The Troubles on stage is ‘no regular drama’

Director Mary Moynihan is struck by the reaction of different generations to ‘Uprising’

Mary Moynihan: “It’s a dark play but there’s life and joy there too.”

Mary Moynihan: “It’s a dark play but there’s life and joy there too.”

Sat, Apr 12, 2014, 01:00

Mary Moynihan is director of Uprising , a play about the loyalist flags protests, the Troubles and why people engage in violence.

She was struck by generational contrasts in audience reaction as the play recently toured centres along the Border and in Northern Ireland.

At one stage of the work there is a huge explosion. “There were a group of women in the audience who just jumped when the bomb went off because it brought them right back to that place of fear they lived in, but the young people didn’t mind it at all,” Moynihan recalls. It spoke to her of the war generation and the peace generation. Both generations liked the The Sash and the Pádraig Pearse raps in the play, she says.

Uprising, which is part of the Memory Project on dealing with the past and has EU Peace III funding, has had a successful run in places such as Coleraine, Derry, Monaghan and Virginia, Co Cavan. It will come right to the heart of the flags protests at the end of May when it is in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. Just in time for the marching season.

Love of the stage
“Theatre is my life,” says Moynihan, a 49-year-old mother of four children, originally from Coolock in Dublin. She left school at 16, worked abroad for a while, came home and landed a well-paid pensionable secretarial job but gave it all up for love of the stage.

A director with the Smashing Times Theatre Company in Dublin, she also lectures in drama at the Dublin Institute of Technology and is directing a rehearsed reading of a new play by Peter Sheridan .

Moynihan can trace her own theatrical grounding directly to the Russian theatre and its founder Constantin Stanislavski, creator of the method system of acting, of which people have varying opinions.

While she is a defender and devotee of the method system, she insists it’s much more than the notion of Daniel Day-Lewis remaining in character as Abe Lincoln or Christy Brown when he’s sitting down for dinner with his family or out for a beer with his mates. “Method acting is about bringing the soul of the character alive,” she says. “You are connecting with the audiences on an emotional, visceral level.”

Social justice
She helped found the Smashing Times Theatre Company in 1991. Coming from what she describes as “a very working-class estate in Dublin”, a teenage Moynihan detected a “certain elitism” in the theatrical world which she has always challenged, so the company has a strong human rights and social justice ethos.

Uprising, written by Donegal playwright Tara McDevitt, falls into her idea of spreading interest in theatre to as wide an audience as possible. It’s not your regular drama. “It’s a theatre-dance performance,” she explains.

“It’s the Troubles seen through the eyes of the rap, hip-hop, dance generation that also includes rap versions of The Sash and Pádraig Pearse’s The Mother.

With a cast of five, it starts with a young Protestant woman Colette, wired by a flags riot – “better than drugs or sex” – trying to inveigle her Catholic friend Shane to join her in having a lash at the police. A DJ, he just wants to lose himself in the music, with Colette angered at his “passivity”.

The play expands from there, taking in subjects such as paramilitary and state actions and more around the theme of violence. “It’s a dark play but there’s life and joy there too,” says Moynihan.

Many years from her first experiences in theatre, there’s no mistaking her continuing passion for the stage. “On a personal level it helps you to discover who you are and it helps you develop who you are.”

Smashing Times is staging Thou Shalt Not Kill and Uprising at the Lyric in Belfast respectively on May 30th and May 31st