On The Horizon – Talk Transcript

Recently I was invited by Dirty Protest Theatre and Fishamble to be a part of a panel at their online event On The Horizon| Ar Y Gorwel| Ag Bun na Spéire. It was a brilliant afternoon of panel discussions and play readings looking at the connections between the arts industries in Ireland and Wales, and I was delighted to be involved. By the time I closed my laptop at the end of the day, my mind was buzzing with all of the thoughts and ideas that were shared, and I am excited to see the connections between the two countries continue to evolve.

***

I’m speaking as an artist and arts worker who is Irish and has worked in Wales for the past two years, both as a freelance writer and theatre critic, and as Touring and Projects Officer with National Dance Company Wales and Company Manager of Richard Chappell Dance. Shortly after I moved to Cardiff, back in 2019, I sat down to write out my thoughts on moving to a new country, and I thought I might start by revisiting that short piece, called The Little Things.

It’s the little things. The short hop across a skinny sea to a city similar yet made strange by small details.

The nocturnal noises, just alien enough to pierce your sleep and rouse you to a foggy consciousness, a sleep-muffled moment of – “where am I?”

It’s the little things. The wide-awake walk home until your autopilot comes up to date.

The turns of phrase that give double take as you take them in for the first time – hearing “cheers drive.” Sentiment no different, but not your bus-stop thanks.

It’s the little things. The accents among which you’re the novelty in a sea of the usual vowels made unfamiliar.

The question of what jam to buy – getting it wrong going for the cheapest “mixed fruit preserve” but eating it anyway.

(Because in small ways some things are just the same.)

It’s the little things. The shower dial turned to the right temperature for the first time without thinking.

The place recognised by surprise and remembered – map rendered unnecessary in your pocket.

It’s the little things. The words recognised on signs as you find yourself learning.

The faces you pass each morning on your walk to work – soon to be the usual strangers that you’ll know but won’t.

It’s the little things. Your name on letters to an address no longer house-share-advert abstract.

Small things, those details in change, as the strange begins to rearrange itself to something you newly know.

It’s the little things.

And the longer I live here, the more I realise that it is those little things that connect Ireland and Wales, those little things that made a new country a little bit familiar.

Over several years working in theatre in Ireland, I had found a community. I could barely walk past a theatre without ending up stopping for a chat to someone I knew, my laptop automatically connected to the wifi of pretty much every venue in Dublin, and a fair few others across the country too, and in the same way you know who’s getting married, graduating, being christened in your family, I knew all of the shows that were opening, rehearsals beginning, programmes launching across the country.

When I decided to move to Cardiff, I braced myself to start from scratch. 

Only when I arrived, I realised I didn’t have to. Just as people in the Irish theatre industry opened their arms to 17-year old me when I turned up, began writing, knocking on doors and getting involved in everything I could, as soon as I said that I was moving to Wales, people over here opened their doors and put the kettle on. Within no time at all, I was finding myself in foyers at matinees surrounded by familiar faces and friendly conversations, and I realised that I had a web of connections and community not just in Cardiff, but across various parts of Wales.

It’s that community which is the lifeblood and heart of both Irish and Welsh arts. There are plenty of similarities between the two countries – both are bilingual, both have connections through Celtic histories, both countries are defined by lush landscapes and rich cultural heritages, and hey, we’re even connected through Ireland’s patron Saint, St Patrick, who came from Wales. But the defining similarity, which transcends and encompasses all of the others, is a sense of community. When it comes to the arts in both Wales and Ireland, that sense of community doesn’t just mean local communities, but a national community.

This can present its own challenges – if we don’t enact this sense of a close-knit industry conscientiously, we run the risk of closing doors to people, and making people feel that they are left on the outside. I’m sure we all know too well the dangers of settling too comfortably into the familiar, and always working with the same people, always programming the safe bets, always hiring the same faces. If we aren’t careful, the industry can become small and insular, lacking diversity of voices and perspectives. And the last thing the arts industry needs, is another means of gatekeeping.

