On Monday, they seized and secured the building, repelling the first attacks.
On Tuesday, they attempted to deal with looting on O'Connell St.
On Wednesday, the shelling started.
On Thursday, the building caught fire.
On Friday, they were forced to evacuate.
Fishamble is delighted to share the archive footage of Inside the GPO by Colin Murphy this Easter. The video link will be accessible from 7pm Sunday 12 April - 10pm Monday 13 April.
Keep an eye out on social media or in our newsletter for the event link within the coming weeks.
'Wonderful production' President Michael D Higgins
'Vigorous... affecting... persuasive drama' The Stage
'Superb play... direction is breathtaking... utterly memorable... not to be missed' Sunday Independent
'Vigorous production' ★★★★ Irish Times
Fishamble's Inside the GPO by Colin Murphy, directed by Jim Culleon, was a must-see cultural event at the heart of the 1916 commemorations. This unprecedented documentary drama, directed by Jim Culleton, was a once-in-a-century opportunity to experience the Easter Rising, in the main hall of the GPO itself. Audiences witnessed the rebel leadership navigate the perils of the Rising across the five days during which they occupied the GPO.
Inside the GPO was presented in partnership with Fáilte Ireland, Dublin City Council, Ireland 2016, An Post, DublinTown, & Arnotts. This footage of the play was filmed by White Thorn Films.
Writer Colin Murphy
Director Jim Culleton
Dramaturg Gavin Kostick
Scenic & Costume Design Niamh Lunny
Lighting Design Mark Galione
Sound Design Carl Kennedy
Stage Manager Tara Doolan
Assistant Stage Manager Caoimhe Whelan
Movement Director Bryan Burroughs
Graphic Design by Publicis Dublin
Production Managed by Mark Galione and Eoin Kilkenny
Front of House Manager Ronan Carey
Line Producer Aisling O’Brien
Associate Producer Pauric Dempsey and Colin Murphy
Produced by Eva Scanlan
Cast: Karen Ardiff, Orla Fitzgerald, Liz FitzGibbon, Gavin Fullam, Manus Halligan, Aidan Kelly, Ronan Leahy, Michael Glenn Murphy, Don Wycherley, Louis Deslis, Martha Dunlea, Carolyn Donnelly, Tom Duffy, Desmond Eastwood, Ali Hardiman, Daniel McDermott, Meg O’Brien, Gavan O’Connor Duffy.
Keep your creativity flowing. Send us your 600 word Tiny Play!
In these challenging times, Fishamble - along with many of our colleagues in the wider Irish artistic community - is working hard to keep imaginations lively, communities engaged - and most of all offer people the opportunity of creative expression.
Would you welcome the challenge of exploring your thoughts and feelings through drama? Do you have a dramatic story that you feel the urge to work out for yourself, and maybe share with your fellow citizens?
Please send us your Tiny Plays - see guidelines below.
You can absolutely write according to your own impulse, but each week we'll give you a word-of-the-week to serve as a prompt.
Every week, for a month, Fishamble will publish a selection of three to five tiny plays on its website for the public to read.
The writers of those plays will receive a selection of three Fishamble playscripts.
- Plays must be 600 words or less
- They must be submitted through this online form, along with your details
- You do not need any playwriting experience to take part
- Plays may be in Irish, English or any other language if a translation is provided
- You must be prepared for your play to be shared with the public online
- Two plays per person per week maximum
- This challenge is open to anyone resident on the island of Ireland and any Irish citizen currently abroad
- Current employees and family of Fishamble are not eligible to submit
The weekly deadline will be noon on Thursdays. Chosen plays will be on our website and announced at noon on Fridays, with the new weekly prompt shared at 5pm on Fridays.
In light of the Government’s recent recommendations regarding COVID-19, and the Arts Council's guidelines, Fishamble will be taking a number of measures to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of its staff, artists, and audiences.
All shows in Ireland programmed until 12 April will be postponed until further notice. We are working closely with our partner venues and festivals, and will announce revised plans for this touring work in due course. Our London run of On Blueberry Hill has also been postponed, as UK theatres work with government recommendations on how to move forward.
