Monday 19 March 2018

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From Russia with love: 'The First Cosmonaut'
From Russia with love: 'The First Cosmonaut'
Going into orbit: Jocelyn Clarke

Aedn Gormley

Playwright and dramaturge Jocelyn Clarke likes a good challenge. He has already adapted for the stage the Flann O'Brien trilogy, The Third Policeman, At Swim-Two-Birds and The Poor Mouth. Literary gems, yes, but staging them, surely a near-impossible task. However, Clarke loves O'Brien's humour and satire and took on the challenge.

"If you look through my work you'll see that I'm interested in taking non-dramatic, non-theatrical texts and transposing them into pieces of theatre. I find this challenge theatrically and dramatically interesting," he says.

The key factor appears to be that Jocelyn found the perfect collaborators in Blue Raincoat Theatre Company. Ireland's only professional theatre ensemble, they are considered one of Ireland's most creative theatre teams.

For his fifth collaboration with Blue Raincoat, Clarke has written a new play about Yuri Gagarin. Who? Well we may be more familiar with the name Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. But in 1961 Yuri Gagarin was the first human to journey into outer space when his Vostok 1 spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth.

To experience what no other human being had seen before, to see the Earth from outer space was an idea that Jocelyn wanted to explore. "Yuri Gagarin was the first person in the entire history of human kind to see the Earth from the perspective of outer space, ie the perspective of God. So that became a larger way of talking about the idea of what happens to people when they see something extraordinary."

The playwright was also intrigued by the fact that Gagarin was the son of a peasant and that Russia was always perceived to be a backward country, even during the Cold War. "The idea that they were the first people to launch a satellite into space and a human being into space in the form of Gagarin became very interesting."

The idea emerged to tell Yuri's tale through the eyes of a Russian fit-up theatre company travelling to venues in the West and performing the story of one of Russia's great heroes. Jocelyn wanted to bring this story to the stage with some humour but also wanted to convey the enormity of this event.

"You are walking a very thin line between the seriousness of the intent and the extraordinary ambition and achievement of Yuri while simultaneously doing it in an entertaining and comic way."

As we finish chatting it is very clear to me that Clarke and Blue Raincoat Theatre Company collaborate particularly well and are on the same wavelength. Once the text is written, they construct and build a world around the words. He also stresses that it is a constantly evolving process that doesn't end on opening night. There is a rehearsal period ranging between six and seven weeks with no preview period.

So, if this playwright has found the perfect theatre group in Blue Raincoat, should budding playwrights follow suit and try to attach themselves to a particular theatre company? Is this the best way to get a new play staged?

Jocelyn feels that writing at the moment is much more collaborative where the playwright perceives himself or herself as part of a much bigger collaboration in which they are responsible for the text. "Advice that I give to any playwright is to find your tribe; in other words to find a company whose work you like and try to begin to work with them in whatever capacity and hopefully over time they might let you write a play."

Blue Raincoat Theatre Company presents First Cosmonaut – a new play by Jocelyn Clarke (running until November 2, The Factory Performance Space, Sligo.) See

Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals (Sat 1-4pm) and Sunday Matinée (Sun 12-2pm) on RTÉ lyric fm.

Irish Independent

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