Playing real Ireland on the world stage
Tales Of A Travel Addict: W e are conscious of being ambassadors for our country when abroad, but what of the characterisations of ourselves that we send to perform on foreign stages?
The Abbey and Druid regularly trot out archetypes of old Ireland – the Bull McCabe, Pegeen Mike, Friel’s Ballybeg villagers – to entertain and supposedly represent us. These caricatures are hopefully not regarded as realistic by audiences, but even so, wouldn’t it be nice occasionally to have more accurate, muted portrayals representing who we really are? Fortunately, contemporary theatre provides this. Elegant little plays, like Elaine Murphy’s Little Gem about three generations of Dublin women dealing with death, dildos and salsa classes, now tour the world on our behalf – offering a more genuine view of us to sold-out audiences through the support of Culture Ireland.
Amy Conroy’s play I (heart) Alice (heart) I, about an elderly lesbian couple coming out, will soon tour the Antipodes, along with Conroy’s other evocation of a Dublin life, Eternal Rising of the Sun. I’m intrigued to know how they’ll get on. Conroy’s character Gina in Eternal Rising of the Sun is a track-suited unmarried mother with the hooped earrings and coiled slouch of inner city privation. The performance is eerily authentic, redolent of every ecstasy pill she’s popped, every drunken fight. Her honesty makes the audience want only the best for her.
Gina (in the guise of Conroy) is currently on her way to a theatre in Perth and I can imagine no better ambassador for us. Conroy is also bringing I (heart) Alice (heart) I on a tour of Tasmania, including the clapperboard town-hall of Swansea, a settlement of 530 people, many living in crumbling colonial buildings and classic beachside shacks, and Deloraine, (population 2,745), a trading post town catering for ranches and farming stations.
I haven’t been to Tasmania, but my impression is of 1930s England in a wild landscape of wallabies, gum trees, possums and little penguins. A third of the island is national park, and beyond the capital I imagine it’s mostly remote settlements of brown, brooding 19th century buildings, tea shops and an ingrained suspicion of the unorthodox. My vision might be as inaccurate a representation as the Bull McCabe is of Ireland today, but either way it’ll be a surprise for them to get to meet the two Alices in I (heart) Alice (heart) I, and share in their tender and courageous account of a secret life – their loves and losses, their recycling habits and the simple furtive kiss in Crumlin Shopping Centre that propelled them on this confessional journey around the world.
While these intimate plays mightn’t have the mega-wattage of large Broadway or West End shows, it is their compactness that enables them wind their way into remote town halls where they can update people’s perceptions of Ireland one community at a time.