When I started my career at 17, I was in a lucky position – I had been exposed to theatre from a young age, I had a knowledge of the industry, and I was studying drama in University. We need to make sure we are creating an open community that not only welcomes people in positions like mine, but that welcomes those who have never set foot in a theatre before. As bell hooks writes, “To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.” In both Ireland and Wales we have the strong bedrock of a community, and we need to be vigilant and aware of what we build from that.

We need to make sure we are building communities that not only include people we are familiar with and who are familiar with the industry, but the neighbour around the corner who feels that dance “isn’t for her,” the teenager in school who can’t afford to risk studying drama in university because of high fees and low job certainty, or the recently arrived refugee who is in a direct provision centre and has their access to the arts limited by time, space and cost. As The Care Collective put it in The Care Manifesto, we need to foster an industry “in which we can support each other and generate networks of belonging,” with “conditions that enable us to act collaboratively to create communities that both support our abilities and nurture our interdependencies.” With advances like the Universal Basic Income pilots in both Wales and Ireland, the appointment of Andrew Ogun as Arts Council Wales first “Agent for Change,” movements like Waking the Feminists and We Shall Not Be Removed, and ongoing conversations about how we change practices for the better as we emerge from the pandemic, we are beginning to work towards those networks of belonging. But we need to push further, open ourselves up to new ways of working, and get busy making the many small changes that make big ambitions a reality.

Wielded with generosity, compassion and care, the deep-rooted sense of community in both the Irish and Welsh arts industry could bring with it a model for theatre of the future, a theatre that is open and accessible to all. If we use our connections to people and places wisely, listen intently to those who need to be heard, and make changes to our ways of working, hiring, collaborating and creating, if we make a difference through all the little things, then we stand to not only open the doors of our industry, but to tear down the dividing walls altogether.

Originally delivered as a live talk at Dirty Protest Theatre and Fishamble’s event On The Horizon, 17th June 2021.

Doing What We Do Best, Better

Photo by Austin Chan, via Unsplash

Originally published on http://www.takeyourseats.ie

In the latest Government Covid-19 announcement, we heard the news that we have all been waiting for; theatres are soon able to reopen. Whether you met the news with a muted sigh of relief, or an exuberant whoop of joy, it is an exciting moment. More exciting, in fact, than just a return to normal. As we reopen our doors and get back to doing what we do best, we have a chance to do better. Now is our moment to examine what we do and how we do it, and consider how we might need to change as we move into the future.

One heartening example of this is the recent announcement of the Basic Income pilot scheme for people working in the arts in Ireland. As the National Campaign for the Arts stated, the scheme “has the potential to be an historic milestone for the arts in Ireland, a reflection of a nation that truly and authentically understands and supports the artistic process.” By providing artists and arts workers with a guaranteed basic income, you take away some of the precariousness of depending on a freelance income, and in doing so allow people to do their best work and advocate for fair and sustainable conditions for that work.

In another version of sustainability, as we return to buildings it is the perfect moment to consider our environmental impact. Many venues and organisations are already making great strides in this respect, with Dunamaise Arts Centre recently publishing an impressive ‘Greening Dunamaise’ update, Síamsa Tíre receiving a Julie’s Bicycle sustainability certification, and several venues working with Theatre Forum on their current Greening Venues Pilot Project. Outside of venues, we can all make a difference; whether you’re a theatre-maker deciding how many flyers to have printed, or an audience member deciding how to travel to a venue. Each little decision we make will have an effect. Choosing to cycle to a show or take the bus instead of driving might seem like a trivial thing, but if a hundred audience members all make that choice, it adds up to a lot. As we go back to normality, let’s not go back to all of our old habits. Take a moment, make a choice, and do your bit to make a difference.

Beyond the background, and onto the stage, there are new approaches to be explored, boundaries and limitations to be broken. Break down the barriers of concepts like “high-brow” and “low-brow,” banish the perceived division between “arts” and “entertainment,” and ignore the boundaries between artforms, themes and audiences. After a year of communicating at a distance, now is the time to reach out and find community. With works like Brú Theatre’s Ar Ais Arís, which connects small groups of audiences in Gaeltacht communities all along the Atlantic coast, Pan Pan’s Mespil in The Dark, which explores thoughts of loneliness and community through a series of short episodic performances, and nationwide events like Cruinniú na NÓg advocating for creativity on a national scale, it feels like this is already happening. So let’s push it further, make the arts the web that supports communities. Whether it’s through a local pantomime, a touring opera, a school play or a céílí (when we can dance together again!), let the people around us be at the heart of all that we do. Make and consume art with generosity, openness and no preconceptions, and open wide the arms of the arts and invite everyone in.

