Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Heaney Dramaturged: Larry McCluskey @ Edfringe 2016


Incredibly, it is almost three years since Irish Nobel poet, Seamus Heaney
died. For four decades, his work had been often in the world's best-sellers list, but more important, that output charted not just the poet's life and times, but Ulster's tortured path from savage conflict to uneasy peace. 

"There is no such thing as innocent byestanding", he said - but also, "I am neither internee nor informer", "more inclined to weigh up than to weigh in". From his strictly "non-combatant" position, his wish was that soon "hope and history would rhyme" in Northern Ireland.

Award-winning actor, Larry McCluskey has compiled a 75-minute one-man show out of the Heaney oeuvre, with commentary and live music to connect. Already this Spoken Word performance has won loud applause from Ulster audiences at Armagh, Omagh and in the poet's heartland of Ballinascreen.

I was motivated to devise a theatrical event based on Heaney's work by the poet's sudden and unexpected death in Aug 2013. He was a near-contemporary of mine - his life and mine had many similarities:rural Irish/Ulster background; teacher; a term as member of the Irish Arts Council;I hosted a Heaney Lecture when I was Headmaster of a school in the 1970's; I attended some H readings - admired his work and bought the books. So, felt an affinity - and the need to say "thanks".  

I also felt/feel there is a "performance quality" to much of Heaney's oeuvre.

Theatre can showcase, propose, provoke or promote ideas (and feelings) - there's not much opportunity for "exchange" or "discussion", except amongst audiences or, more broadly, between theatre and the public (mainly through the mass media). But theatre is what it is - it cannot become propagandist (without losing something of its soul?). But, as Nolan says in "Moonshine", "the real theatre is often elsewhere"!

Yes - in organising the material, I decided on a chronological approach - 
Mossbawn Childhood; Belfast - the making of a poet; Applause, Applause; The North - political poems & commentary; and Boxer has Fallen. This gave
me, as Heaney interpreter, both time and thematic "interwoven unities".

I expect the audience to experience the lyrical beauty, the passion, the majestic strength, the consistency and the intimacy of Heaney's work - which for over 40 years featured on the World's best-seller' lists. Not least is the poet's wry humour!

My background is theatre and education - in both, one learns how to survive in front of an audience! One must capture and retain. In "Awhile with Seamus Heaney", I start with music - a Derry traditional melody - then launch into
the "Mossbawn Childhood" section. Each poem is contextualized - with some relevant commentary, Heaney's, other literary figures or mine. There is music in the middle and at the end, in which the audience is involved. From performances throughout Ulster, including Heaney's home-place, I KNOW the show WORKS AS THEATRE, not just as poetry.

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