In line with social distancing measures, we are in discussion with artists about either postponing meetings and workshops, or holding these online or by phone, as appropriate. We will also be in touch with members of the public enrolled for our upcoming playwriting course, beginning in mid-April, and will be happy to reimburse fees or defer places to a later course, if required.
Fishamble is committed to supporting our artists in many ways, including financially. All participants in in our development programmes, and artists in our cancelled/postponed shows, will be paid, as contracted.
We believe that, in times like these, creative organisations are ready to have creative solutions! We will be sharing resources, performance clips, and as much creative content as possible over the coming weeks, so that you can continue to engage with Fishamble through our digital platforms.
In the meantime, stay safe, and we look forward to updating you soon.
From Jim, Eva, Gavin, Chandrika, and Ronan.
Fishamble will offer its very first Dramaturgy Development Programme in June 2020.
120 new plays are produced on average on the island of Ireland every year. One of the key elements of these new works is the creative dramaturgical input to make the best possible works for the public. Fishamble seeks to support the development of, and conversation about, dramaturgy, in order to help practitioners deepen their craft for the benefit of the sector.
- to enlarge discussion of role and function of new work dramaturgy.
- For participants to develop their practice through discussion.
- For participants to gain concrete thoughts about one project that they are working on.
Applications open, 20th March.
Applications close, 10th April.
This programme is supported by
Fishamble are delighted that Fishamble's The Alternative by Michael Patrick and Oisín Kearney is nominated in 3 categories for this year's Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards:
THE ALTERNATIVE was the product of Fishamble's 2-year programmme A Play For Ireland, and was produced in association with Draiocht, Belltable/The Lime Tree Theatre, The Everyman, Lyric Theatre Belfast, Pavilion Theatre, and Town Hall Theatre Galway.
The programme and production were supported by Tesco Finest, with transportation partner Irish Rail.
And of course, our work would not be possible without the support of Arts Council Ireland. Thank you to everyone who supported this production, and of course our brilliant creative team. And enormous congrats to all the nominees!
Fishamble: The New Play Company brings its production of On Blueberry Hill by Sebastian Barry to London's West End in Spring 2020!
Following hugely successful and sell-out seasons in Dublin and New York City, Fishamble’s critically acclaimed production of Sebastian Barry’s new play opens at London’s Trafalgar Studios on 5 March for a strictly limited season until 2 May. This production of On Blueberry Hill was originally produced by Fishamble and will be produced in the West End by Trafalgar Theatre Productions and Fishamble.
Reprising their roles as Christy and PJ are Irish Times Theatre Award and Olivier Award winner Niall Buggy and West End and Broadway star David Ganly. Directed by Fishamble’s Olivier-Award winning Jim Culleton, this new play is bursting with humanity, as it explores forgiveness, survival and, ultimately, love.
In Barry’s beautiful style, On Blueberry Hill features best of friends and worst of enemies Christy (Niall Buggy) and PJ (David Ganly), who are destined to share their lives for twenty years. As the two men reflect on the hope and torment of life outside - they slowly uncover the events that have led them to their world with explosive, bittersweet consequences.
"So happy to hear the splendid news that the truly brilliant work of Niall Buggy, David Ganly, director Jim Culleton and all the crew at Fishamble, will be seen at the fabulous Trafalgar Studios. We all longed for a further life for characters Christy and PJ, holed up in Mountjoy Jail, and now here it is, wonderfully, in very best style."
The production is designed by Sabine Dargent, with lighting design by Mark Galione, sound design and composition by Denis Clohessy and is produced for Fishamble by Eva Scanlan.
On Blueberry Hill was developed and produced in 2017 and 2019 with the support of Arts Council Ireland, and has toured internationally to the CCI in Paris and 59E59 Theaters as part of 1st Irish in New York, with the support of Culture Ireland.
Andrew Hetherington, Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan, Jim Culleton, Minister Heather Humphries, and Paul O'Kane on stage.
