From The Shannon To The Somme

Over the last week I have experienced some exhilarating highs but also some terrible bone shattering lows after helping to put on a play for the Gathering here in Boyle.  I explained the play in a fair amount of detail in my posting of 30th April last under the heading of Our Play For The Gathering so I will not go into that.

I want to concentrate on all the massive highs, the man made depressing lows are now not worth considering hardly but the perpetrators of all the hurdles know who they are and I hope they reap their just reward.  They have Common Purpose written all over them and for anybody who does not understand that term, let them google it and research the dastardly ways of these new leaders of men.  First of all you need a warped intelligence, attracted by power and be noticed by those in command, you then take a crash course in how to make as many mistakes as you can in as shorter time as possible and you become a leader, qualified to make a balls of whatever responsibility you are given.

The highs and there were so many of them started with the privilege of working with the writer of the play, Neil Richardson, a man of 28 years of age with two published books under his belt and a third on the way.  A most knowledgeable man on military history and a sincere and affable chap with the right amount of seriousness about him to make you listen when he talks.  The director Caroline Barry, a gregarious, appealing lady with  enough  of steel in her bones to make actors sit up and concentrate.  A warm loving, intelligent girl, who easily conveyed the message she was putting over and who remained calm under intense enemy fire.  An absolute pleasure to work with.

The actors, Dave Fleming from Dublin who played Michael Curley, Paul Fleming from Moate in Westmeath who played Jack West and Paul Fox from Manor Hamilton in Leitrim who played the young soldier, Eddie O’Hara, all displayed good manners, a healthy disrespect for everything and everyone, a sociability that is uncommon in their age group and a real zest for life.  Their determination, confidence, zeal and ability in their profession, amazed me.  I suppose the three of them have known each other for several years because the respect they showed each other was obvious and very warming.

Paddy Jo Malpas, my daughter, who played Agnes Curly, Michael’s wife, bred in Manchester but matured in Dublin, displayed as good a Westmeath accent as a native.  I had to keep looking at her to convince myself of our relationship.  Every time I see her on stage she impresses me and that is not her father speaking but a stern critic.  Her performance was as perfect as the three lads, I was so proud of her.  The four of them have had praise heaped on them in e-mails that are still wafting in over the ether two days after the event.

As a lover of live theatre, I never really knew or understood what went on backstage but the physical and vocal exercises these thespians put themselves through before each performance is something to be admired.  I watched it , listened to it and was totally impressed.  Four very decent, hard working, very, very talented individuals.  Their tangents contained by that lovely and lovable mother hen of a director, Caroline Barry.

Whilst all this wonderful relationship business was going on, people were booking tickets over the phone, cancelling bookings and generally being hare-brained and keen at the same time.  Lighting sets were breaking down and then repairing themselves.  The Council staff were one minute saying you can do this and the next minute saying you cannot do that.  Everybody and everything designed to turn you into a gibbering idiot, whilst at the same time experiencing tremendous highs with the experience of bringing a live stage production to fruition.

The day of the first performance arrived, we had a large amount of tickets ordered to be picked up on the night, the actors were buzzing, the director fussing, the writer frantic, everything was going to be great.  Eventually the lighting and sound systems were doing what lighting and sound sets are supposed to do, the hall was ready.  Five minutes to go, introductory speech ready, 20 people who ordered tickets did not show, nobody walked in off the street, a thought of profit was now a loss, the speech a stuttering shambles, a fantastic performance by the cast.  The end of a roller coaster day, rain came down in buckets.  Everybody soaked.  A glass of wine, an appraisal of the day, to bed exhausted.

Early rise, prepare the venue once more, the start of the second day, the last performance.  We had been shunted into a Monday show, not a good night at all to attract people out, ticket sales were poor, forecast bad.  Willie Beirne, our Treasurer, embarrassed with his town’s response to the previous night set up his row-de-dow-dow and soon had a load of volunteers wanting to buy tickets.  The best day’s ticket sales yet, everything is fine, knackered after last night, two hours sleep in the afternoon, refreshed, it’s looking good.  Lighting set not working, Neil now frantic, Caroline calm, the people flocking in.

One minute to go, the Council lad did something, he still does not know what, the lights came on, introductory speech went well, another superb performance by the cast.  The audience full of praise after their experience, beaming faces, tears flowing from the pathos of the words and action.  Top of the mountain emotion after the depths of the valley feeling.  Shaking of warm hands, everybody hugging Caroline and Paddy Jo.  The intensity of heart and feeling was tangible.  A celebratory drink needed, a private party organised, food and drink in equal and massive measures.  Six hours later dawn breaking, walking home, the birds twittering in a dawn chorus as the cast led the world in Young Willie McBride and the band played waltzing Matilda as we sauntered past the Garda Barracks illuminated by the first rays of sun.  Fantastic, unbelievable and I am 67 but never seen this.

Four hours later awake and stumbling to clear up the venue, wash the glasses, move the stage.  Writer, director and props on the way home, cast to the railway station.  Farewells.  Nothing, dead flat, exhausted.  Myself and Willie decide to count the money, worried, bleary eyed but wanting to know.  A small loss but the experience was worth a couple of grand, the emotion was worth plenty more.  At this game you can never lose.

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