland ranked 49 out of 59. It was the worst performing county in Europe, dropping 28 places from the previous year. We have a long way to go before we can hope to be considered a leader in tackling climate change.
All the presentations from the Citizens’ Assembly are available here and here. (Links to the agendas for the two weekends, the recommendations and the presentations slides are here.) It is a wonderful information resource if you want to learn more about climate change and it’s effects. If you are not sure if it’s real or that human activity is to blame, this presentation should convince you otherwise. It’s also demonstrates what the rising temperatures mean for the future.
I like the Citizens’ Assembly. I believe putting a group of non-politicians in a room, educating them on the topic at hand and asking them to consider it from all angles before making their recommendations is a good thing. I admire those who take the time to ask questions and interrogate the issues. I love that it’s all streamed online and available to watch in any part of the world. (Except in areas of rural Ireland where the internet probably wouldn’t cope with streaming video.) But it is a process set up with restrictions, so while I was very optimistic about the kind of ideas that might come out of a Assembly with such an ambitious title, I was disappointed that the recommendations the citizens were asked to vote on were all pretty small, sometimes vague measures.
The Assembly focused on three areas – Energy, Transport and Agriculture. Members voted to accept all the recommendations by a high margin. The lowest vote was the 80% of Members who said they would be willing to pay higher taxes on carbon intensive activities. One hundred percent of the Members recommended that the State should take a leadership role in addressing climate change. The full list of recommendations can be found here. They included things like increasing investment in public transport, reducing food waste and taxing greenhouse gas emissions. They are all small changes but they would be better than nothing. Of course, the government does not have to take on any of the recommendations just because the Citizens’ Assembly says they should.
The two most dangerous myths around climate change are that it’s something that’s going to happen years and years from now and that there’s nothing we can do to stop it. We have seen that it is already happening; we know that it’s a threat now. There are also a lot of things can we can do to stop it. All we need to do is reduce the carbon we are putting into the atmosphere and we can start doing that right now.
There were optimistic presentations at the Citizens’ Assembly about the changes to be made to tackle climate change. Brian Motherway’s presentation describes the low carbon home – a warm, well-insulated house with solar panels to heat the water and where the electricity bill is about €200 a year.
He describes how newly built homes, ones that adhere to building regulations, produce 30% less carbon on average than older homes. It doesn’t cost that much more to achieve this standard when building a home from scratch. However it costs more to add them later, so it’s really important that those regulations are not ignored as we struggle to keep up with the demand for new homes. The government needs to make sure that the regulations are met. The bad habit our politicians have of trying to keep the builders and property developers sweet could adversely affect the amount of carbon we produce in the future. There are lots of examples where playing politics could have a significant effect on our future climate.
We’re told that tackling climate change will mean giving up thing for the intangible, distant benefit of the not making the planet inhabitable. But having a warm, well-insulated house is a good thing. Creating renewable energy jobs in Ireland instead of getting all our carbon heavy fuel from overseas in a good thing. Better public transport is a good thing. Tackling climate change will have positive effects but it will mean making changes. Change is hard, we tend to resist it. However life of earth is going to change whether we like it or not and it’s better to make the change than have the change happen to you.
We can all do our bit to reduce our carbon emissions, but the big changes have to come from government policies and changes to transport and infrastructure. We need to tell the government that this is what we want and we are going to have to be willing to pay for it with our taxes. It has to be done. I want to believe in a kind, empathetic society that is capable of doing things for the greater good, even though it may be difficult and uncomfortable.
Tips for Taking Action from Brian Motherway’s presentation:
For the last couple of months THISISPOPBABY’s glorious Riot has been on tour in Australia and New York and seeing all the photos and tweets gave me major FOMO. I loved that show! I really want to see it again. (I would also have loved to sit with the audience in Sydney or Melbourne or New York and see how they reacted to this very Irish show.) I want it to be on every year, like how Riverdance is on for two months in the Gaiety every summer. If Riot did that I would go and see it every year and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
But until that dream becomes a reality, we have THISISPOPBABY’s Where We Live festival to get excited about. It’s a festival within a festival because it’s presented as part of the St. Patrick’s Festival. It starts next week, March 6th to the 18th in the Complex on Little Green Street, which is just off Capel Street.
