OURSELVES ON THE WORLD STAGE
as published in Magan’s World, The Irish Times, 2nd February 2013
Manchán Magan, HotForTheatre Fan, travel writer, playwright and general great guy.
We are conscious of being ambassadors for our country when abroad, but what of the characterisations of ourselves that we send to perform on foreign stages? The Abbey and Druid regularly trot out melodramatic archetypes of old Ireland – the Bull McCabe, Pegeen Mike, Friel’s Ballybeg villagers – to entertain and supposedly represent us. These exaggerated, mythologised caricatures are hopefully not regarded as realistic by audiences, but even so, it would be nice to have more accurate, muted portrayals representing who we really are now. Fortunately, contemporary theatre is providing this.
Elegant little plays like Elaine Murphy’s Little Gem about three generations of Dublin women dealing with death, dildos and salsa classes now tour the world on our behalf – offering a more genuine and intimate view of us to sold-out audiences in New York, Paris and Australia through the support of Culture Ireland.
Amy Conroy’s play I ♥ Alice ♥ I about an elderly lesbian Dublin couple coming out to the world sold-out in Manhattan and had audiences crying in Reykjavík. Thanks to funding from Culture Ireland, it will soon tour the Antipodes, along with Amy’s other evocation of a Dublin life, Eternal Rising of the Sun. I’m intrigued to know how they will get on. Conroy’s character ‘Gina’ in Eternal Rising of the Sun is a track-suited unmarried mother with the hooped earrings and coiled slouch of inner city privation. The performance is eerily authentic. One senses every ecstasy pill she’s popped, every drunken fight, the abusive men and bitchy girlfriends. It is her ruthless honesty that makes the audience feel so strongly for her and want only the very best for her. We find ourselves plotting ways to reach out and help her. But Gina doesn’t need that. To her mortal embarrassment she has just completed a series of contemporary dance classes under the fluorescent glare of
the community centre, and while it was a tortuous experience it might just mark a new beginning.
Gina (in the guise of Conroy) will soon make her way to Perth and I can imagine no better ambassador for us. Conroy is also bringing I ♥ Alice ♥ I to Festivals at Brisbane, Auckland and Tasmania. The latter is really intriguing, as she is not performing in the capital, Hobart, but in 3 smaller towns including the clapperboard town-hall of Swansea, a remote settlement of 530 people, many living in crumbling colonial buildings and classic beachside shacks. From there, the play goes to a theatre in Deloraine (pop. 2,745) which caters for the outlaying ranches and farming stations and then on to a high school in Burnie on the North of the island.
I haven’t been to Tasmania, but my impression is of 1930s England in a wild landscape of wallabies, gum trees, possums and little penguins. A third of the island is national park, and beyond the capital, I imagine only remote settlements of brown, brooding 19th century buildings, tea shops with bustling Maggie Smith characters and their Colonel Blimp husbands and an engrained suspicion of the unorthodox.
My vision might be as inaccurate a representation as the Bull McCabe is of Ireland today, but either way it’ll be a surprise for them to get to meet the two elderly Dublin woman, Alice Kinsella and Alice Slattery at the heart of I ♥ Alice ♥ I, and share in their tender and courageous account of their secret life. Asthey clutch nervously at their knitwear and try occasionally to make eye contact with the audience, the two Alices manage to reveal their unlikely love story, an unflinching account of shopping routines, holidays together, arguments, the infidelity that threatened their relationship and the simple furtive kiss in Crumlin Shopping Centre that propelled them on this confessional journey around the world.
While these intimate shows mightn’t have the mega-wattage to sell out Broadway or the West End, it is their humble, compact nature that allows them the opportunity to wind their way into remote community halls around the world where they can entertain and engage audiences, while also updating people perceptions of Ireland one community at a time.
For more of Manchán’s writing visit manchan.com