Sunday 18 February 2018

Brotherly love, tea, terrorists and Tír na nÓg – it's a lot to pack into 10 Days

Colin Murphy

Three years ago, the inaugural 10 Days in Dublin festival featured 32 acts in 10 venues. This year, it has 214 acts, and the festival director, Dan Bergin, has lost count of the number of venues (July 1-10, see

The festival is run by volunteers, and has no Arts Council funding and no quality control. Some money would be nice, Bergin admits, but the "open access" philosophy is fundamental.

"All the festivals in Dublin are curated. There's no opportunity to put on work without having to bend your ideas into somebody else's box." Funders, he says, end up "dictating a culture of creation". He hopes 10 Days in Dublin can turn our "cultural ecology" on its head.

One woman who's aiming to turn some cultural preconceptions on their head is "storytelling comedian" Sameena Zehra, who brings her one-woman show Tea With Terrorists to Sweeney's Bar, Dame Street, July 5-6 (it's in the comedy strand of the festival.)

Zehra was an accomplished British-Indian actress who had worked at the National in London and the Royal Shakespeare Company but, in her early 40s, found herself frustrated with constantly being asked to play "the wife/daughter/sister/mother of a terrorist".

So she quit. She did a workshop in comedy with the veteran English 'Godfather' of alternative comedy Tony Allen. The short course finished with a five-minute set; Zehra knew instantly, "this is where I'm supposed to be".

She jumped from there straight into an hour-long show for Edinburgh, which is the one she brings to Dublin now. It's autobiographical, probing the comic nuances of her dual Indian-English upbringing, and features vignettes such as how her Kashmiri grandmother, confronted by a terrorist group who held a gun to Zehra's uncle's head while they "confiscated" the family valuables, made the terrorist cry, so withering were her putdowns.

Zehra, who moonlights in a blues band that comes to Dublin occasionally, Dr Blue and the Prescription, is hoping to cultivate an Irish audience for her intimate storytelling shows. I think she could be knocking on an open door.

New Irish writer Ruairí Heading displays something of a similar entrepreneurial fervour in his first play, The Eulogist, which is showing at Theatre Upstairs from July 1-7. After a few minutes of comparing notes with this assured and thoughtful fellow who, like myself, is embarking on his first play, I wondered how old he was. He's 21.

Growing up in Inchicore, he decided early he wanted to be an actor. He trained at Bull Alley, finishing last year, and then threw himself into the screen acting programme at the Factory (, a ridiculously hip and worthwhile initiative for aspiring filmmakers and actors. A workshop there, with playwright/ novelist Pat McCabe, gave him the impetus to write a script.

The result is a brave monologue that depicts a young man leaning over the body of his brother, who is in a coma. Written almost like a beat poem, Heading uses it to probe some topical issues – casual violence and euthanasia – and to explore the nature of brotherly love.

Heading has one brother, a year younger. Is their relationship strong? "I couldn't articulate it to you, what it means – it's so strong and solid . . . It's a very male thing, you don't ever express any sort of affection."

He wrote the play out of a long-standing passion for writing, but also out of the desire to be "proactive", to "create work" for himself as an actor.

"When you write something it's ingrained in you, so it shines through you when you go to perform it."

Aisling Smith is doing something similar, having written and now directed the play Tír na nÓg, which is on at Powerscourt Townhouse Centre (July 9-13) and later tours to the Galway Fringe (July 18-22, see

As Heading says of the Factory, "you don't sit around waiting for the phone to ring; if you wanna go and do something, just do it".

It's a philosophy that animates them all, as well as the Theatre Upstairs and the festival, and it's a powerful antidote to the social or cultural depression that can sometimes seem prevalent. It could be a good 10 days in Dublin.

Irish Independent

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