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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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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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