The programme includes theatre, film, music, visual arts and panel discussions. In my mind St. Patrick’s Day entertainment can be a bit backwards-looking and overly concerned with traditional Irishness, but the work on offer here is all very contemporary. It’s still Irish but it’s about what’s going on in the country now. There are also no old reliables here, it’s a lot of brand new work being shown for the first time. I’m very excited about the work on offer and I think it’s great to see Irish work like this as part of the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland. Usually you see Irish artists going abroad to be part of Irish festivals or festivals of Irish work at this time of year, and it’s get some of that at home.
Unsurprisingly, I am most excited by the theatre on offer. I’ve already written about Tara Flynn’s show Not A Funny Word in my recommendations for this year. (It will also be on in the Everyman in Cork on the 26th April. Please see it if you get a chance, it’s a very funny, very moving show.)
Money is a show about the 2008 Irish bail-out. It is written and performed by actor and accountant Peter Daly. If anyone can make sense of that turbulent time in Irish history, it’s him. I am certainly hoping to leave with a better understanding of the whole financial crisis.
Veronica Dyas’s Here & Now is about becoming an accidental landlord when the financial crash put her into negative equity. It’s about the housing crisis and homelessness, and asks what we really need to live.
The Mouth Of A Shark, a new show from Change of Address, will present the real-life stories of asylum seekers and Irish emigrants. Change of Address brought the wonderful story-telling show Trophy to Barnardo Square during last year’s Fringe Festival which I enjoyed immensely.
There’s also a very new, work-in-progress showing of a spoken word piece by Clare Dunne. Sure Look It, Fuck It is about a returning emigrant. Clare was fantastic in Tribes at the Gate as part of last year’s Dublin Theatre Festival and is currently on stage at there in Look Back in Anger. I think she’s a fantastic performer and I’m looking forward to this.
On St. Patrick’s night, there’s the WERKHouse party which will probably have a few Riot-like short performances. The next day, there’s a programme of films about people on the edges of society, including Adam & Paul which will be introduced by its Oscar Nominated director Lenny Abrahamson and writer and lead actor Mark O’Halloran.
I haven’t entirely forgotten about this blog. I hope you haven’t either. I think of it guiltily every now and then. Sometimes I even think of something that I would like to write about here, and on the odd, very rare occasion, I actually manage to write about that thing and put it online. This is one of those rare occasions. Who knows when it will happen again.
As we are (still, barely) in the first week of the new year, here is a post about shows that are coming up in 2018 but have been on before. There are loads of exciting, brand new plays coming, but these are all shows that I saw and loved over the last couple of years, including two of my absolute favourites. Excitingly they are on in venues all over the country so I don’t have to feel any guilt for the Dublin-centric nature of my theatre recommendations.
I’ll start with my two favourites.
The Humours of Bandon
Margaret McAuliffe’s one-woman show began as a Show in a Bag at the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2016. It won the Little Gem Award and it was in Bewley’s Theatre that I saw and loved it last year. Since then it’s been to the Edinburgh Festival and on tour around Ireland, but it’s back again for a few dates in Leitrim, Cork and Bray throughout February.
I really enjoyed this show. It’s like a big sports movie about triumph and defeat, hard-work, determination and sacrifice, but it’s also about Irish dancing and being a teenage girl. And it manages to cover all that in under an hour. Both the acting and the dancing are spectacular. It’s also has a really big heart and made me a bit teary-eyed at the end. It got an enthusiastic and much deserved standing ovation the day I saw it in Bewley’s. I think everyone should see this show because it such a joy to watch.
It’s on in The Dock, Leitrim on Feb 3, the Blackwater Fit Up Festival in Cork on Feb 6-11 and in the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray on Feb 24. More information here.
