Patrick Mason surveys the tiered cells of Kilmainham Gaol, washed by the thin light of a March morning.
“It’s always cold in here, isn’t it?” he says. “We’ll have to tell people to bring their coats.”
Across the courtyard, some of Ireland’s most renowned writers are posing for photographers for the official launch of Signatories, the UCD-produced interpretation of the centenary of the Easter Rebellion.
Eight writers have each written a 10-minute monologue, which will be brought together by Mason in a site-specific promenade production within the prison.
Seven pieces represent the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, while one explores the perspective of nurse Elizabeth O'Farrell, who delivered the rebels' surrender.
‘Something very creative’
Eilis O’Brien, UCD’s director of communications, says the concept arose “over a cup of tea” with playwright Frank McGuinness, who is professor of creative writing at the university.
“We wanted to do something very creative, very artistic,” she says, pointing to the deep links between UCD and the leading rebels, who included scholars of English literature, history and Irish.
Emma O'Donoghue, Thomas Kilroy, Hugo Hamilton, Rachel Fehily, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Marina Carr and Joseph O'Connor – along with McGuinness himself – were enlisted, each taking on one individual.
McGuinness says the plan was for something that would act as UCD’s unique contribution to the commemorations, drawing on its own cultural legacy.
“We have these extraordinary writers. So we asked them each to contribute a 10-minute piece.”
Joseph O'Connor's subject is Joseph Mary Plunkett, someone he says he'd been thinking and writing about for years.
“He’s full of contradictions,” says O’Connor. “A mixture of heroism, personal courage and silliness.”
Mason will direct Barbara Brennan, Roseanna Purcell, Stephen Jones, Shane O’Reilly, Joe Taylor, Ronan Leahy, Peter Gaynor and Lisa Dwyer Hogg in the production, with music from Denis Clohessy.
These are creative explorations, not literal representations, says McGuinness, with the respective individuals often seen through others’ eyes or from unexpected perspectives.
He anticipates that the final production will be “symphonic”.
When the production takes place in Kilmainham Gaol, on the evenings of April 22nd-24th, it will commence at dusk and finish in candlelight.
At its conclusion the performers will exit the gaol to the stonebreakers’ yard where the 1916 leaders were executed by firing squad.
Following the three performances in Kilmainham, Signatories will go on to Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire (April 26th-27th); Civic Theatre, Tallaght (May 3rd-4th) and the National Concert Hall (May 5th).