The Pride of Parnell Street

Acclaimed play by Sebastian Barry comes to Town Hall

FISHAMBLE THEATRE Company brings its hugely successful revival of The Pride of Parnell Street to the Town Hall Theatre for one night only on Friday May 20.

Originally premiered in London and featured at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2007, The Pride of Parnell Street, by the internationally renowned Irish playwright and novelist Sebastian Barry, has toured to great critical acclaim and packed houses in Ireland and internationally.

The Pride of Parnell Street is an incredibly moving story of a married couple. In a series of intercutting monologues, inner-city Dubliners Janet and Joe chart the intimacies of their love and the rupturing of their relationship. This is an intimate, heroic, tale of ordinary and extraordinary life on the streets of Dublin.

The play is directed by Fishamble’s artistic director Jim Culleton. Over an afternoon phone call from Glasgow, where the company are currently presenting Pat Kinevane’s Forgotten, he talked about The Pride of Parnell Street.

First staged in 2007, and revived several times since, the play marks something of a departure for Sebastian Barry in that it does not draw on his own family background for its inspiration as many of his plays and novels have done.

“Sebastian is lucky as a writer in that he has a great array of characters from his own family that he’s been able to draw on for the wonderful stories he has told in both his plays and novels,” Culleton notes.

“This is different though. Janet and Joe are a married couple who have separated then meet up again on the eve of the new millennium and the play looks at what happened to their lives.

“Even though it is a bit of a departure in ways, all great writers are always drawing on their own experiences and personal insights. In this play Sebastian is writing about a period when he himself lived in North Great George’s Street, in a basement flat in David Norris’s house, and he got to know and observe the people who were living in the area.”

Culleton expands on the play’s origins.

“The play initially came about when we were asked to do a number of short pieces for a production in support of Amnesty International and Sebastian contributed a monologue on the theme of domestic violence. After that first airing he revisited the piece and fleshed it out and it grew into the two-hander that is The Pride of Parnell Street.”

Janet and Joe’s marriage founders following an incident of domestic violence triggered by Ireland’s exit from the World Cup at Italia 90. Following their separation Joe sinks into a life of crime and heroin addiction.

“Sebastian became friendly with his neighbours while he was living in the area and was very aware of the kind of social problems that existed there,” Culleton explains. “We had a number of people come to the play who were part of drug rehab programmes and they told us afterwards that they had never seen a more truthful representation of their experiences.

“There was a women’s refuge centre nearby also and Sebastian observed how in the wake of international sporting defeats there was always a sudden upsurge in the numbers of women calling into the facility. I think that was the initial starting point for the idea that grew into the finished play.”

The play has been a huge hit with both critics and audiences at home and abroad. The New York Times found it “lovingly acted… a pleasure to watch and listen to”. The Sunday Independent declared it to be “quiveringly beautiful…designed with stark beauty... quite simply magnificent”.

Culleton reflects on the factors behind the play’s success.

“It’s beautifully written as you would expect from Sebastian, it’s both very funny and very moving,” he says. “We’ve played it in Dublin and in New York and across Europe and it connects with audiences wherever we’ve been, it’s both local and universal. It invites its audiences to meet these people they might not be familiar with and then over the course of the play they get to know them.

“Archbishop Desmond Tutu had a memorable quote about how it’s hard to judge people when you get to know them and this play bears that out. It’s confessional, intimate, life-affirming. While there have been a lot of monologue-driven plays around in recent years, I think the inter-linked monologue format was the best way to relate these characters’ stories; there are things in the play they can’t say to each other but they’re able to say to us in the audience.”

Culleton also reveals that Galway audiences can look forward to seeing Fishamble’s next production here in the summer.

“Our next production is Silent, a one-man show written and performed by Pat Kinevane, which I’m delighted to say we’ll be bringing to the Galway Arts Festival. It’s about a man who is homeless and who sees key moments in his life as though they were from the silent movies of Rudolph Valentino. It’s very funny and it uses a lot of movement and dance as well.”

While that promises to be a must-see event in the arts festival, Galway playgoers can in the meantime savour the delights of The Pride of Parnell Street.

The play features the multi award-winning cast of Mary Murray (Best Female Performer at ‘First Irish’ festival in New York for her role of Janet, Best Actress at the MAMCA Award 2008 ) and Joe Hanley (Irish Times Theatre Awards 2010 nominee ). The play features the exceptional design team of Sabine Dargent (set/costumes ), Mark Galione (lighting ), and Denis Clohessy (music ) (Irish Times Theatre Award winner 2010 ).

One other notable aspect of this touring production is that, for the first time in Ireland, there will be one audio-described and captioned performance in each venue of the tour, including the single performance in the Town Hall. This is facilitated by Arts & Disability Ireland and will enable those with visual and hearing impairments to enjoy the play.

Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie

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