At the award ceremony in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on Tuesday 3 September, Fishamble was awarded the daa €5000 Arts Award. This award was presented to them by Chief Communications Officer of the daa, Paul O'Kane. The award recognises 'great relationship management, imagination and creativity in working with the corporate community. Many of the very deserving winners have greatly touched their communities as a whole and have left a lasting impact on those who partook in or experienced their work.'
Fishamble was honoured to also be shortlisted for two Allianz Business to Arts Awards: the Allianz Community Art Award, and the Best Small Sponsorship for Irish Rail's support of A Play For Ireland.
Paul commended Fishamble on their work with emerging playwrights and different communities saying:
"Through the operation of Dublin and Cork Airports daa connects Ireland with the world and Fishmable helps Ireland tell its stories to the world. Fishamble is the key conduit to showcase new writing for the stages as it typically supports 50% of all new plays produced in Ireland every year. Fishamble also has a hugely impressive track record of making its work accessible to a wide range of audiences and communities."
Fishamble would like to thank all of our corporate partners this year for making this award possible; Irish Rail, Tesco Finest, Cork Park, Publicis, and Dublin Town.
Jim Culleton, Niamh Ní Fhlatharta, Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan, and Paul O'Kane
Pat Kinevane awarded a coveted Herald Archangel Award for his sustained and excellent contribution to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
At a reception in the Festival theatre in Edinburgh today, Sunday 11 August, renowned actor and playwright Pat Kinevane was awarded a highly coveted Herald Archangel Award for his ‘sustained and excellent contribution’ to Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Pat is currently performing in Fishamble: The New Company’s production of Before (written and performed by Pat, and directed by Jim Culleton) at Dance Base in Edinburgh as part of the Fringe Festival. This acclaimed production runs in Edinburgh until 25 August. This award coincides with the month that Pat celebrates 30 years working in theatre as a professional actor. Previous Archangel award winners include Olwen Fouere, Enda Walsh, Alan Cumming, and The Wooster Group.
Speaking about the award Pat Kinevane said: “The work that we brought over here is really the product of a beautiful working relationship between me and Fishamble. It’s been a huge creative team effort, so this award is something that is really reflective of that in a lovely way. It’s about people minding each other, looking after each other, caring for each other, and protecting each other in that really creative space. That sort of angelic feeling is really important to me, and this award is just so appropriately reflective of that. Jim Culleton taking my writing under his wing, that’s the main thrust of it really for me, he took it and he fully developed it and gave it all that care, and it’s very reflective of this award.
I always carry my cards with me, and I happened to have brought my card of the Archangel Michael with me to Edinburgh! Archangels are fierce protectors of us all, but also very childlike, and that’s how I feel about the fun we have, and the work we do. That process is really loving and very protective as well, almost childlike in its creativity. It’s lovely, it’s really lovely.
I’ve always been full of gratitude for that journey and process, but this is just an acknowledgement really for an Irish theatre company being recognised internationally. It’s really amazing, out of all the shows in this massive festival, that they’re recognising, from start to finish, the journey of Fishamble and me. And we’re not finished yet!”
Fishamble and Pat Kinevane will tour throughout Ireland in September and October, including a presentation of all four plays (Forgotten, Silent, Underneath and Before) at the Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire, from 11 – 14 September. Book tickets here.
Pat and Fishamble: The New Play Company have worked together for many years. Fishamble produced Pat’s first play The Nun’s Wood in 1998, followed by his second play The Plains of Enna in 1999. Fishamble is very proud to have commissioned, developed, and produced three solo plays written and performed by Pat, which continue to tour extensively. They are Forgotten (since 2006), Silent (since 2011) Underneath (since 2014), and Before (since 2018), all directed by Jim Culleton.
The plays have been performed in over 60 venues throughout Ireland. Silent has won Olivier, Fringe First, Herald Angel and Argus Angel awards, and Underneathwon Fringe First, LA Stage Raw and Adelaide Fringe Best Theatre awards, and was nominated for Offie/Off West End and Total Theatre awards.
