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Angels and demons to the fore

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Date Published: 21-Oct-2009

“Maybe this obsession with grotesque and violent behaviour is really a deep-seated fear that my settled life will fall apart,” says playwright Mark O’Rowe whose award-winning, unsettling play Terminus comes to the Town Hall Theatre in early November.
The Abbey Theatre’s production of Terminus is also directed by Mark whose previous dark dramas include Howie the Rookie and Crestfall. He also wrote the successful blackly comic 2003 film Intermission which starred Colin Farrell, Colm Meaney and Cillian Murphy, and he penned the Channel 4 drama Boy A, about the attempted rehabilitation of a child murderer which won a BAFTA Award for actor Andrew Garfield.
Terminus, which won a Fringe First at last year’s Edinburgh Festival and which has just been staged in Australia, is described by the playwright as “a supernatural story which starts off fairly realistically”.
Written in rhyme, it features three different characters, known simply as A, B and C whose different stories are told via a series of intercutting and connecting monologues. After its realistic beginning, one story takes a supernatural turn and then the others follow suit, explains Mark.
That involves the characters (played by Andrea Irvine, Kate Brennan and Karlk Shiels) soaring up to the sky, angels coming to claim the dead, a singing serial killer, and a falling body being caught by a demon made of worms.
“I hadn’t done that sort of fantastical story before,” says Mark explaining the origins of Terminus. “I had started a story and a character fell of a train, but I liked the character and didn’t want to kill him off and didn’t want to cut what I had written up until then.”
Taking an otherworldly path has its advantages, says Mark as “it frees you up”.
Mark is a writer who has never been afraid of a challenge. In fact, he began writing because he wanted to improve his life.
“I was in dead end jobs. I hadn’t been to college and I wanted to write something to make money.”
Although he wasn’t particularly a fan of theatre up until that point, he felt writing for stage was his best route.
“I figured a novel was way too many pages, way too many words. When it came to a movie, the odds against getting something produced were astronomical and still are. So, a play was the most likely format to get produced.”
And while he didn’t have a grounding in theatre, “in my teens and early 20s I was particularly into movies and also literature and voracious in that way. So the film gave me the drama and I had the literary skills from the novels”.
Having chosen his format, Mark started reading plays and going to the theatre to learn about the process. Then he was asked to write a play for Dublin Youth Theatre and got paid to do it. He had found his role in life.
Since then his work has included Howie the Rookie, an urban world of no-hopers and chancers, when the hero of one monologue becomes the victim of the next. And there was Crestfall, which premiered at the Gate, directed by Garry Hynes and featuring Marie Mullen. A play which focused on violence against women also gained a certain notoriety for a scene between a prostitute and a dog.
Mark is aware that his subject matter can offend people, but that doesn’t influence his approach to writing.
“You sit down with a pen and paper and that’s what comes out. You don’t write something to upset people or create controversy. You might realise when you have something written that it will offend people, but those are the kinds of subjects I’m interested in.
“I’m just telling a story but maybe there’s an idea that comes out subconsciously. I never have a message or a moral, the shape of a play would never be closed off in that way.”
And while he accepts that, in life, there are opportunities for good things to happen as well as bad, “unfortunately, in drama good stuff doesn’t make for good drama”.
He continues to write both theatre and film, and his latest movie, Perrier Bounty with Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson and Jim Broadbent is due on general release shortly.
However, theatre is where Mark’s heart lies.
“I got into films to pay the bills basically but playwriting is the vocation. With film there’s so much compromise and you have to accept that going into it. With theatre, it’s pretty much what you write.”
And his control over Terminus has been even greater, as he directed it himself. The play has been well received at home and abroad and he feels that seeing the project through from beginning to end makes sense for him,
“It wasn’t that I’d been unhappy with directors previously, but as a writer you are sitting in the rehearsal room with the actors and director and you don’t really have a say . . . and you don’t get paid . . . I just wanted a piece of the action!”
Mark agrees that there may be pitfalls for a writer who directs his own work, saying “you have to get past the idea of your text being sacred and literally become a director who is directing somebody else’s play. You just hand it over to actors and guide them. Don’t be too controlling and instinctively they’ll give you something much better”.
“I’ll direct anything else I write,” he says, but adds that maybe it’s not a good idea to be so definite about such things. One thing he is definite about is that he has no interest in directing anybody else’s work.
“For me it’s a way of seeing your work through to the end. You take the responsibility for it. But while it’s a responsibility, it also brings a freedom because it’s all on you own head.”
Terminus will be staged at The Town Hall Theatre from Wednesday, November 4 to Saturday, November 7. Tickets cost € 18 on opening night, otherwise, €22.50 and €20. Booking at tht.ie or 091-569777.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Corinthians inflict a first home defeat of season on Banbridge

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Banbridge 6

Corinthians 27

Corinthians inflicted a first home defeat of the season on Banbridge in Rifle Park on Saturday, and in the process leap-frogged the Ulster club in the standings to move third in the table.

Both sides were testing each other early in the contest with the ground been very heavy and the two packs evenly matched. The visitors were first on the score board after 18 minutes with number eight Aaron Conneely driving his pack forward, allowing evergreen scrum-half Steve Bruce to get the ball out to his outside-half, Mick O’Flynn. The number 10 linked-up first centre Cian Begley and he in turn released to right winger Darrin Classens, who touched down in the corner for an unconverted try.