I recently read a quote from the writer Don Miguel Ruiz, which struck me and stuck in my mind. “Life is like dancing. If we have a big floor, many people will dance. Some will get angry when the rhythm changes. But life is changing all the time.” Shake up the tempo, syncopate, make the arts the biggest dancefloor imaginable, and as we find ourselves back in theatres, studios, parks, galleries and other shared spaces, let’s dance our way to a better rhythm together.

Review: Threesome

Almost Professional Productions

Brighton Fringe

03/03/21

The nerves of meeting a new potential housemate are an experience most of us can relate to. Will they be nice? Will they be messy? Will they be loud? Will they be a serial killer who eats small kittens on sandwiches?

This is the situation that Eve and Alex find themselves in at the start of Almost Professional’s debut show, Threesome, written by Eric Silver. The pair are housemates, living in London and looking for someone to fill the empty room in their house, before they have to pay the rent in it. Judging by their tumultuous argumentative friendship, in which Alex reverts to cynicism and sarcastic quips as his defensive default response, and Eve is loud, overbearing and impatient – they also need a third housemate to balance out their dynamic. Enter Evan, the prospective housemate who grew up in a cult, delivers his opinions with no filter…and is unlikely to bring balance to anything.

As the Zoom-call between the trio takes ever stranger twists and turns down tangents of religion, cults, homophobia, sex, rats and a wide range of other topics, there are some moments of sharp, witty writing and character. However, Threesome, which was originally conceived as a live, staged production, falls foul of the transfer to the digital medium. The at times over the top acting style may have added to the comedy on stage, but boxed into the restrictive format of Zoom, it comes across as strained and over-done. Similarly, moments in which characters break the fourth wall fall wide of the mark, lacking the definition they would have had on stage to make them effective interludes in the conversation between the trio of characters.

Zoom-transfer aside, the production felt underdeveloped. Though it included many funny moments and strong characters, there were several instances in which ideas were introduced into the script that felt out of place among the rest of the characters’ conversation. A discussion about the character of Eve considering sleeping with her boss to get ahead in her career veers towards a conversation around feminism but is cut short, and similarly the final moments of the play feel abrupt. There is no director listed in any credits, copy or press information, and that lack of a director with a view of how the performance works as whole may be the reason for these uneven patches in the show.  

Taking the familiar setting of meeting a prospective housemate, and exaggerating and playing with it to create a comic and entertaining play, Threesome is a promising production that leaves some key dramatic threads untied and finds itself frayed at the edges.

Threesome is available to stream as part of Brighton Fringe Festival until 27th June.

The Theatre of The Everyday

Originally published on http://www.takeyourseats.ie

While I once again find myself writing a lockdown column, this month there is a glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel with the most recent government announcement which suggests theatres may reopen in June.  Though they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras, good things come to those who wait…the waiting is still no fun. After months of darkened stages and empty auditorium seats, I know many of us are waiting with bated breath for the return of live theatre. Even with fantastic streamed plays, Zoom performances and other digital offerings, nothing quite matches the feeling of being present in a room with other people as a story unfurls on stage.  But, as the famous line from As You Like It goes, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” So this month, I invite you to look to the stage around us and find the theatre in everyday life.

We may not be able to come and meet those dancing feet at 42nd Street, or watch dancers pas de chat across a stage in the Dance of the Cygnets, but just step into your local supermarket and you will see a complicated new choreography that we have all learned over the past year – the Social Distancing Dance. You go to pick up a box of cornflakes, but as you do another shopper reaches for the box next to it; a quick chassé each and you have returned to your safe 2 metre distance, her by the Weetabix, you next to the Rice Krispies. Meanwhile, an unwitting corps de ballet of other shoppers steps cautiously in time with each other in their socially distanced queue at the checkouts.