The productions have toured throughout Europe, with partners including Dance Base (Edinburgh), Soho Theatre (London), CCI (Paris), Prague Fringe Festival, Lokal Festival (Reykjavik), International Theatre Festival (Sibiu), Tron Theatre (Glasgow), Cymru Theatr Clwyd, Irish Festival (Oulu), GLAS (Geneva), Home (Manchester), INFANT Festival (Novi Sad), Brighton Festival, Hotbed Festival (Cambridge), nu:write (Zagreb), and to Leuven, Kaiserslautern, Trabzon, and all across Bulgaria. In the US, in association with Georganne Aldrich Heller, they were presented by the Irish Arts Center, New York, and in Boston Center for the Arts, the Source Theatre in Washington D.C. and the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles. In Australia, Silent toured in Perth and Melbourne, and Underneath toured to Adelaide, pretended by Arts Project Australia. The Pat Kinevane Trilogy continues to tour extensively in Ireland and abroad. Before had its world premiere in Ireland in 2018, its UK premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, and will have its US premiere at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles this November.
About Before, A new play with much music by Pat Kinevane:
From the team that brought you Forgotten, Underneath and the Olivier Award-winning Silent, Before is a new play with much music, set in Clery’s of Dublin, on the very day this iconic department store shuts - for good. Pontius is inside, trying to choose a gift for his estranged daughter, whom he hasn’t seen for almost 20 years. He will meet her in an hour. This father’s journey is both beautiful and strange, from the isolation of his Midlands home, to the madness of O’Connell Street. Some folk are impossible to buy for…
Before was commissioned by Fishamble and has been in development with the support of the Arts Council, National Theatre Studio (London), Pavilion Theatre, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, Georganne Aldrich Heller, Robert Leroy, and The Strollers Touring Network.
‘Kinevane’s performance works like a spell… a real showstopper' ★★★★ Irish Times
Fishamble: The New Play Company
Fishamble is an Olivier Award-winning, internationally acclaimed Irish theatre company, which discovers, develops and produces new work, across a range of scales. In 2018 Fishamble celebrated 30 years of new plays in Ireland through its many productions and extensive development programme.
Fishamble is funded by The Arts Council and Dublin City Council. Its international touring is supported by Culture Ireland.
Press information: Sinead O’Doherty, O’Doherty Communications 086 259 1070 firstname.lastname@example.org
We are delighted to announce the cast of The Alternative: Karen Ardiff, Lorcan Cranitch, Maeve Fitzgerald, Fionntán Larney, Rory Nolan, Rachel O'Byrne, and Arthur Riordan.
"We're absolutely delighted to have this incredible cast for The Alternative. These are actors we've admired for years, it's a little surreal having them perform our script. We've already done a reading of an early draft with them, which was brilliant, and we're currently in the process of making final tweaks with the help of Fishamble and The Lyric Theatre."
- Michael Patrick, Co-Writer of THE ALTERNATIVE
The Alternative tours the island of Ireland in September and October 2019 in association with Draíocht, The Everyman, Lime Tree Theatre & Belltable, Lyric Theatre, Pavilion Theatre, and Town Hall Theatre, and will premiere as part of Dublin Theatre Festival.
The year is 2019 and it is the eve of the Referendum. British Prime Minister Ursula Lysaght is returning to her hometown of Dublin to convince voters to Remain. With the threat of chaos in the streets, and personal conflict behind the scenes, the final debate is set to begin at BBC Dublin: Should Ireland leave the UK?
18 - 21 September - The Everyman, Cork
24 - 29 September - Pavillion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire, Dublin
1 October - Town Hall Theatre, Galway
3 October - Belltable Arts Centre, Limerick
4 - 5 October - Draíocht, Blanchardstown, Dublin
8 - 13 October - Lyric Theatre, Belfast
On 13 June 2019, co-writers of Fishamble's THE ALTERNATIVE Michael Patrick and Oisín Kearney wrote a speech to address the topic: 'Reframing Our Borders - What If?' at On The Edge, the Theatre Forum and Theatre NI Conference 2019. In the speech, delivered by Oisín Kearney, the writers discuss being Irish in Cambridge, their new play The Alternative, produced by Fishamble as part of Fishamble's A Play For Ireland programme, and issues of identity in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Due to technical difficulties the video is an abridged version of the full speech, which can be found below.
