‘If Frank Pig lit the fuse, then Leaves Of Heaven is the explosion’

Pat McCabe lists ingredients of his cultural stew and hails Co-Motion as it presents a double bill of his plays

Darragh Byrne (PIglet) and John Ruddy (Frank, Mrs Nugent)  in Frank Pig Says Hello

Darragh Byrne (PIglet) and John Ruddy (Frank, Mrs Nugent) in Frank Pig Says Hello

 

First,a putative title: The Poshlost Manifesto.

Once upon a time in the dim and distant past when God was a gosson as they say, or used to – when the seventies was pulling on its newspaper trousers and six-inch dayglo heels, there existed in the realm of literature and dramatic arts a brief period of admirable delinquency when what might be categorised as human expression of a taboo-splintering, disreputable nature was not only in the ascendant but could be argued to have held dazzling, unimpeachable sway.

With not a literary festival or bourgeois picnic anywhere in sight, no nowhere to be apprehended in this all-enveloping penumbral yet oddly neonlit world which appeared to have been brazenly delivered unto a cultural arena already growing and mutating with a rapidity that was bewildering, one defined by recklessness and daring, politics of a radical nature, communal living and no end of narcotic stimulants.

What on earth am I talking about, do I hear you irritably protest? I thought this article was supposed to be about a play! – as well you might, given the effrontery of my unfeasibly circuitous peregrinations – which are, at this point, happily, now concluded.

And I will endeavour to make clear as succinctly as I can just what it is I mean by my imaginary title – that is to say, Poshlost Manifesto.

Why, I’m alluding to Vladimir Nabokov, ladies and gentlemen, yes and Bergman too – and Match Of the Day and Daffy Duck and Mario Bava.

But, perhaps most significantly, at least in my case, the early seventies battered Picador imprint paperback novel, the possession of which in those far-off times conferred upon the owner the status of anti-establishment psychic/literary warrior and the envy of all who would bend the knee to “The Man”, who, I suppose, you might say were the progeny of “The Square”.

No end of whom were to be seen dodging about during the days of Aldermaston and traditional jazz.

Pat McCabe: “It’s great for an author when style and content seamlessly blend – and that is the opportunity that Co-Motion have offered me”
Pat McCabe: “It’s great for an author when style and content seamlessly blend – and that is the opportunity that Co-Motion have offered me”

O but now the new kids had come to claim their crown – yammering in muffled syllables about Kurt Vonnegut and Anna Kavan while lighting up incense to the latest ample Eastern guru.

As they floated in a daze along concrete city boulevards, attired in their livery of oversized army surplus greatcoats, muttering behind their hands about Nick Drake and Sandy Denny, before collapsing in a heap, in a blissed-out state of soporific inebriation, where plans to turn “Our Dandelion Market Saturdays” into an opera slowly but surely revealed themselves.

If you still don’t know what it is I’m on about, then I suggest you look up the word at the head of this article, but even if you do I am sad to say that you won’t be able, at least not to your satisfaction, to come up with a translation that makes any sense of “Poshlost”. And which is why you will have to trust me – although “rubbish” and “showy” or “of little lasting import” might come close – when I tell you that it’s the worst of all possible worlds mixed up in a great big stew with the best.

In other words, Nabokov (for he it was who first brought the term to my attention) cheek by jowl with the Day Of The Triffids and, perhaps, the likes of Dario Argento or Mickey Spillane. But, most significantly, in the space where the worst music and art on earth intersected with the most sublime, as evidenced by Bibi Andersson or Monika Vitti without so much as a stitch on their backs combined with a lurid crimson exploding tomato, a killer rabbit, or a Japanese gentleman afflicted with the burden of two heads, the consequence of an atomic experiment regrettably gone haywire. In other words, that distinctive amalgam of arthouse themes and grindhouse exploitation that is so characteristic of giallo cinema – and,indeed, one might somewhat impishly contend, Hitchcock, Fellini and the Sophocles of Oedipus Rex.