My other recent favourite show is Swan Lake/Loch na hEala which is a glorious piece of work by Michael Keegan Dolan, featuring a group of wonderfully talented dancers and Mikel Mufi who doesn’t dance, but does play a goat, and at least a dozen other characters. I saw this show twice when it was on as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2016 and I can’t wait to see it again.
I saw it first as a festival volunteer on the first or second night of the run. That night, people were still able to walk up and buy a tickets before the show and all the volunteers were able to sit in. When I went back to see it a couple of days later on the closing night, the O’Reilly Theatre was completely sold out and they had added extra rows of seats at the front. It was a huge word of month hit and deservedly so.
You don’t have to be understand or even like dance to love this show. It’s fantastically visual and very Irish. There are lots of joyful moments but it’s also dark and worrisome in places. It looks amazing, the music is wonderful, I loved it and already have my ticket for the run in the Abbey in early February.
Outside Dublin, the touring network NOMAD are taking it to venues around the country. It will be on in Donegal, Roscommon, Sligo, Kildare, Westmeath, Louth, Cavan and Longford. The first date is An Grianán, Letterkenny on Jan 28 and the last show is in Backstage Theatre, Longford at the start of April. All those dates and ticket links are here.
Not a Funny Word
I saw lots of great things in the Abbey last year and one of most wonderful things I saw was Tara Flynn’s Not a Funny Word. Directed by Philly McMahon, written and performed by Tara Flynn with songs by Alma Kelliher, it’s a personal and political look at abortion. The songs are great and Tara Flynn is very very funny, even in a show about a difficult and very personal experience. The tone is never flippant and the jokes are generally at her own expense. It’s an exposing show and her honesty and openness made it feel like a privilege to experience it with her. She is an incredibly generous performer and allows herself to be very vulnerable. To see this show at the National Theatre felt special and note-worthy too.
In March it will be on in the Complex in Smithfield for four performances only as part of Thisispopbaby’s festival This is Where We Live.
And, as you would expect from Thisispopbaby, there are lots of other exciting shows on as part of the festival, and I recommend you check them out here.
Waiting for Godot
I missed this show when it was on in the Galway Arts Festival in 2015, partly on purpose because it was on in the Mick Lally Theatre which is very small and I was afraid that my habit of failing asleep during Beckett plays might be a tad insulting to the actors onstage. I regretted it when I heard so many people raving about it that summer, including the new directors of the Abbey, so I was delighted when they brought it to Dublin. I managed to stay awake for the whole show at the Abbey and enjoyed it very much. The Druid ensemble did such a good job of it. It was funny and more joyful than I expected but the poignant moments where there as well. Francis O’Connor’s set is absolutely beautiful, and so utterly perfect for the production.
This is another one that’s on all over the country. During February, March and April t’s going to Galway, Limerick, Letterkenny, Cork, Longford, Wexford, Dun Laoghaire and Sligo, and all the details are here.
Once again, it’s another show I saw in the Abbey, and I’m delighted that Jimmy’s Hall will be back again this year. I’ve already writing about this show (and how much I enjoyed it) here and it’s great to see it back because I don’t think it had a particularly long run last summer. I am planning to head along to the Free First Preview on 26 July but it will be on all through August and into the first week of September. Early Bird tickets are available before June 11. I think it’s a great summer show – the live music makes it a great one for tourists (along with the fact that it’s based on a film) but it also includes a nice chunk of neglected Irish history, as well as encouraging a revolutionary frame of mind!
26 July – 8 Sept
Free First Preview – 26 July
Early Bird Booking before June 11
Last month I saw two plays about life in Ireland, and the effect of the IRA. Both were written by English men, both were about things I didn’t know that much about. I saw Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman on a wet afternoon in London at the Gielgud Theatre where it transfer to from the Royal Court. A couple of weeks later I saw Jimmy’s Hall in the Abbey. Both are period pieces set in Ireland but they are very different plays, in their treatment of the IRA and Irish history, and in the way they were staged.