Or if it’s music you’re missing, step outside your front door and hear the music that is being performed all around you. Following in the tradition of Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades, and composers like John Cage, let the sounds around you become a performance. Imagine a dialogue between the ice-cream van’s jingle and the rattle of a train passing nearby, or between the car alarm that is wailing in the distance and the beep-beep-beep of the checkouts in a shop. Let the world’s overture entertain you as you wait for the curtain to rise in your favourite venue.

Finally, if you need some drama, look no further than the bird-feeder outside your back door. Watch the dynamic power-struggles unfold between a goldfinch and a starling over some sunflower hearts and peanuts. Act 1 opens as the goldfinch flies down and perches, ready for breakfast, but as the interloping starling swoops in, a drama to rival Ibsen or Sophocles begins. Or if you prefer a mystery like The Mousetrap, check out The Mystery of the Vanishing Parcel. You’ve been at home all day, the doorbell is working, and yet you spy the dreaded note below your letterbox – ‘We are sorry we missed you.’ You don’t know when it appeared, you never heard a thing, you can’t even remember what you ordered. As the curtain falls at the interval, the greatest mystery of our time leaves you wondering, where could the parcel be, and will it ever be seen again?

We have all been in lockdowns for longer than we care to remember; we have ordered all of the things we can order online, we have baked more banana bread than we could ever hope to eat, and we have re-watched our favourite sitcoms far too many times. But it won’t last forever – there is light at the end of the tunnel and that light will illuminate our stages again before too long. In the meantime, find the novelty in the normal, entertainment in the everyday, and let the curtain rise on the theatre of day-to-day life.

A Year of the Ghost Light

Originally published on http://www.takeyourseats.ie

To The Theatre,

It has been a whole year since the safety curtain fell. Four seasons, twelve months, almost fifty-two weeks to the day. When any of us sat down in an auditorium seat last March, did we know that it would be the last time for over a year that we would sit shoulder to shoulder with a stranger, united in the collective experience of a play?

It has been a difficult year of abrupt stops, false starts, and yet more stops. I ache to be back in an auditorium, and auditoriums remain achingly empty. But despite the sometimes seemingly constant barrage of bad news over the past twelve months, that is not what this letter is about. No, I am writing to celebrate the tenacity, solidarity and creativity that the theatre industry has shown since stages went dark last March.

Because, though doors closed, offices were swapped for kitchen tables, lights were switched off in venues, and Zoom with a capital Z was shoehorned into our vernacular, the ghost light never went out. I wrote in this column last March that “companies, venues and individual artists have had steam coming out of their ears with the speed at which they have been thinking up new ways to bring the joy of theatre to everyone in their homes,” and they haven’t stopped. From ballet performed at home in bath-tubs, to live streams of brilliant plays, and outdoor performances on greens and balconies, to new works created for new online platforms, people’s creativity and resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles has been incredible.

Though normal life as we knew it ground to a halt in March 2020, my colleagues in the industry refused to let that put the chocks under their wheels. With supportive hands and generous hearts, the theatre industry has kept creating, kept connecting. And so, this is my standing ovation for you all. No, it’s not the curtain call, but over the past year you have all performed a stand-out, showstopper of a number that deserves a round of applause all of its own.

None of us could have imagined we would still be in the midst of this pandemic a year later, but the show will always go on. I finished my March 2020 column with these words, and they still stand today, “let the glow of the ghost light remind us that when this passes, our auditoriums will be filled with the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd once more.”

Until opening night,

S

Review: Faith Healer

Photo by Ave Calvar on Unsplash

Old Vic In Camera: Playback

22/01/21

Part of the joy, the singularity, of theatre is its liveness and its sense of presence. In a theatre auditorium, nothing competes for your attention, everything about the space is designed to focus your attention on the performance and allow you to leave the distractions of the world outside behind. Streamed and broadcast theatre doesn’t have that luxury. However, despite competition from guinea pigs zooming around their pen and chowing down on some particularly crunchy lettuce, the strains of piano practice drifting through from the other room, and the general debris of day-to-day life around me, I found myself transported from my sitting room by the Old Vic In Camera: Playback broadcast of Faith Healer.

