THE ABBEY Theatre is touring one of its most successful and critically-acclaimed plays of the last three years this autumn, Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus, which comes to Galway’s Black Box from November 4 to 7.
With action that catapults from the bustling streets to the skies above Dublin then plummets down to the bowels of the earth, Terminus is a vivid and exhilarating tale of three people ripped from their daily lives and thrown into a fantastical world of murderers, avenging angels, and love-sick demons.
It features the intertwined monologues of three characters; A, a middle-aged mother (Andrea Irvine ), her estranged daughter B (Kate Brennan ), and C, a serial killer (Karl Shiels ). It Is a drama full of darkness and violence but love and tenderness are also to be found and as the play moves towards its climax it promises a cruel sort of justice for all.
Mark O’Rowe is recognised as one of Ireland’s most important contemporary playwrights. He is seen as a crucial figure among an exciting generation of young writers who emerged in the 1990s and, in their exchange of traditional rural stories for urban concerns and with a thrilling exploration of diverse theatrical forms, changed the face of modern Irish theatre.
Ahead of Terminus’s Galway visit, cast-member Karl Shiels took some time out to talk about the play. The production has just returned from a stint at the Melbourne International Arts Festival.
“The show went really well for us there,” Shiels declares delightedly. “We had standing ovations and people queuing around the block for tickets. Of course there’s a large Irish expat contingent there and a lot of those came to see it but it’s been having a big impact with audiences generally.”
Shiels’ connection with O’Rowe goes back to the landmark production of Howie The Rookie at the Bush Theatre which featured himself and Aidan Kelly in the cast.
“I hadn’t known Mark before that,” he recalls. “I was doing a Steven Berkoff play called Greek and Mark came to see it. Shortly after he told me he was writing a play and then sent me the script for Howie The Rookie. We did that at The Bush and it was a huge success internationally; it’s just a great play. Seven years later, Jimmy Fay brought myself and Aidan back to do it again at the Peacock. That was tough because we were older but we managed to pull it off somehow!”
What of Shiels’ role in Terminus?
“The character I play, C, is a very shy individual who sells his soul to the devil so that he can have the most beautiful singing voice in the world but the devil cheats him. Because he’s so shy he can’t actually sing in public and he then develops a hatred of the world because of this and he becomes a serial killer. It’s a very dark and intense play but there’s also a lot of humour there as well. ”
One of the distinctive aspects of Terminus is that it is written in richly-textured rhyme.
“That was kind of terrifying in a way,” Shiels admits. “You have to be totally locked into the language because if you forget a line it’s not the kind of play where you can just ad lib something. You have to get it spot on from beginning to end. It works very well though in terms of adding to the play’s impact.”
Terminus sees O’Rowe take on the role of director for the first time. As a skilled director himself (notably with Semper Fi ), Shiels is well placed to assess his success in taking on that responsibility.
“I think Mark has done a really good job directing this show,” he states. “He knew exactly what he wanted from us very early on and was very clear in putting that across. I feel he could certainly go and successfully direct other plays, either his own or other people’s, in the future.”
Terminus also marks another outing for the monologue-driven drama which has featured strongly in Irish theatre over the last decade, notably through such authors as Conor McPherson and O’Rowe himself.
In a programme note for Terminus, O’Rowe has this to say about the form; “One of the greatest strengths of the monologue form is the fact that nothing needs to be shown or represented - only recounted - and that, if this can be done with enough skill and conviction, an audience will follow your story no matter where you choose to take it. Which is not to say that the play is nothing more than an exercise in yarnspinning or an experiment in linguistic technique.
“Any drama worth its salt needs to be an exploration into humanity, and, I suppose, if the world presented here is one where the extraordinary is commonplace, then the characters’ behaviour has to be rooted in reality, in the recognisable and true. This is, after all, the foundation for our emotional engagement with any story.
“And so, here we have three people in various states of loneliness and despair, whose attempts to extricate themselves from their respective mires through the most bizarre and terrifying of nights, leads them on an emotional journey through such thematic territories as self-discovery, guilt, ambition, rebirth, redemption, self-destruction, and maybe a couple of others I haven’t spotted yet…at the very least it’s full of crazy people doing crazy s**t.”
Terminus plays the Black Box for four nights only from Wednesday November 4 to Saturday 7 at 8pm. Tickets are €22.50/20 from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.