Lifeystle – Award-winning Galway group with a track history of top-class work and challenging notions about intellectual disability now tackle Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa. Judy Murphy tells their unique story.
“It sounds like I had a plan, but I really didn’t,” says Petal Pilley, Artistic Director of Blue Teapot Theatre Company, the Galway City based professional drama group made up of people who have a mild Intellectual Disability (ID).
For someone without a plan, Petal has achieved extraordinary success with Blue Teapot since joining in 2006. The award-winning group, which is based in Munster Avenue in the City, has broken new ground in the Irish arts world, producing top-class work and challenging notions about intellectual disability.
Its best-known play, 2012’s Sanctuary, commissioned by Petal and written by Christian O’Reilly, was a major success. It went on become a critically acclaimed film as it explored the needs of people with disability when it comes to relationships and sex.
Next up is a production of Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa, which will be staged at the City’s Town Hall Theatre from May 24-26.
This time, the cast mostly comprises people who are not ID and includes some of Galway’s best-known actors. But the key role of Rose is being played by Jennifer Cox, a young actor with Down Syndrome.
Friel wrote Rose as someone who had an intellectual disability, and as far as Petal is aware, this will be the first production in Ireland to have an ID actor in the role. She believes it gives an extra depth and poignancy to his drama set in the 1930s about a family in rural Donegal.
Petal is passionate about Blue Teapot; the work the company does and the role that arts can play in helping everyone to reach their creative potential.
Her own background in theatre stretches back to childhood – from the age of five she was part of the Footsbarn Travelling Theatre Company, where her mother Charmaine was a costume designer and her step-father Rod Goodall an actor.
Footsbarn travelled all over the world, including to Galway, and it was here that Rod and Charmaine settled in the early 1990s, working with Macnas. Petal, who was 20 at the time, moved here too and apart from a few years in London doing theatre-training, she’s been here since. She moved to Dublin briefly but didn’t like it.
While some aspects of Galway disenchant her, including a disregard in some quarters about the contribution of artists to life here, it’s her home. And she absolutely loves ‘the Teapots’. As performers, they are so supportive of each other, she says, pointing out that when they say “well done”, which they do often, they mean it. And if anyone has an issue at work, they’ll say it straight out and deal with it, rather than bottling things up.
She laughs as she recalls doing the interview for the job, when its previous artistic director Niamh Dillon moved on.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.