Opening with Michael Sheen, as the “Fantastic Francis Hardy, Faith Healer,” reciting a resonant roll call of the dying villages of Wales and Scotland, this production broadcast from an empty auditorium arrests the audience’s attention and draws them into the mythology of Friel’s haunting play.

And mythology it is, not of the valiant, ancient sort, but a mythology-by-necessity, as each character tells a mercurial, shifting story of touring parish halls of Wales and Scotland, offering hope of cures to others, but finding hurt themselves. Each omits, adds and alters the story; whether in deliberate acts of misdirection or genuine remembering and misremembering, we are never sure. Through this triptych of recollections, from Francis, Grace and Teddy, we build a picture of unhappy relationships, painful loss, equally painful love, and a trio grappling with faith and hope.

Under Matthew Warchus’ direction, Sheen deftly portrays the restlessness of Francis Hardy, the shifts in mood from a buoyant and charming performer, to the haunted uncertainty of a could-be-con-man, and Indira Varma’s Grace is a shaken, smarting character who feels achingly adrift. However, it is David Threlfall who steals the show as Hardy’s Cockney manager Teddy. His mastery of both comic and tragic timing is sublime, and the story comes vividly to life with a new spark as Threlfall flits between humorous tales of previous acts, including a difficult but brilliant bagpipe-playing whippet, and heart breaking moments of loss and love.

The design, with beautiful lighting by Tim Lutkin and Sarah Brown, and Rob Howell’s set design comprised of a small selection of objects, each of which serves a clear dramatic use, is inventive and makes use of the unusual setting of the empty auditorium. By setting the play with the broadcast audience situated upstage, looking out to the vacant seats behind the performers, this does not pretend to be a normal theatre experience. It is a, for the most part successful, experiment in lockdown theatre. At times, the camera is too present, with shaky close ups making you aware that you are watching a filmed version of a play and sitting in an awkward space between theatre and film. However, to capture even a portion of the magic of live theatre and broadcast that to people in lockdown across the world is a laudable feat.

Though faith is a troubling entity in Friel’s play, this production is a reassuring exercise of faith in trying times. Seizing a window of opportunity between lockdowns, the Old Vic has produced a work that reminds us of the ‘breathless charm’ of theatre, and provides sustenance while stages are dark.

To Those Who Have the Power to Make a Difference

paul-green-mln2ExJIkfc-unsplash

“Theatre is the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

 

To Those Who Have the Power to Make a Difference,

I am writing this to add my voice to the many currently asking the Government to take notice and provide concrete support to the theatre sector in this incredibly difficult time.

Every morning lately, I look through The Stage newspaper and listen to the radio, and every morning I hear and read the too familiar refrain of redundancy, mothballing and closure announcements from venues and theatre companies across the UK and, this morning, from The Stage itself. The theatre sector has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Like other sectors, we closed our doors a few months ago, not knowing when or how we would reopen, but unlike other sectors, there is still little certainty for us on the horizon.

Our industry has been brought to its knees.

We need more than a vague roadmap. We need dates, even provisional ones. We need clear health guidance. We desperately need a commitment to additional investment from Government to get back on our feet.

And we do need to get back on our feet. The UK needs the theatre industry to get back on its feet because, as the great playwright Thornton Wilder once said “theatre is the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” As we come together to find our way out of this pandemic, we need the community that theatre creates, we need the release that theatre provides, and we need the joy that theatre brings.

I could write about Shakespeare and  the grand history of theatre that we are continuing, but instead I want you to think about the technician who is looking towards September and wondering if she will be able to buy school supplies, the theatre manager who is lying awake at night wondering how to break it to her colleagues that she has to make them redundant, the newly graduated writer who doesn’t know if the industry he trained to work in will survive this, the little girl who watched the National Theatre Live production of Twelfth Night and is dreaming of building an incredible revolving set like that for her National Theatre one day. Will that little girl have a National Theatre to build her dream in when she grows up?

We have put years of our lives into bringing the magic of theatre alive for our audiences, often against the odds. We have kept going because we care and we keep going because we care. But now we need the Government to care and to help. Please be a voice for our industry in Government. We need you to. Please push for and provide the support that the theatre sector urgently needs to survive.

