Sunday 17 December 2017

Arts: One really stands out among a wealth of Irelands

Everything Between Us starring Abigail McGibbon and Stacey Gregg
Everything Between Us starring Abigail McGibbon and Stacey Gregg
David Ireland
Barry Duggan's new play, Run/Don't Run
'Saint Mary Magdalene in the Wilderness', c.1625

Sophie Gorman

Apparently, there are many Irelands in Belfast - that's according to playwright David Ireland. "In Ballybeen, which is where I am from, there were three David Irelands and we weren't related. I think Ireland is a fairly common name in Belfast."

This David Ireland comes from a Protestant family and the Ballybeen Housing Estate he grew up in became a divisive loyalist stronghold during the Troubles. The area and its politics have certainly made their imprint on David's writings, though he describes his family as being "no more political than any other family then. There wasn't much actual talk of politics or political parties but so much was going on that everybody did have an opinion."

Everything Between Us is his first play to be performed in the Republic. Produced by Rough Magic Theatre Company, it is currently showing at the Project Arts Centre (Projectartscentre.ie). Rooted very much in that political landscape, the story starts on the first day of Northern Ireland's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Why did he decide to use this commission as his starting point for this play? It doesn't exactly sing cutting edge drama.

"I agree with you, it's not the most enticing hook to get you in. And I will admit it wasn't a subject I was particularly interested in, but the company commissioning it wanted it and I didn't realise at the time I could say no, I thought you had to write about what the theatre company told you to. Crucial to all this, too, is that it's a subject I don't really know much about and I really hate doing research. And then I read something Desmond Tutu said, that he felt that if they could get through the first day of the commission without incident then they would get through the whole thing. So then I wondered what would happen if the worst possible thing occurred on that first day?" David tells me he wouldn't consider himself to be a political playwright in the same way as, say, Gary Mitchell (Belfast playwright of important political plays as In a Little World of Our Own and As the Beast Sleeps). But David's second play was called Arguments for Terrorism. That sounds quite political?

"Actually, you'd be surprised. The first play I ever wrote was called What the Animals Say, which was about a guy from Belfast who was a world famous footballer, a Belfast Roy Keane if you will. He was a real loyalist but he was also the captain of the Celtic team. It was a comedy about Belfast and became a big success in Glasgow, too. And then I wrote Arguments for Terrorism, which everyone presumed would also be about Belfast, but actually was about George Bush and Tony Blair. It was absolutely rubbish, I just didn't realise that at the time. There were three really funny jokes in it, well, two really funny ones and one okay one, and at the time I thought three jokes justified writing a whole play around them. I remember getting mediocre reviews for it, but there was one critic who completely tore it apart and I found it so shocking it was almost funny. But now I would have to say she was absolutely right. I hope that nobody ever produces it again."

Has he ever suffered any backlash similar to Gary Mitchell, who had to take his family into hiding after his home in the loyalist district of Rathcoole was attacked and his car petrol-bombed by masked men in 2005?

"No, no, my overwhelming experience is that nobody seems to get overly riled up by my work. When you write your first play, you think it's going to change the world, least you do if you're me. And then nothing very much happens."

David lives now in Glasgow, though his writing travels back and forth across the Irish Sea.

"It is a weird one for me. I think my plays generally set in Belfast tend to be quite political whereas my plays set in Scotland tend to be romantic comedies."

Apparently, David has developed a reputation in Belfast as the writer of violent politically confrontational dramas, whereas in Scotland he is considered something of an Irish Richard Curtis.

Does he feel there is some kind of responsibility for Northern Irish playwrights to put their politics on the stage?

"I don't feel it is something I have written about because I feel I should but rather I have written about it because you should write about what you know and the Troubles is what I grew up with. It had a profound effect on me as a child and then as a teenager that I felt I needed to write about it. I wrote about the Troubles because I was trying to understand it. And now I am writing about romance because I am trying to understand that, too!"

Sophie's choice

1 The experience of the young emigrant is the topical subject of Gary Duggan's new play Run /Don't Run. Part crime thriller, part love triangle, this story stars Aonghus Og McNally, Sean Doyle and Leah Minto. Directed by Aoife Spillane-Hicks, it starts a nationwide tour in Kildare on Wednesday. Biggerpictureprojects.com.

2 Everything is Possible is the title of a fascinating new exhibition in the Gallery of Photography. It features large-scale photographic work of Qingsong Wang, who uses giant sets to construct his provocative and contemplative works exploring China's transformation to world superpower. Galleryofophotography.ie.

3 Selling your soul to the devil might seem like a potential solution to our economy plight. So at least thought Faust, who did just that in exchange for power in Charles Gounod's celebrated opera. Starring Cara O'Sullivan and Jung Soo Yung, this is running until next Saturday in Cork's Everyman Theatre. Everymancork.com.

Exhibit A

With her eyes raised upwards to heaven, there is something both imploring and extraordinarily pure about this Mary Magdalene. She was painted in such a state of sorrowful contemplation in 1625 by Domenichino and the painting is titled Saint Mary Magdalene in the Wilderness.

Domenichino meant this to be a picture of her last minutes in the wilderness, in the days following Christ's crucifixion as Mary and two other women kept almost constant vigil at his tomb. According to the gospel of Matthew, Mary Magdalene along with two other women discovered Christ's empty tomb at dawn. In this depiction, daylight is starting to break through the clouds as she leans against a sarcophagus and her traditional jar of ointment is next to her.

Domenichino was an Italian Baroque painter of the Bolognese School, or Carracci School, of painters. He followed Annibale Carracci to Rome in 1602 and, following Carracci's death in 1609, he was considered one of the finest painters in the Italian capital.

Saint Mary Magdalene in the Wilderness is currently on display in our National Gallery of Ireland (Nationalgallery.ie) as part of its 'Passion & Persuasion: Images of Baroque Saints' exhibition. This brings together paintings from the gallery's collection which depict popular Counter-Reformation saints such as Teresa of Avila and John the Baptist. The exhibition also includes a copy of 'Spiritual Exercises', a text written by St Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, which instructs followers to use their senses to imagine and experience for themselves the passion of Christ and the suffering and ecstasy of the saints.

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