Jimmy’s Hall is based on the Ken Loach film of the same name, and they are both based on the true story of Jimmy Galvin and the community hall he built and managed in Leitrim in the 1930s. It’s about the opposition he encountered when he organised community art classes, poetry performances and dances. This opposition originated from the Catholic Church but ultimately it was the Irish government who had him deported; the only Irish man to ever be deported from the State.
The Abbey’s production emphasises the real-life aspects of the story, with direct addresses to the audience that includes Church directives on what women could and couldn’t wear, descriptions of the court scenes at Jimmy’s trial and a recent speech by President Higgins where he called out the shameful behaviour of the State. This opens the show and of course made me teary-eyed. There are few things as effecting as the rightous anger of our magnificent president.
The production is also lushly visual and includes lots of live music. This is performed by the cast who also perform wonderful dance sequences. We get the impression of a community that is lively and connected, despite being ground down by poverty. The characters talk about the broken promises of the 1916 Rising, about how the bubble burst, about the uselessness of politicians and how living should be about need, not greed. Their concerns and difficulties resonance with the present day, with characters facing homelessness and even the Church’s insistence on controlling education is similar to their Sisters of Charity’s attempt to hold on to control of the new maternity hospital earlier this year. We continue to fight the same battles. Our hero, Mr. Jimmy Galvin is a proud communist, working for the betterment of all. In contrast the clear villain of the piece is the parish priest, Fr. Sheridan who was almost booed like a pantomime villain when he first appeared on stage. It was an interesting experience to feel that distaste for the church in the Abbey Theatre on a Saturday lunchtime from an Abbey audience. The off-stage villain was the IRA who it was felt had let down the people by getting into bed with the Church.
The priest in The Ferryman is a more pathetic character as he is forced to act as messenger boy for the IRA, sent to deliver information about a man, missing for the last 10 years has been found dead. It’s 1981, Maggie Thatcher is letting the hunger strikers die in prison and the Carney family are getting ready for the harvest. The Ferryman is strongly grounded in that time and place, there are no present day echos here. The set and costumes are impressive with a strong attention to detail. This set quickly fills with members of the Carney family.
From the beginning, the audience knows that this happy, busy, family day is going to interrupted with the news that a body has been discovered. It is skillfully told, and there’s a lot to tell in this 3 hour production, and very enjoyable. The Carneys are a good Catholic family with seven children, though when one of the younger girls is told her future by her clairvoyant grandmother, she baulks at the idea of triplets. They don’t see motherhood as their only option. It feels like a time teetering on the cusp of modernity. The Undertones make an appearance on the soundtrack and the clothes are relatively modern, but the work of bringing in the harvest is left to the men. The female children busy themselves with kitchen chores and childcare while male cousins are bussed in to help with the farm work. The IRA are glorified and the Rising has already become a glorious myth in a way that is not felt in Jimmy’s Hall when all the bloodshed and friends and family lost are still fresh wounds.
Patrick Lonergan has written a post called “Is Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman an Irish Play?” where he talks about the various echos of many plays from the Irish canon, among other things. I found The Ferryman a more traditionally Irish play than the first in-house production from the new Abbey directors. There are aspects of post-dramatic theatre in Jimmy’s Hall and the use of dance and music feels modern. Even the soundtrack is modern – the audience enter the auditorium to trad covers of Whitney Houston among others. The Ireland depicted in The Ferryman is gone, and it’s depicted with a certain nostalgia. The Ireland in Jimmy’s Hall on the other hand – an Ireland still struggling out from under the long shadow of the Church’s control, an Ireland that doesn’t protect or support it’s most vulnerable citizens – that feels very current.
The Ferryman is the bigger production of the two, with a long running time, a big cast, including lots of young children and live animals and a violent, dramatic ending. However it is Jimmy’s Hall that I would love to see again. It felt more moving, more engaging and more relevant than a lot of things I’ve seen lately. It reminded me of Riot, which is one of my favourite shows from the last year. The inclusion of The Parting Glass in both shows makes me think I may not have been the only one to link the two.