With hope,

Saoirse Anton

 

The Ghost Light Glows On

felix-mooneeram-evlkOfkQ5rE-unsplash

Originally published on takeyourseats.ie.

Earlier this month, the safety curtain abruptly dropped and our stages went dark. Artists, company managers, box office staff, technicians, marketing teams and every other person in our industry scrambled to figure out the staging for this unexpected rewrite. An unwelcome rewrite.

Just as theatres closed their doors against the Plague in the 16th Century, today our auditoriums lie empty and our stages are silent due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has swept in and changed our lives more swiftly and thoroughly than a deus ex machine in the final act of a Greek tragedy.

As scripts are sadly consigned to desk drawers for the time being and sets sit gathering dust, things can feel a little hopeless. Simon Callow wrote in the New York Review’s “Pandemic Journal” last week, “The whole point of theatre, since the Greeks, at any rate, has been to gather the citizens together, to remind us, as Shakespeare so incomparably put it, that ‘we are not all alone unhappy.’” Though we cannot gather people as we usually do, we are all still doing what we do best – creating, inventing, imagining, connecting.

Since the theatres and other cultural institutions closed, there has been a wave of generous creativity. Companies, venues and individual artists have had steam coming out of their ears with the speed at which they have been thinking up new ways to bring the joy of theatre to everyone in their homes.

We may not be able to do what we do best, in the way we do it best, at the moment but with live streams, creative challenges, new online creations, and plenty more in the works, we are certainly doing the best we can.

Times are tough but every show, even the most painfully dull and lengthy ones, must come to an end, and so too will this. We will keep this imaginative generosity going, and let the glow of the ghost light remind us that when this passes our auditoriums will be filled with the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd once more.

Phenomenal Women

international-womens-day-4887650_1920Originally published on TakeYourSeats.ie.  

This Sunday, International Women’s Day, we celebrated all of the fantastic women who have shaped our history, made their mark on the present, and are crafting our future. For over a hundred years, International Women’s day has been a day for celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

Throughout their history, Ireland’s theatres have been home to myriad phenomenal women, from Lady Gregory pouring her energy into establishing our National Theatre, to the incredible women who took to the stage of that same theatre in 2015 to call out the gender inequality that is rife in our in our industry. This International Women’s Day, I want to look both backwards and forwards, remembering some of my favourite shows on Irish stages created by women in the last few years, and looking forwards to some of the exciting work that is on the horizon.

So without further ado, let’s take a journey back to some of the treasures of the recent past.

Asking For It

One of the most talked about productions of 2018, Asking For It, based on Louise O’Neill’s lauded 2015 novel of the same name and brought to the stage by writer Meadbh McHugh and director Annabelle Comyn, was a powerful, incisive and urgent piece of theatre. From Cork, to Dublin, to Birmingham, Asking for It has brought a vital message about rape culture to our stages, and has done so in a sharply crafted, memorable production.

Owing to the Failure of

Moving to a production smaller in scale but equal in quality, we come to Owing to the Failure of, presented at The Workman’s Club in Dublin as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2018. Written by Zoë Comyns and directed by Catríona McLaughlin, Owing to the Failure of was one of the best love stories I have seen on a stage in recent years.

Rosas Danst Rosas

There are not many shows that I would return to see two nights in a row, but Rosas Danst Rosas at Dublin Dance Festival 2019 was one of them. The power sustained by the four women on stage, through the intensity of Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker’s arresting choreography was a truly breathtaking thing to experience. A landmark piece of postmodern dance, the piece has not lost a joule of energy through its 37-year lifespan.

Anna Karenina

No list of brilliant women’s work on Irish stages would be complete without a mention for Marina Carr. Coming to the stage soon after the Waking the Feminists movement came to life, Carr’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel breathed new life into an old story, and tied the experiences of Tolstoy’s 19th century fictional women, to those of the women in the audience and on stage in 2016.

The Olive Tree

Written and performed by Katie O’Kelly, The Olive Tree is a magic realist adventure that delves deep into one of the most pertinent political issues of today. As a weary shop assistant peels a Boycott Israel sticker off of a bottle of olive oil, the tree on the label becomes real and takes her on a journey through the stories of Palestinian struggles past and present.