Reframing Our Borders - What If?
Oisín Kearney and Michael Patrick talk about their play for Ireland, THE ALTERNATIVE, and some questions it poses. What if Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom? What if Home Rule had passed? What if there was no War of Independence? No Civil War? No partition? What if the island had only one soccer team?
First of all, thank you to Theatre Forum and Theatre NI for inviting us to speak here today. It’s a real honour to be part of the conference and to be in such a beautiful venue. I would like to apologise on behalf of my co-writer Michael Patrick for his absence. He would love to be here, but he’s currently too busy wearing ridiculous wigs and tights at the Royal Shakespeare Company. He’s an actor and a writer from Belfast, and I am a director and writer from Warrenpoint, Co Down. We did however, prepare this speech together. So if there’s anything you vehemently disagree with, lets just say those are the that bits he wrote.
When I met Irma a few months ago, she asked me if I could speak today for about 25 minutes about our new play, about Michael and I’s process and our perspective on borders, and how we might reframe them through asking ‘what if?’ I’ll do my best to stay within the borders of that brief.
Michael and I are delighted that Fishamble: The New Play Company chose our play, ‘The Alternative’, as the winner of their ‘A PLAY FOR IRELAND’ initiative. The play will premiere in the Dublin Theatre Festival as part of its nationwide tour in association with The Everyman, Pavilion Theatre, Lime Tree & Belltable, Galway Town Hall Theatre, The Draíocht, and The Lyric Theatre Belfast in September and October 2019.
To give you some context, I’ll tell you a bit about Fishamble’s process in creating the scheme. To quote their website, Fishamble is “Ireland’s only Olivier Award-winning theatre company which, as well as producing internationally renowned productions, supports the writers of 60% of all new plays produced in Ireland each year. It wants to encourage people all over Ireland to express themselves through theatre, to engage the public in making plays, and to create work for audiences throughout Ireland, north and south.”
In 2011, Fishamble ran TINY PLAYS FOR IRELAND, playing to sell out runs across the country, and in 2018, as part of its 30th year, Fishamble embarked upon a search for A PLAY FOR IRELAND. The brief was to find: “one, big, ambitious play, that bursts with humanity and tackles a subject about which the playwright feels passionate - A PLAY FOR IRELAND that captures the zeitgeist of the country, that demands to be produced.” So... no pressure there...
Of 372 submissions, 30 plays were chosen to be developed in partnership with 6 venues, and 6 were then shortlisted for table-read workshops. Finally, after much debate and discussion, Fishamble chose ‘The Alternative’.
Certainly, it means a lot to us, as storytellers from north of the border on this island, to be commissioned to write a PLAY FOR IRELAND. In approaching the task, we were challenged to think about the state of the nation, the whole nation, the whole island, the whole Irish diaspora. We asked ourselves: what kind of a play should we write for Ireland at this time? What does Ireland want to hear, and what do we have to say? In writing “The Alternative”, we ask our audience to imagine something:
What if Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom? What if Home Rule had passed? What if there was no War of Independence? No Civil War? No partition? What if the island had only one soccer team?
Clearly things would be very different - and not just because a full island soccer team would obviously have won the Italia ‘90 World Cup. Dun Laoghaire is Kingstown. Belfast is the second city of the Irish state, not Cork. We pay in pounds across the island. And Padraig Pearse is merely a school teacher who would have helped to write an obscure Bolshevik manifesto, but instead was one of the defenders of Home Rule Act in 1913.
Now, we have set the play in a television studio - BBC Dublin, in an alternate reality where the entire island of Ireland is much like Northern Ireland is today - a constituent part of the United Kingdom. The action takes place on the eve of a referendum, which asks the question - Should Ireland be independent? British Prime Minister Ursula Lysaght is returning to her hometown of Dublin to convince voters to Remain.
