'There has been too much brushing under the carpet'

Bernard Field on his provocative new play, Shroud

NEW GALWAY theatre company, Omnium Productions, makes its bow in the Town Hall Theatre studio next week with the world premiere of Bernard Field’s provocative play, Shroud.

Shroud dramatises the cover-ups, cruelty, and lies behind the Catholic Church's handling of those clergy who abused children. It is a gripping tale that asks profound questions, not only of priests and bishops, but of society as a whole.

Author Bernard Field, who also directs the play, outlines Shroud’s storyline; “It’s a difficult subject matter because it does revolve around the Catholic Church’s response to clerical child sex abuse. The plot centres on Father Jonathan, a priest who has abused a child and been placed in an institution for his rehabilitation by the Church. The Church then get word that he’s had some sort of mental breakdown and is planning to come back to his old parish where he wants to confess his sins to the congregation. A character called Bishop Victor arrives in the parish to intercept him and prepare the resident priest, Father Martin, for when Father Jonathan turns up.”

In his previous plays, such as The Early Hours, The Juggler, and Zeitgeist, Field has shown a flair for tackling charged issues such as rape, mental illness, and war guilt, in ways that are nuanced and thought-provoking. Shroud does likewise with its theme of clerical child abuse.

“I’m not interested in grinding any axe and we all know there are many great priests doing amazing work,” he points out. “This is not a diatribe against the Church, but on this particular issue they have left themselves open to criticism. Many people are dissatisfied with the way they have handled it; there has been too much brushing under the carpet, too much pushing an agenda all about the protection of the Church and relegating the welfare of the children well down the list of their priorities. There is no denying that. Any of the themes that arise in the play are in the public domain, nobody can say none of this ever happened, it all did.”

“I wanted to imagine the one thing that seems to be missing in all of this which was a forthright ‘mea culpa’ by the Church,” Field continues. “I wanted to imagine what that would sound like, and be like, for the Church in the person of this priest who has sinned and is sorry for what he has done. He wants to make up for it and to confess to the actual people and to put them first and not be browbeaten by the demands of the Church. That’s something we haven’t seen and, by its very nature, we the public can never know what goes on behind those walls. The only way we can get a glimpse of what might go on, what sort of conversations they actually have, is by fictionalising it in a drama like this.”

Omnium Productions were founded by actor Colmcille Donnelly and the company’s website has a suspenseful trailer for Shroud (omniumproductions.com/trailer ) in which a mother’s voice briefly features. “I don’t want to give too much away but the idea is that this mother stands for all the mothers,” Field says. “She does make an appearance and it is not an easy role to play. I felt it was essential that the mother appeared at some point so she does.”

Field concludes our interview with a cautionary note. “We’ve already been selling a lot of tickets but we’ve also had people saying that under no circumstances do they want to see the play. So I’d forewarn playgoers that Shroud does dramatise difficult situations that may be upsetting for people and if people feel it might upset them they shouldn’t come.”

Bernard Field directs his own play and the cast includes Fintan Kelly (Father Jonathan ), Michael Irwin (Bishop Victor ), Colmcille Donnelly (Fr Martin ) and Taim Hamet (Mother ). Set design is by Damien Duddy and lighting design by Fintan Sweeney.

Shroud runs at the Town Hall Studio from Wednesday October 30 to Saturday November 2 at 8.30pm nightly. Tickets are €17/14 via 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie

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