These are just a smattering of the excellence that has graced our stages from women’s pens and imaginations, but International Women’s Day is about looking forward, not just back. So let’s take a look at some of the exciting things that we have to look forward to on our stages.

The Red Book of Ossory

A deconstruction of several songs and poems written by 14th Century Kilkenny Bishop, Richard de Ledrede and included in the historic manuscript The Red Book of Ossory. With the famous witchcraft trial of Dame Alice Kylteler, for which de Ledrede was responsible, as a backdrop, The Red Book of Ossory at Project Arts Centre promises to be an enrapturing blend of the historical and contemporary created and performed by Anakronos, led by Catríona O’Leary.

This Beautiful Village

Returning to the Abbey Stage after a successful run last year and continuing onwards on a national tour, Lisa Tierney-Keogh’s This Beautiful Village is a piece that I am determined to catch in whatever corner of the country I can. Described by critic, Katy Hayes as ’utterly clued in to the zeitgeist,’ This Beautiful Village promises to sharply dissect privilege, power and prejudices.

The Boy

Indeed, no list of brilliant women’s work on Irish stages would be complete without a second mention for Marina Carr. Coming to the Abbey Theatre during the 2020 edition of Dublin Theatre Festival, The Boy is a new cycle of plays written by Marina Carr and directed by Catríona McLaughlin. It is loosely based on the three Theban Plays, continuing Carr’s exploration of Ancient Greek theatre, and asks questions about responsibility and complicity in cycles of violence. The Boy  looks set to be an ambitious durational theatrical work, and is one of the plays I am most excited to see this year.

Between this year’s International Women’s Day, and the next, seek out the work of brilliant women, and remember the final four points of Lian’s List, created by Lian Bell as part of the Waking the Feminists Campaign:

“67. Support women: celebrate their success, amplify

their voices, show your solidarity.

68. Take responsibility for making changes.

69. Yes you.

70. You have more power than you think.”

 

Cupid Enters Stage Left

Originally published on takeyourseats.ie

Cupid’s bow is strung, florists are awash with red roses, and primary school students up and down the country are painstakingly gluing heart-shaped confetti to elaborate cards – yes, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.

I’m sure that, on Friday night, auditoriums will be full of couples contentedly fed by special pre-theatre menus and complimentary chocolates, enjoying a date in honour of St Valentine. While a trip to the theatre can undoubtedly be a romantic evening (provided you don’t go for something like Prometheus Bound or 4.48 Psychosis), and anyone who knows me is well aware that theatre trips are a clear route to my heart, but the romance of theatre does not only unfold on one side of the fourth wall.

From the enduring tales of romance in Japanese Kabuki Theatre, and courtly love of Medieval European stages, to the turbulent relationships of Tennessee Williams’ characters and the chaos that invariably ensues whenever love is invoked by Shakespeare’s pen, love in all of its forms has graced our stages for millennia. As the Bard of Avon himself wrote in As You Like It, “the sight of lovers feedeth those in love,” and romance on our stages is not simply a diet of saccharine coconut-ice representations of love, but the mundane Monday-morning toast type and the unripe-apple sharpness of the unrequited sort too.

My favourite story of love in theatre is the madcap tale of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As Puck and his motley crew create a theatrical chaos, and the faeries and lovers create a muddle of their own, the realities of theatre and those of love are married in hilarity. Theseus puts it best when he says “the lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact.” There are few other places where we can let go of reason in the same way as we do when we tumble into love, but theatre is certainly one of them. The highs, lows, laughs and tears of the theatre, are also those of love.

As theatre holds a mirror up to our society, each and every one of us can find a tale of romance that speaks to our hearts. Whether you want to get lost in a flurry of feathers and heartache with the Moscow City Ballet’s Swan Lake at the Bord Gáis, indulge in a smorgasbord of romantic tales at Scene + Heard festival in Smock Alley, split your sides laughing with a loved one at Dirty Dusting in Visual, Carlow or enjoy some Cole Porter classics as Lili and Fred feud in Kiss Me Kate at the Lyric Theatre, there is a Valentine’s day theatrical treat for everyone.