On Tuesday 24th October, Fishamble was invited to Mountjoy Prison to perform On Blueberry Hill for prisoners. Director Jim Culleton shares his thoughts after the performance.
At Fishamble, we are always keen to tour our productions to audiences that we hope will connect with the plays, and are committed to creating access to our work for everyone. We love working with venues around the country, and are visiting approximately 60 venues this year, so our productions reach as wide an audience as possible. So, when we were chatting with June Edwards and Anne Costelloe in the education centre at Mountjoy prison, about our current production of On Blueberry Hill by Sebastian Barry, which is set in Mountjoy, we were delighted when they suggested a possible performance in the prison itself.
Some audience members who had seen the production at the Pavilion during the Dublin Theatre Festival, had served time in prison and had been deeply moved by the honesty and humanity of the play. So we were very enthusiastic to present it in Mountjoy, and see what the prisoners there made of it. Thankfully, the Governor was also enthusiastic about it, and we planned to present it on Monday last week. Then Hurricane Ophelia struck and the performance was rescheduled for today, so we went into the prison at 9.30am to stage the play in the school there. We were warned that the performance might be stopped or interrupted if the business of the prison required it but, in the end, we ran straight through with no interruptions.
We had a fascinating experience, performing for an audience of staff, Gardai, and about 40 prisoners, who were ‘the experts’ on Mountjoy, as Sebastian commented in a brief introduction. There were ripples of acknowledgment at many points and a breath-holding silence for many of the emotional sections about the experience of the characters in Mountjoy. Niall Buggy and David Ganly performed the play with a perfectly judged tone, that acknowledged we were all in Mountjoy together, and that the audience was very familiar with many aspects of the play. You could feel the lines about the prison officers, trials in the Four Courts, and the details of prison life connecting differently in prison, than they had with previous audiences. One man sat close to the door this morning, as he felt he may need to leave during the play, but remained until the end and told us he was glad he had stayed. At the end of the performance, some of the students in the audience sang along with the actors during the song, a man whistled along beautifully, someone shouted ‘C’mon Christy’ and there was a great cheer as the lights went down. It was a privilege to present the play there, thanks to everyone for helping to make it happen, and to our audience for welcoming our version of Mountjoy into the prison school.
Hugh Linehan from the Irish Times joined us on the day and wrote a fantastic article about the experience. Click HERE to read it.