“Life is complicated and Blackbird is a play that show how complicated it can be,” says actress Emma O’Grady of Mephisto Theatre Company, who is currently rehearsing for a revival of David Harrower’s hit play.
Mephisto Theatre will tour Blackbird to venues in Galway City and County in early June, following their critically acclaimed production of Eclipsed by Patricia Burke Brogan last year.
They begin on the main stage of the city’s Town Hall Theatre on June 5 with one of the most controversial plays of the last decade, in which two people who had a passionate affair 15 years previously cross paths again.
Una has tracked Ray down to the factory where he is working as a middle manager. He hasn’t seen her in 15 years and has no desire to revisit the past. He has a new job, a partner and has moved on. But Una is unable to do that, which is why she has pursued him. She’s not a 12-year-old now and she wants to take charge of her own destiny.
“This autopsy of a relationship between an older man and a young girl is uncomfortable to watch,” observes Emma. “Before you go in to see the play, the issue is black and white,” she adds, referring to paedophilia for which this character has done time.
“But then you start to see that this is a grey issue and you get really uncomfortable as an audience.”
Blackbird, first produced at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe, also asks the question ‘can someone change?’ as in does society allow people to change,” says Emma, who stresses that David Harrower is not an apologist for the character of Ray in the play. Blackbird is a work that raises more questions than it answers and that is why it is one of her favourite plays.
Mephisto, which is run by Emma and Caroline Lynch, has been creating work in Galway since 2006 and is one of the most significant younger companies on the Galway theatre scene.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
Marking Baboró’s birth as children’s festival turns 25
Baboró Children’s Arts Festival, which marks its 25th anniversary this year, changed the face of arts in Ireland by putting young people front and centre. “Until then, there wasn’t any theatre for children in Ireland, unless it was educational,” recalls Patricia Forde, a driving force in establishing Baboró.
“Theatre existed, but it wasn’t art. We brought in companies from Italy and Spain whose shows were just about art, not education. And they were beautiful.”
From the get-go, Patricia loved that companies created work specifically for certain age groups – toddlers for instance – that focused on their stage of development.
Baboró grew out of Galway Arts Festival and it reflected a changing audience dynamic.
In the early days of the Arts Festival, when Ollie Jennings programmed it, Patricia worked in the box office. The audience then was made up mostly of single people, many of them students and backpackers, she recalls. By the time she took over as Artistic Director in the early 1990s, that had changed.
“People were looking for more family shows.” She obliged, by setting up a family strand in the Festival, known as Baboró. Little John Nee, with his children’s shows, “was our anchor tenant”, she says of his annual appearances at the former Mercy Secondary School in Newtownsmyth. The first year when there wasn’t enough funding to dress the school yard in bunting, Patricia’s sister, Ailish, improvised by hanging colourful clothes on clotheslines across the yard. That year too, a fire engine was one of the main attractions and kids queued up to get their photos taken with it, she laughs.
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Moving west to make her artistic mark
Bernie Dignam’s grandfather fought in World War I and was one of the unfortunate soldiers who saw action in Gallipoli, a horrific experience which damaged him for life. But he never forgot his fellow soldiers and for years afterwards, would mark Remembrance Sunday by wearing a poppy and marching in their memory.
In the 1920s, that didn’t win him many fans in the newly-independent Ireland, says his artist granddaughter Bernie who lives in Moyard, outside Clifden. Bernie never knew her granddad but admires him for staying true to himself, despite the consequences. It’s easy see why she would because she’s cut from the same cloth.
Her grandfather was from north inner-city Dublin and Bernie was reared in Finglas, the oldest of a family of eight children. Her journey to North Connemara brought her to Limerick and Monaghan before she finally arrived in the 1990s, to work in Letterfrack.
Moyard, between Clifden and Letterfrack, is where she built her home and it’s where she now runs her studio and art gallery, showcasing her work across a variety of genres – felting, weaving, batik and printmaking. It’s inspired by nature, mostly by the local landscape.
Bernie’s background is in design – after graduating from DIT, she did a research project in UL on the use of Irish softwood.
But there weren’t many jobs in design and product development when she left college and she didn’t have any connections in the industry. So she did a diploma that would allow her teach art and design, which is where she developed her passion for such processes as felting and batik.
She’d grown up around textiles, she explains, as her father, Christy, was an upholsterer. His day job was with CIÉ as a steady income was needed for his large family. But in his spare time, he upholstered furniture in a shed at the back of their house. She describes him as a master craftsman and an expert on fabrics. Her mother, Teresa, meanwhile, was “very practical. She fixed our bikes, made our clothes and knitted Aran jumpers for us”.
Read Judy Murphy’s in-depth interview with Bernie Dignam in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Bowing out after 31 years’ service
James C Harrold has played a key role in Galway’s artistic life for more than three decades. The retiring City Arts officer reflects on his years working in the county and city, and shares memories of artists, events and places, while also looking to the future.
Since 1990 I have been working with the artists, arts organisations, communities and neighbourhoods of Galway; for ten years as City and County Arts Officer, and subsequently specifically in the city. I had returned to Galway from Wexford Arts Centre where I had been Artistic Director, but before that I had spent a lot of time in the West. Every childhood summer was enjoyed in Barna, I went to college here, to UCG, and had worked with Galway Arts Festival, the Arts Centre and Macnas.
My romantic and adoring view of Galway originated in early-years visits to Kennys’ with my bibliophile father, or to Charles Lamb’s studio in Carraroe, or to my mother’s family in musical Belclare at the foot of Knockma.
‘Galway is a paradise,’ I stated firmly in a newspaper profile to mark my appointment.
I was one of the first of the new Local Authority Arts Officers, co-funded by the Arts Council with a brief to develop local arts.
Based in possibly Ireland’s oldest prefab at the back of the County Buildings in Prospect Hill, a handy base to explore from, create and curate projects, networks and funding opportunities, I was tasked to advise and assist the city and county in policy, programming and grant aid. My dear friend and college colleague Michael Diskin had returned to Galway on the same day, February 19th.
For the next 22 years, with Mike from 1994 ensconced in the Town Hall Theatre we met two or three times a week. Back in the ‘80s we had been inspired by Ollie Jennings and Páraic Breathnach, who had laid the foundations for so much of Galway’s creative reputation. We were following in their mighty footsteps and developing our own pathways too.
Early forays into the county involved bringing Little John Nee to the towns and villages every weekend that summer. His children’s shows, mainly open-air in the little market squares of east and north Galway opened conversations that are continuing still.
Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie