Decadent gets its dues

Galway company to stage Martin McDonagh play

By Charlie McBride

FOR DIRECTOR Andrew Flynn and Decadent Theatre Company, the early weeks of 2013 have brought a very happy New Year in the shape of three nominations in the coveted Irish Times/ESB Theatre Awards.

Flynn has been shortlisted for Best Director for Port Authority and the company’s production of Doubt – A Parable has earned nominations for Jacqueline Boatswain (Best Supporting Actress ) and Carl Kennedy (Sound Design ). It Is a richly-deserved, and long overdue, measure of national recognition for a company that has produced a consistently high standard of work these past number of years.

Decadent is perfectly positioned to capitalise on its raised profile with its timely new production of Martin McDonagh’s A Skull in Connemara opening shortly at the Town Hall Theatre.

In 1999 Flynn and Decadent made their Galway theatrical bow with Frank McGuinness’s Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me. Over the ensuing years their progress has been both patient and continuous, gradually building up audiences and garnering plaudits with increasingly confident and assured productions that showed Andrew Flynn developing into an outstanding director.

“I’ve been plugging away for a long time,” Flynn acknowledges during a morning break in rehearsals. “Starting out in Galway and having a big company like Druid here it wasn’t easy to get into that market in a big way. In recent years we’ve started to get recognition regionally via the support of 10 or 12 venues and our last few productions have all had very extensive tours.

“Last year we did a seven-week tour with Port Authority and aside from Druid it was the biggest tour in Ireland. We didn’t have any funding, we just did it on the support of the venues. We’ve now finally broken into Dublin and can get our work into the Civic Theatre or the Pavilion or Draiocht. That has helped us greatly because it has become harder and harder to get reviews of your work when you are just doing a show in Galway.”

Flynn served part of his theatrical apprenticeship with Druid, spending three years with the company as a stage manager and a further three years as assistant director to Garry Hynes.

“It was hugely important in terms of my work as a director,” he says of the experience. “It completely changed me in terms of my view of theatre. I learned a huge amount from Druid and Garry, from the designers, the technicians, and the actors.

“It was a massive learning curve, just from simple things like watching a new script develop or watching Garry work on a play. I’ve tried to adopt that same thing she has of really looking at a text and finding what is at the heart of it and the truth of it and trying to serve that. These days, younger directors seem to be more interested in different styles of theatre whereas I’m interested in script-based theatre and that grounding comes from working in Druid and with someone like Garry.”

Flynn is also effusive in acknowledging the support he received from the late Mike Diskin at the Town Hall as he and Decadent began to make their way in the theatrical world.

“I owe so much to Mike,” he says. “He supported me as a young director, giving us the main stage and giving us budgets to create work and helping us to get a wider audience. I remember going to the Town Hall one day and asking him for a show and I walked out with a budget and a week on the main stage with Wild Harvest and I didn’t stop working with him from that day on. It was great to have that support.

“After Wild Harvest we did Lovers then Janet’s Table. Then the first really big production we did was The Lieutenant of Inishmore, it was the play’s first Irish production and it went really well. In all, I did about 12 or 13 shows with Mike and several tours. He was fantastic and I hope whoever takes over from him at the Town Hall continues that legacy of producing work from Galway and helping young companies.”

Another vital contributor to the Decadent success story of recent years has been gifted set designer Owen McCarthaigh who again fills the role for Skull in Connemara.

“I think Owen is the best set designer in this country, he has incredible vision,” Flynn asserts. “He always serves the play and what’s needed for the play and his sets are always of an extremely high standard. Having someone like Owen on board has really helped us, his sets have been of Druid standard, even though he mightn’t have their budgets, and that has brought us up a huge level and helped us get the recognition we’ve got in the last couple of years.”

And so to A Skull in Connemara which opens at the Town Hall on Monday February 4. It’s the play’s first new production here since Druid first presented it as part of the Leenane Trilogy in 1997.

“I remember when it was first produced it was probably the lesser of the three Leenane plays, Beauty Queen and Lonesome West got the most press,” Flynn observes. “It’s been great for me to take it now and produce it without it being under the pressure from those two other shows. It means we can give it a full production – the set for instance isn’t compromised by having to be a set that works for three plays.

“The play is fantastic which I’m appreciating now, having it on the floor with actors of the calibre of John Olohan, Bríd Ní Neachtain, Jarlath Tivnan and Patrick Ryan. It’s very funny, visual, and a great night out in the theatre. McDonagh is a smart, smart writer and we’re having a really good time in rehearsals trying to bring it to life.

“The key to it is getting his language, there’s a rhythm to his language which is unique and it’s beautiful when they get it - it’s a hard slog to get every word and nuance right, but we’re really enjoying working on it. We have a very strong visual production and Owen has done a fantastic job yet again with the set design. It’ll be well worth seeing!”

A Skull in Connemara has three preview performances from Thursday January 31 to Saturday February 2, then runs from Monday 4 to Saturday 9 at 8pm. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie

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