The play imagines a world where things happened differently. A world in which Home Rule passed in 1913 and Irish nationalism was accommodated within the United Kingdom. How things could have been different, if an Irish government put down the Easter Rising without executing the leaders. How things could have been different, if that Ireland had maintained a separation between church and state. How things could have been different if Irishness and Britishness had developed in a way that they were not mutually exclusive. And, if Ireland had the choice to become independent from Britain through a referendum… How would the people vote? What is the Irish nation? Who are the people within it? And what makes them tick?
For the play, we have six characters, but focus on the struggles of a father-daughter relationship against the backdrop of the recent passing of their wife and mother respectively. This fractious relationship is built on misunderstanding, miscommunication, and deceit, and it reflects the wider relationships of individuals who have been forced to make a decision about their nationality and to vote Leave or Remain. Sometimes these bigger questions are the ones that people obsess over. But how can you have a healthy nation without the everyday business of living? How can you publicly choose the future of your country, if you do not first look at the smaller private decisions which shape your lives?
So, how did Michael and I come to write this piece? Well we first met in Cambridge University. I was studying Politics and Michael Physics and Material Sciences (I’ve no clue how that relates to acting and writing, but there you go). We socialised through our college drama society, and together we ran the University’s Ireland society… which, apart from being an excuse to get University funding to buy potato bread, was a place where we became very conscious of our Irishness, and what that meant to us. As two men who consider ourselves Irish, we both grew up in Northern Ireland, where identity is such a tumultuous issue - and there we were in the belly of the beast of British elitism, an institution dominated by the ruling British classes. Incidentally, Cambridge was celebrating its 800th anniversary when we arrived. So coming over there from Ireland, insecure and a chip on our shoulders, and seeing banners everywhere just saying “800 years” - it was like “you don’t need to rub it in lads!”.
I vividly remember being in a pub on my freshers’ week and being called a ‘terrorist’ because of my accent. This was 10 years ago. I also remember being told that I was not Irish. I was Northern Irish, which meant I was separate... different. Other. Of course, this made us become very defensive of our Irish identity, and we probably played up to it. It became something that was almost cartoonish, a parody of Irishness, a heightened identifier to prove our difference to our British friends, the border between them and us. We attended Churchill college, named after Prime Minister Winston Churchill who was one of them fellas who had done his fair share of meddling in Ireland. The college is known as keeping in its archives some of Margaret Thatcher’s handbags. And at formal dinners, a hall full of hundreds of students would stand up before the weekly meal, raise a glass, and proclaim “To The Queen.” followed by “To Sir Winston”.
Needless to say, Michael and I didn’t feel like standing up. We sat stoically, and did not utter a word, much to the confusion of our college mates who probably thought we just being difficult. We probably lived up to the observation of Winston Churchill about the Irish, when he said: "We have always found the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English." And certainly, going to university in Cambridge became somewhat of a daily exercise in refusing to be English. I was heartened when I learned that Charles Stewart Parnell had attended Cambridge as an undergraduate, but he was ‘sent down’ after getting into a drunken fight with two men who sold manure. Shit for fertilisation. So, you know, Michael and I tried our best not to follow his lead, and get into trouble with the authorities.
We were the jesters - the intelligent fools, in the mode of Fr Ted or Dylan Moran. I think this is quite a common thing when people first leave this country. To think about where your from, what it means to you and to project it outwards. But over the years we’ve constantly been talking and thinking and refining what our identity means to us. Why is it so important? And what it means to think of ourselves as Irish. Especially, coming from the North.
After University I moved to Belfast to train in TV & film production, whilst Michael trained as an actor in Mountview. We met again when he returned to Belfast, and we began creating theatre under the name of Pan Narrans - the Storytelling Ape. Him acting. Me directing.
We recently co-wrote a play as part of Fishambles’ ‘Show In A Bag’ scheme, again very proud to be working with Fishamble, who consider themselves an all island company - and performed that show at Dublin Fringe Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and at several venues across Ireland. ‘My Left Nut’ was based on the true story of Michael developing a swelling on his testicle when he was 15, that grew to the size of a large avocado. He was unable to talk to anyone about it for years, mainly because his father had passed away when he was younger. He was just too embarrassed to tell his mum that there was something wrong with his balls… especially since Michael genuinely believed it was caused by masturbating too much. But also because he didn’t want to dispel the rumour in school that he was well-endowed. It’s a comedy about grief, growing up, masculinity, and love of friends and family. We had a fantastic time creating the show and we carried that enthusiasm into writing our second play: “The Alternative”.
