THE BATTLE of Clontarf is both a landmark event in Irish history and a fabled story passed down the generations, right up to our present day, 1,001 years after its occurrence. The famous battle provides the backdrop for an acclaimed new play, The Assassination of Brian Boru, by Lauren-Shannon Jones, which comes to the Town Hall Theatre on Monday April 13 at 8pm.
Brodir and Ospak, respected Viking warriors who have fought side by side in many battles, are travelling to Ireland to fight, but both have very different ideals on how to defeat Brian Boru. Their journey is also plagued by omens; iron beaked ravens and showers of spears and blood. The omens tell Ospak that they find themselves on the wrong side, but Brodir is dogged in his hunger for victory. Their fateful voyage breaks them - as brothers and allies - and brings them to opposite sides of the battlefield.
Lauren-Shannon is a writer, filmmaker, and model from Dublin. Her previous writing credits include Grow (2013 ) with The Virgin Eclectic Theatre Company, performed at The New Theatre, and drama short Second Take (Johnboy Films, 2013 ). She is currently working on her debut novel.
The Assassination of Brian Boru was commissioned by The New Theatre following the success of Grow. She admits she knew little about the Battle of Clontarf before starting work on the play.
“I went into it completely raw,” she tells me. “Myself and Nora Kelly Lester, the director, researched it together and we both went in with very little prior knowledge. One of the most interesting things we found was that there was a controversy over whether or not it happened at all, is it history or myth? So when we were researching, instead of looking at the battle we began looking at the events leading up to it and the characters surrounding that, and through that we found the subject for the play.”
I remark that it’s interesting she chose to tell the story from a Viking perspective rather than an Irish one. “The brothers were such interesting characters, they immediately jumped out,” Lauren-Shannon replies. “It was Nora who first found them when we were desperately surfing for angles and I was thinking ‘How are we going to put this huge battle on a little stage?’ Then we found these two characters, Brodir and Ospak. It wasn’t a conscious thing in terms of nationality, it just seemed like a perfect angle to come from where you have these two brothers sailing across the sea and they betray each other which ultimately leads to the death of Brian Boru.”
She describes the characteristics of the brothers. “We embellished the story a lot because there is not a lot told about them in the saga. What was clear was that Brodir, who was the older brother, was a chieftain. He was very driven toward achievement in battle. Ospak is softer, more intellectual, he questions things about the Viking lifestyle and its glorying of battle so he is completely the other side of the coin to Brodir.”
Whereas the original battle had a cast of thousands, remarkably Jones’s script has just two actors on stage - Andrew Kenny and Daithí MacSuibhne.
“We achieved the battle through use of sound,” she reveals. “It’s amazing what you can do in theatre just by building up layers of sound. The sound design was my brother Dylan. When it comes to wars and battles, it is actually the lead-up that makes you feel the atmosphere so he really focused on that, the building energy before the battle.”
The production also features Shane Connaughton as Brian Boru who appears in a filmed insert. “In my previous play, Grow, which Nora and myself did together, we used multi-media, it gave an extra dimension to the piece so we wanted to use that again.” Lauren-Shannon explains. “It was great getting Shane do the filmed segment because he is a formidable actor. It’s a projected sequence which gives a great extra dimension to the set.”
Given that she also writes for film and is now working on a novel, does Jones intend to continue writing for the stage? “I love theatre, the immediacy of it,” she declares emphatically. “I’ve worked in film and written short stories and theatre is completely different and it is my favourite.”
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie