Gentrification

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Kieran Ahern in Gentrification 2015 Cork: Photograph, The Irish Times

I am thinking of writing about Enda Walsh for my dissertation so when our group was offered tickets for his play Gentrification at the Cork Savings Bank last week, I jumped at the opportunity.  As a Londoner, and obsessive theatre-goer, I am familiar with the rules for this sort of site-responsive, promenade/art installation production.I have been acclimatised to events such as Punchdrunk’s  Faust and The Masque of the Red Death (http://punchdrunk.com/past-shows/column/20), as well as a play about Iraq in an underground garage (stovepipe), and corporate men and women taking off their clothes in In the Beginning was the End Dreamthinkspeak at Somerset House.  I feel- been there, done that.  Instead, my favourite sort of theatre experience, is a brilliant writer, skilful actors, perceptive direction and a small space.  So I would pick out as superb theatre such productions as Women and Scarecrow at the Royal Court, London, Our Ajax at the Southwark, London, Disco Pigs at the Young Vic, London.

Nevertheless I was excited about seeing Gentrification as I see as many as I can of Enda Walsh’s plays.  He brought Penelope to Hampstead in London and I went along to his talk for teachers before the show.  There were only about four of us there.  He spoke of his writing process and how he leads creative writing sessions.  One exercise is to give his students an image of a block of flats and then to identify one room and start imagining who is inside.  Who comes to the door?  You will immediately think of Walworth Farce. I saw that in Edinburgh and at the National Theatre.  The National Theatre was, probably, too large a space.  Maybe, with that in mind, the set for Ballyturk (which I also saw at the National) is described as “A very large room: too large”.  misterman was performed on the largest stage at the National, the Olivier, and Walsh writes “we’re looking at an abandoned depot/dilapidated factory”. In this way the director and designer were able to use, and at the same time, contract, the enormous space into, what Walsh describes as, “small, tiny stages”.

For Gentrification, we turned up and were shown, individually (the total number of audience members was fixed at 22) into a small reception room. In spite of my knowledge of the genre I felt unable to sit in the chair facing away from the room, with headphones.  But our intrepid lecturer, Dr. Etienne, went straight there and listened.  She told me to listen too but when I tried it was only music.  I suspect that the sound design allows only one person to listen to instructions.  She told us to move freely among the rooms.  There were eight rooms, not all accessible imediately.

This is my description,currently, of the eight rooms.  I know I missed things, which I will need to add.

Room one: reception: neutral – white or greenish white, benches, halogen heater. Square hole in wall at waist height: if you look through it you see a small inky sketch of a black bird. Headphones on chair facing into corner.

Room two: large walk-in cupboard for hanging coats. Small children’s coats are hung there. Maybe ten?

Room three: kitchen – door was shut to contain smells of cooked breakfast. Very scruffy kitchen with electric razor and toasted sandwich maker on worktop. Dirty sink. Crusted pan of baked beans, small frying pan with smallish burnt sausages. Formica table with crusted breakfast plates – two. Dog bowl with maybe two cans tipped into it but not mashed by a fork. Large empty dog food can. Overflowing bin with, on top, cheap version of Jaffa Cakes packets. View through filthy window of backyard with washing line and one shirt hung up carelessly and another garment on the ground. Backyard is walled by high walls. Grubby paintwork. No other view. Nasty cheap carpet with stains. Nasty cheap sofa with gaffer-tape type repairs. Dirty looking middle aged man sitting on it. Changing channels. Federer or cartoon. Remote control. Man on sofa flicking channels. This is Barry.

Room four: Office type room with 54 phones hanging from the ceiling to right of door. Phones are squawking, numbers being counted – male voice – 47, 48 etc.  Television screens, one of which shows a CCTV recording of a child’s bedroom.  Laptop with map of city and (pins) marking about 50 locations. Scruffy desk. Door opposite later is thrown open by Barry and audience follow through to room six.

Room five: Corridor shaped room with shelves on either side – somewhat like a filing cabinet – there are blinds that can be used to close off shelves. Each shelf has a tiny, very clean, bed made up. A small child could sleep in this bed. There are 54 beds. In a wardrobe, which is open, there are sets of tiny sheets and covers – brightly coloured.

Room six: Elegant and high ceilinged Banking Hall. Tellers’ wooden “desks” surround a central square/rectangle. Centre stage a square of black and white tiles. A man, Enda, stands on one of the desks (upstage) with rubber gloves, cleaning spray and badminton shorts on. He is cleaning manically and acrobatically. Eventually jumps down and scrubs tiles energetically. Then screams and runs out through upstage door. There is also a swivel door, glass, through which at one point we can see Barry standing.

Room seven: child’s bedroom. Themed as Snow White. On pinboard there are children’s drawings, including the same little, inkspot black bird that we saw in room one. Out through a door opposite and up a spiral staircase.

Room eight: a boardroom. Large oval table with 22 chairs, 11 per side. Audience invited to sit. Either end, in larger chairs, Barry and Enda. Coffee cups brought on by Enda (one each for the characters) and plates of Jaffa cakes. Fireplace/shelf with radio. Audience is invited to sit either side of the table.

I haven’t told you what the play is about as its form is revelatory and it would spoil it for you if you ever get a chance to see it.  But, clearly, it is a riff on gentrification as an evil concept. It is based on Enda Walsh’s experience when he moved into a new house in London, and one of the two characters is, in fact, named Enda.

Site-specific or site-responsive theatre is very exciting and interesting.  You never really know if you have spotted or heard the crucial elements.  Your brain is working hard, which is good.  Corcadorca is clearly “up there” with the best of these companies. So sad that I missed How These Desperate Men Talk at the Kindle Arts Festival. But I got what I wanted at Gentrification: a brilliant writer, skilful actors, perceptive direction and a small space.
Works cited

Brace, A., Stovepipe 2009 Faber.

Carr, M., Woman and Scarecrow 2006. Faber.

dreamthinkspeak In the Beginning was the End (2013). Unpublished.

Punchdrunk. Faust 2006/2007. Unpublished.

—. The Masque of the Red Death. 2007/2008 Unpublished.

Walsh, E., Ballyturk 2014 NHB

—. Enda Walsh:Plays One “Disco Pigs”, “misterman”,  2011. NHB

—. Gentrification . Unpublished

—. Penelope, 2011. NHB

—. Walworth Farce

Wertenbaker, T., Our Ajax 2013. Faber.

 

 

 

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By Our Selves directed by Andrew Kötting

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When I booked I thought that my partner and I would be by ourselves in the cinema to watch By Our Selves.  The entry in the Cork Film Festival booklet reads “Andrew Kötting’s latest foray into documentary toys with time, reality and perception in luscious black and white”.  We were attracted to it obviously for reasons of style but also because it deals with John Clare, an English poet, whom we had long admired and knew a little bit about.  Not only that, but I thought that as an avant-guard director, Andrew Kotting might have something to tell me about my essay on sound in Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy. It also turned out to be useful for our up-coming seminar on Patrick Kavanagh and Tom Mac Intyre’s The Great Hunger: poem into play.  

An extract from  By Ourselves gives a taste of its style and content: John Clare was incarcerated in Dr Matthew Allan’s private asylum near Epping Forest and in 1841 he escaped from it to walk 90 miles back to his native Northamptonshire.  The film recreates this journey segueing, visually and in sound, from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first.   Clare (Toby Jones) is mostly silent: there is little dialogue in the film.  Closeups of his eyes show uncertainty and bewilderment as he stands at the side of the A1 motorway or is stopped by closed gates at a level crossing. Trains, planes, vehicles, wind turbines and their noise assault him as he plods along wooded and agrarian tracks.  Sometimes, bizarrely, he is accompanied by a life-size straw bear (Andrew Kötting) and at times meets up with a strange Dorothy in red shoes (Eden Kötting). Whilst these are clear references to The Wizard of Oz, there are also flavours of the ancient legend of John Barleycorn and the English traditional arts of morris dancing and mummers.  The film is a complex montage of sounds and images, punctuated by interviews, conducted by  Iain Sinclair, with a local historian, a university expert and locals met on the journey of the filmmaking.

Like The Butcher Boy the film attempts to place the audience in the troubled mind of its protagonist by disorientation and hallucination.  Certainly this worked, judging by the demeanour of many in the auditorium.  Occasional cries, shouts and hisses shocked us as we sat, pinned to our seats by the oddness and absurdity of the action.  These outbursts seemed in concert with the atmosphere of the film, paradoxically peaceful and pastoral whilst, at the same time, loudly weird and anxiety-inducing.  The apparatus of filmmaking was on display: microphones and cameras often intruded into shot, mirroring Clare’s feelings of always being watched.  He was being watched, not only in his era of 1841 but also watched by locals who saw the film being made and, of course, watched by us in the cinema in 2015.

Similar to The Great Hunger: poem into play, the film is an adaptation. Clare’s journal, read aloud, sometimes as a voiceover by Freddie Jones (Toby Jones’s father, who starred in the 1970 television documentary about John Clare).  At other times, Freddie Jones was onscreen, reading or, at one moving moment, searching in his memory for the words of Clare’s poem “I am”.  The eliding of the actors playing younger and older Clare utilised the family likeness between (Toby and his father Freddie) resulting in another unsettling experience for the audience.  Nothing is explained; the film merely unfolds, often expecting the spectators to make links, as if we were psychiatrists probing Clare’s unhappy consciousness and subconsciousness.  This helps me understand the adaptation of the play The Great Hunger from the poem of the same name.  The poem contains very little dialogue whereas dramatic form normally requires it.  Mac Intyre, like Kötting, forces effort from his audience.  Scene after scene in the play contains few spoken words.  The peasant life of Maguire is communicated by physical acting and patterns of actor movement on the stage.  Actors are multi-roling, and not just as human beings; sometimes they are birds, or cattle.  Using a sparse set and few props they recreate the mind-numbingly repetitive life of Maguire; hungry for love, hungry for spiritual joy but stumbling beneath the physical work of a life which constrains him to be married to his fields.

All three protagonists in these similar/different productions are spoken for in the words of Clare’s most famous poem:

I Am!
I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes —
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

Works cited

The Butcher Boy Dir. Neil Jordan Perf. Eamon Owens, Stephen Rea, Fiona Shaw. Warner Brothers 1997. Film

By Our Selves Dir. Andrew Kötting. Perf. Toby Jones, Freddie Jones, Iain Sinclair UK 2015. Film

Clare, J., Selected Poems Ed. Jonathan Bate 2003 Faber and Faber. Print

Kavanagh, P., Mac Intyre, T. The Great Hunger: poem into play 1988, Lilliput Press. Print

The Wizard of Oz Dir. Richard Thorpe. Perf. Judy Garland, Terry the dog.  MGM 1939. Film

‘Ignorant goodwill’? Eva Gore-Booth versus W. B. Yeats

Eva Gore-Booth

Most people, including me, know Eva Gore-Booth (1870-1926) only from Yeats’s poetry; he describes her as ‘withered old and skeleton-gaunt’, seemingly too unattractive for him to bother to make contact.  He suggests that this physical appearance is somehow her fault, caused by unfeminine dabbling in politics and prefers her in his memory as a young ‘gazelle’ in a ‘silk kimono’.  Looking across a number of his poems it seems that Yeats, himself having lost his ‘pretty plumage’, gets angry when women, like Maud Gonne, have ‘grey in their hair’.  He also appears to resent women who are actively engaged in politics, and reprimands Constance Markievicz for giving up being ‘young and beautiful’ and riding to ‘harriers’.  All three of these women, Maud Gonne, Constance and Eva come in for some vitriolic criticism from the ‘smiling public man’. Ironically, without Yeats, Eva might have disappeared even further from the public eye had he not written about her, and thus immortalised her in his poem.  Clearly one could argue that, as sister of the more famous, Con, Eva might have remained known, but on the other hand, the third sister, Mabel, is almost invisible even to scholars.

On Monday evening there was a wonderfully atmospheric rehearsed reading, directed by Julie Kelleher, and performed in Cork Gaol, of Eva’s symbolist play, “The Death of Fionavar” .  The next day post-graduate students were offered a superb master class; a sequence of talks, roundtable and workshop relating to Eva and her work.

An area of discussion that interested me was Eva’s decision to eschew her aristocratic life in the big house, (Lissadelle , County Sligo) and move, in 1895, to Manchester to live with a woman, Ester Roper.  Here the two worked with working class women, setting up a trades council, and campaigning for votes for all, not just propertied, women.  This, it seems to me, was an incredibly brave decision. Others argue that Eva had always distanced herself from the family and its wealth, especially from her grandfather, named locally, ‘the evictor’.  Instead, she sought out the company of tenant farmers.  Her elder brother, Josslyn, had brought back ideas for new co-operative techniques of farming, from the United States, and Eva and her brother were interested in introducing them in Sligo.  So the move to Manchester was just one of a series of similar choices. Other commentators point out that the family’s reputation and its wealth meant that Eva remained privileged in that she could electioneer from a coach and four, and use family contacts to reach influential people.

Nevertheless, she is, for me, a hero.  Further evidence of her bravery is that, whilst in London during the Great War, she worked with conscientious objectors; regarded by most as pariahs.  Since both my grandfathers were conscientious objectors in 1914-1918 I feel especially warm towards this activity.  So, the title of this blog, from “Easter 1916”, which actually refers to Con, rather than Eva, should perhaps be applied to Yeats himself, as “ignorant illwill”.

Yeats poems quoted: “Among School Children”, “Easter 1916”, “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievizc”

Eva Gore-Booth’s and Constance Markievicz’s Art of War in 1916: Sisters in Arms 3rd November 2015, Speakers: Maureen O’Connor, (UCC), Cathy Leeney, (UCD), John Borgonovo, (UCC), Sonja Tiernan, (Liverpool Hope Unversity).