Now, this play is not about genitalia. We’ve progressed a bit in our themes. When the application time came, myself and Michael sat down and began thinking deeply about Irishness.
In an ideal world, we think Irishness would be an all-encompassing identity which can include: inner city Dubs whose families have lived on the same street for generations, the people of Dunfanaghy to Dingle, Achill to Rosslare, recent immigrants who have chosen to make a home for themselves here and emigrants who have chosen to leave, and even Northern Irish Unionists who might embrace the Irish aspects of their character if it did not threaten to diminish their Britishness. What’s more, I have recently become an uncle - a niece born in Scotland, and a nephew born in Belgium. They are part of a generation with a more fluid identity - both of them are Irish, but they’re also European, one’s British, the other Belgian. So identity, both personal and national, was certainly something on the forefront of our minds.
The other thing bothering us, and is no doubt on the minds of anyone else who lives near the border is Brexit. And when you look at it, the Brexit debate can also be considered one of identity. What do the British people latch onto as their British identity? Is it one based in the history of Empire, and defeating Hitler, and that traditional culture of self reliance and standing alone - or is an identity that looks outward to the world in collaboration?
Brexit has ignited the English nation to strive for their form of independence, and the Scottish Independence movement has seen them wrestle with their identity. With our own horrible, insecure hangups about our Irish identity, we wished to write a play that encapsulates all this.
Who are we? What do we want? Where are we going? ‘The Alternative’ is not a Brexit play, but it is our response to what happened a century ago on this island, what is happening right now, and what is about to happen.
We settled on counterfactual history as the way into ‘The Alternative’. When political events are so up in the air, and are so emotional and raw, writing about them directly can be difficult. By transplanting our play to an alternative timeline, we can talk about the big themes around Irishness, Brexit, independence, and unification - without touching directly on nerves, and hopefully making it easier for people to think constructively on these questions. And to have fun with it.
Our process began with a great deal of research. We spoke to a number of historians and consulted a range of books: Kevin Kenny’s ‘Ireland and the British Empire’, Diarmaid Ferriter’s “What If?: Alternative Views of Twentieth Century Ireland” and historical fiction such as Richard Harris’ “FATHERLAND”, which envisions a world where the Nazis won World War Two. To explore political satires set in TV studios, we watched all of Aaron Sorkin’s NEWSROOM and Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet’s NETWORK. I’d highly recommend writing something where watching season after season of Aaron Sorkin shows counts as “research”.
Initially, we wrote together in the same room, but the nature of our jobs began to affect our process. Sometimes, we are up and down the country, and sometimes in different countries. For example, I was directing a feature documentary in Colombia, while Michael was working in Belfast, and when I was editing in Dublin, he was acting in Stratford with the RSC. We faced barriers of distance, and relied on skype, whatsapp, and working on shared Google Docs - which is not ideal when you’re looking for a secure wifi connection. We also felt that writing this play gave us space to indulge our imaginations and cross the borders between art-forms, writing and acting, theatre and documentary.
We created a world with its own logic, its own history, its own rules and boundaries. We had fun with history and our national origin stories to create characters with new identities. Many of the elements of this new world were distasteful to us. The whole of Ireland under the yoke of Empire?! A Union flag flying over the GPO?
But many things strangely seemed somewhat better. In our fictional world, there is and has never been a border on this island. No Troubles. A National Health Service for every Irish citizen? A history that lacked religious control and institutional child abuse? A country that had long protected cultural and language rights, recognised the rights of LGBTQ communities and women’s right to choice.
When you get lost in imagination, it’s important to come back to reality.
Michael and I came to see that in many ways, in our new fiction, Ireland as a whole within the UK might have been better off, as both North and South have suffered from the partition of 1921.
