Sunday 19 January 2020

Black comedy 'Cypress Avenue' for the Schoolyard

When everybody else was preparing for the Christmas festive season in November and December, Charleville's Kevin O'Shea and his cast of five were rehearsing for the world amateur premiere of 'Cypress Avenue', a play by Belfast playwright David Ireland, in what will be Kevin's final production with the award laden Shoestring Theatre Company on the circuit.

If that is so, he has chosen what he says is his most difficult and challenging play in Cypress Avenue, which is set in Belfast and is about a deluded Unionist called Eric, who is convinced that his daughter has had an affair and her recently born baby girl, Mary-Mae, is a reincarnation of the former president of Sinn Fein, Jerry Adams, and his family has been infiltrated by Fenians.

"This is an extremely black comedy, full of bigotry about identity and the absurdity of the sectarian divide, and though set in Northern Ireland it could be transposed to any conflict situation around the world where people are divided by religion and politics," says Kevin.

"Cypress Avenue is a play of its time, especially with the rise of nationalism in Trump's America, Brexit in England and the emergence of the far right elsewhere in Europe. This is a bleak play with no hint of reconciliation and Eric is as adamant at saying 'no' at the end of the production as he is at the start of it," added Kevin.

"This play is a serious challenge for any drama group to attempt as it tests the acting ability of the cast to the extreme and, indeed, the ability of the audience to absorb it. It is an ultra- black comedy which, though incredibly dark, is at the same time explosively funny, and so will carry an over 18's tag when it opens.

"If we manage to pull off this play it will be a stupendous achievement for all concerned with the production," he said.

The Shoestring Company hope to stage the play at the Schoolyard Theatre in Charleville for a short run in mid to late February, and thereafter they will take it on the drama festival circuit, starting in early March in Kildare. They will travel to seven festivals throughout Ireland, and they have also been booked to play on the opening night of the Listowel Writer's Week in St. John's Theatre in the Kerry town.

Cypress Avenue was written Belfast author David Ireland, who now lives in Glasgow. The play was performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin last year with actor Stephen Rea in the lead role of Eric. The play won the Irish Times Theatre Award for Best New Play in 2017 and the James Tait Black Prize for Drama, also in 2017.

Kevin O'Shea, who founded the Schoolyard Theatre in 1993, severed his connection with the local theatre some five years ago, and since then has been concentrating on directing the Shoestring productions that have garnered many awards, including the Abbey Theatre Award for the Shoestring production of Mark Doherty's 'Trad' at the All-Ireland Drama Festival in Athlone in 2015.