Mairead Devlin and Brian Mallon in Leaves of Heaven
Mairead Devlin and Brian Mallon in Leaves of Heaven

All of whom are represented, at least indirectly, in my forthcoming double-feature scheduled to commence on October 4th, first at Draiocht, Blanchardstown and then, on October 13th, at Axis, Ballymun.

And to be directed, gratifyingly, by my long-term friend and collaborator Joe O’ Byrne, the founder of the vertiginously daring, imaginatively bold and entirely ground-breaking Co-Motion Theatre Co.

No, not in any immediate fashion perhaps, but make no mistake its inherited insurgent spirit is in there – as in is all my humble offerings.

With the book that Frank Pig is based on, The Butcher Boy, making no effort to disguise its debt to the colours and bravura impertinence of the extraordinary genius that was, and perhaps is, Roger Corman – who has given the world, among other works, Candy Stripe Nurses and Hell’s Angels Ride! – but in my case, the most significant of his influences would have to have proceeded from his adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe.

Joe O’Byrne doesn’t necessarily share all of these dubiously exotic enthusiasms – at least not to the same incorrigible extent.

But anyone who remembers his earlier work, which set the entire Dublin theatre scene alight in the early to mid eighties, will acknowledge the kinship such approaches share – along with a wanton and entirely unintimidated sloshing of German expressionist paint, a la Buchner and Wedekind – concomitant with a profound understanding of continental theatrical tradition and form along with a certain predilection for ritual and the dramatic notion of the purgative sacrifice. With his work, at times, suffused with a kind of religious impulse, where the tragic hero is seen to throw some sharp light upon the hidden scheme of existence, and the tale oftentimes carried by a scorchingly vital and subversive lyric poetry, to which – as I have suggested above, I happened to be more than partial myself. These are the principles which first set me and Joe O’ Byrne on the road towards a possible collaboration. After I’d seen one, two, three, four, five plays in quick succession – all by Co-Motion and all in the old Temple Bar Studios, central Dublin. Have these been forgotten? What is going on? It’s time for the archivists to set about doing some serious work, considering the extremely long reach of this outfit’s shadow.

But no, of course they haven’t been – forgotten, that is.

Because Co-Motion are back with a firecracking bang and have only just recently wowed America with Synge.

I think there might be a bit of “poshlost” in The Playboy. But whether or not there is or isn’t, it’s there lying in wait for any punters this coming October – in Co-Motion’s double-feature of Frank Pig and Leaves Of Heaven.

Joan Collins is in it and Mickey Thumps and Elvis The King – and a whole host of other gallant figures and poshlost avatars.

But most important of all would have to be Schubert, who when I was writing it brought me back to Co-Motion’s Woyzeck.

Wow,what a show!

Corman in Winter.

In those scratchy, low-grade features which in the seventies I used to love – whether Argento or Mario Bava – which, in the traditional textbook stalk slasher manner, nearly always opened with hands being flexed inside of leather gloves as the camera tracked through a wavering viewfinder.

With the subject’s identity always teasingly withheld, creating a mood of mystery that was wild and absurd and ought not to have been considered on any level by civilised and reasonable people.

But then, as I say, what was reasonable about Last Exit To Brooklyn, or Borstal Boy or Slaughterhouse Five, come to that?

Just the way I like my theatre to be – and why I’m delighted that we have a proper double feature: and a shocking! bizarre! unbelievable! poster, and split diagonally right down the centre, to boot.

It’s great for an author when style and content seamlessly blend – and that is the opportunity that Co-Motion have offered me. To tell the story of Francie Brady: if Frank Pig lit the fuse, then Leaves Of Heaven is the explosion!

And with Joe O’ Byrne’s hand as sturdy as ever on the tiller, to be perfectly honest I just can’t wait.

  • Co-Motion will present a double bill of Pat McCabe’s Frank Pig Says Hello and The Leaves of Heaven at the Dublin Theatre Festival 2017, Draoicht, October 4th-7th; axis, Ballymun, 11th-13th. dublintheatrefestival.com
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