Let’s not forget, 100 years ago (when the alternative history timeline of the play diverges from our own)... it was a time of great political turmoil. Britain was in the throes of constitutional crisis, at the heart of which was the question of Irish Home Rule. This crisis was staved off only by a Great War and subsequent formation of the Irish Free State and the statelet of Northern Ireland. A line was drawn around six counties, and the two parts of Ireland embarked on two alternate but inextricably linked paths - both paths, I think many in this room today would acknowledge, were fraught with difficulty, and with cruelty.
In recent years, the physical and structural violence of the two Irelands was finally being recognised and addressed. The Good Friday Agreement in the North, and in the South, the emerging socially progressive politics that followed the death of the Celtic Tiger and recession. This island began a process of healing, from mistakes of 100 years previous. And today, that has been challenged yet again by decisions made outside this island, in the towns and villages of our neighbour, England.
Brexit has led us to what commentator Fintan O’Toole has called the “no-man’s land between vague patriotic fantasies and irritatingly persistent facts”... and perhaps the most irritating fact of all is that the issue of the border between the North and the South of Ireland, is a circle that cannot be squared.
This is the way we see it:
Britain cannot leave the EU Customs Union and retain the open border we currently have on this island. And if the UK led by a hard-brexiteer Prime Minister crashes out of the EU without some sort of a deal, a hard border is inevitable. Despite the backstop, and proclamations that it will never happen, the British government has not offered any solutions. The British Parliament cannot accept the special circumstances of the North and the British political establishment does not respect the Good Friday Agreement. The political tectonic plates of these islands are shifting, and against the will of the people of this island, against the will of most of the people of the North, Ireland will be in some fashion re-partitioned.
The events of 100 years ago repeat themselves. The psychological border of our nationality is being cracked open once more, another recession threatens, and a re-traumatisation which allows the ghosts of a dark yesteryear to become very real… To Irish border people, myself included, the border is invisible. It’s simply an imaginary line on a map, where lives and stories flow into one another, and people cross daily for work, family, love. So for us to be told that this imaginary border could become physicalised… By a customs post? A customs worker? Even a camera? That divides us against our will. It seeks to control how we think, to try to change how we perceive, because of British patriotic fantasies. Perhaps, these fantasies should be met with the power of Irish imagination.
So, although it’s only one small part of ‘The Alternative’, by conceiving of a world where the border never existed in Ireland, we can ask audiences to think about the border, its function and its future. When the mind is without borders, the world will follow suit. If art can erode the partition of the mind, then perhaps it can have a greater impact in reality, in time.
In writing ‘The Alternative’, we wish to question the border across this island specifically, but also any border between individuals, groups, communities, nations. Borders are artificial. They only really work if people on one side of the border accept they are different to those on the other side. A ‘them’ and an ‘us’. We think that stories which ask ‘what if?’ can be some of the most effective weapons in breaking down borders.
Writing a play, or creating any kind of art, is a revolt. It’s an expression of feeling, in the name of fresh perception, which tries to invent something new. Michael and I are just part of a greater context of dissatisfaction with the status quo, and all we’re trying to do is to look at things differently, to question through entertainment. We seek to create work that challenges what we see as arbitrary boundaries, something that looks at the confusion of our time, and reframes it in an alternative context. Hopefully that can allow audiences to entertain the thought: ‘what if’? What if things had happened differently? What if they could be different?
Imagination is the essential component of any progressive change, and this has been shown by many groups of determined people who are making this island a better place to live. Once we ask ‘what if?’, we might be able to envisage a world where our physical, conceptual and social borders are framed differently, where the goal-posts are shifted. And from there, we can ask ‘How to change things?’ And then ‘when is the best time to do it?’
Perhaps the creation of art can be used to cross borders. Perhaps artistic endeavours can be utilised to begin creating new meaning, new identities, maybe a new Irishness. Perhaps Imagination can take us forward to reframe our lives, our relationships, our borders, and our nation… to empower us to think about and create the type of place we wish to call home.
Thank you very much.
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