Banbridge had their opportunities also with second centre Andy Morrison having a go, but Begley stopped him in his tracks with the try-line at his mercy. O’Flynn then extended Corinthians’ lead with a penalty after Banbridge’s flanker Dale Carson was pulled for loitering in an offside position by IRFU referee Eddie Hogan O’Connor.

The Ulster side were punished again just before the break after a great turnover in the lineout by flanker Colin Parker with locks Gary Warde and Ultan Dillane doing the donkey work. Centre James Buckley was the one to benefit, pouncing on the loose ball and getting in for the try, with O’Flynn missing the conversion in what were very difficult conditions.

The home side got on to the score board five minutes with a penalty after Corinthians were pinged for pulling down the maul, scrum-half Ian Porter doing the honours from in front of the posts to leave the score at 13-3.

Banbridge upped their game after this and were ably led by their captain veteran second row Simon McKinstry, but the ball was turned over again and Corinthians’ full-back Conor Murphy secured a fine touch to relieve pressure.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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Grave humour in a quirky story from Martin McDonagh trilogy

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Date Published: 31-Jan-2013

Theatre director Andrew Flynn who has just been nominated for an Irish Times Theatre award for his most recent production, Port Authority, is currently preparing his next show, Martin McDonagh’s A Skull in Connemara.

“He’s working us like slaves,” jokes actor John Olohan, who doesn’t look a bit stressed as the cast enter the final week of rehearsals with Andrew’s company, Decadent Theatre.

A Skull in Connemara is the central play in McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy which was premiered by Druid Theatre in the late 1990s. It’s set in a graveyard, and centres around a Connemara man Mick O’Dowd whose job it is to exhume skeletons in an overcrowded graveyard. His newest customer is the wife he was accused of killing years before.

“It’s a very quirky situation – and funny, we hope,” says John, who plays Mick. “Martin’s plays are so at the edge of reality – they keep within the bounds but with a mad streak. And so it’s easy to play because everything fits in.”

John, one of the country’s busiest theatre actors, is a regular visitor to Galway. He most recently worked with Druid on that company’s DruidMurphy trilogy, appearing in Famine, the final of the three plays featured. Rehearsals began in Galway in April for DruidMurphy and, apart from a brief time in England, the company was here until the Arts Festival, after which they went on tour to locations from Clifden to Washington.

He was back on stage at the Town Hall in November in Living Dred’s production of the play Ride On.

He has previously performed in the Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Lonesome West with Decadent Theatre.

“It’s got to the stage that every time I walk into the Town Hall Theatre the girls say ‘welcome back John’,” he laughs.

John, who is married to actor, Catherine Byrne who plays Judith in Fair City – the couple have two adult sons – is one of the busiest actors in the country and has been working almost non-stop for the past 18 months.

“I can’t say I haven’t been lucky,” he says. But there’s more to it than luck – talent also plays a part.

Last year he won the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards Best Supporting Actor Award for his performance as Byrne Druid’s production of John B Keane’s Big Maggie.

The Meath born actor worked on the TV series Glenroe for 10 years, having spent the previous decade working with the Abbey Theatre; he is a graduate of the Abbey School of Acting from the 1960s, having taken up drama after a brief period in a band. After graduating, he worked with Young Abbey company, doing work for schools and then joined the Irish Theatre Company, a national company dedicated to touring. So in a profession renowned for its insecurity, he has been busy all his life.

And he has no plans to retire. “I’m having a great time. And actors don’t retire,” he laughs.

These days, he usually gets called upon to play Irish characters, generally from a rural background and says that’s partly because there aren’t too many actors around to take on these roles.

“A lot of them gave up the game a long time ago and some are dead.”

Working in a black comedy such as A Skull in Connemara might seem a million miles away from his most recent role in Famine, Tom Murphy’s play about the great hunger of the 1840s, set in Mayo. But that’s not strictly true, he feels.

“Martin McDonagh is a different kind of writer to Tom, but there’s a kind of savagery and grittiness and roughness to his plays too, that becomes more apparent the more you delve into it.”

And there’s a lot of delving, literally as well as metaphorically. Owen McCarthy’s set, which he says is magnificent, has several graves dug and some to be dug.

“The set is straight out of [director] Tim Burton, it’s so gothic”.

John is joined by Bríd Ni Neachtain, a regular with the Abbey Theatre, who was most recently seen with Decadent in its production of Doubt early last year. Patrick Ryan and Jarlath Tivnan also feature in A Skull in Connemara.

The production opens in Galway on Monday and then goes on an extensive tour of the country.

John came late to touring, but he loves it. You are well looked after, he says. The shows are on at night, so you get to sightsee by day, if the weather is fine, otherwise you spend time in the hotel’s leisure centre. He sees no reason to complain about that.

He wouldn’t mind having a few weeks off before the next job, although he hopes saying that isn’t tempting fate.

For him, acting is like any other job – there’s no mystery to it.

“If you work hard at the business, it pays off. It’s like anything else, if you keep trying things, it will work out for you.”

A Skull in Connemara previews at the Town Hall from this Thursday January 31 until Saturday, February 2. It opens on Monday, February 4 and runs until February 9 before going on the road.

For tickets telephone 09156977 or online at www.tht.ie

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