WRITER/PERFORMER Michael Harding brings his powerful, much-acclaimed drama The Tinker’s Curse to the Town Hall on Thursday April 29 at 8pm.
The play was developed in collaboration with Irish Travellers and is based on their real-life experiences. It brings to the stage the character of Mikey, a man broken by the loss of his child. Tormented by his crimes he seeks some kind of atonement on the summit of Croagh Patrick where he unfolds his emotionally riveting tale.
Over an afternoon phone-call, Harding reveals that the play’s origins go back to the mid-1990s and a period spent working with Travellers.
“In 1994 I was writer in residence with Tullamore Traveller Movement,” he discloses. “Every day I would go to the halting site and meet people and I would sit down and listen to stories. I would say to them that I wasn’t interested in issues I was just interested in stories. So they told me stories and I recorded 30 hours of them, we published a selection of them in a book called The Road Around the World.
“I learned more from Travellers about storytelling and theatre than I have anywhere else. In those days things weren’t as divisive as they are now. Travellers were open and would welcome you in and tell you stories, but I think now there is more prejudice against Travellers and it would be harder for a writer to be accepted like that.”
While the seeds of the play date back to that residency, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Harding managed to put it onstage.
“I always promised them that some day I would write a play based on those stories but I didn’t get around to it until 2007 when Living Dred did the first production of The Tinker’s Curse. It was shortlisted for best new play that year.
“They weren’t going to do anything more with it so I decided to do it again with a musician and take it on the road, we workshopped it with Travellers last autumn, and we’ve been out on the road for a while with it now and it’s going really really well.”
This version of the play differs somewhat from the Living Dred one, as Harding explains: “In the earlier version there is a mother, child, and lover who relate a story, a tragic story; the one person who wasn’t mentioned was the father. In this version it’s told from the father’s point of view; it’s the same events just told from a different point of view. It’s a sad story but it’s also funny.”
Harding is candid about the seeming anomaly of himself, as a settled person, portraying a story of Traveller life.
“Really, Travellers are the ones to be doing this, the idea of a settled person telling these stories is a little problematic, it’s kinda colonial,” he says. “The only reason I am doing it is to honour the people I got the stories from and they are happy for me to be doing it.
“Now you are getting Traveller playwrights coming through, like Rosaleen McDonagh and Michael Collins. They both came to my show and enjoyed it. I think every group needs to assert its own voice and we don’t need others to be telling our stories.”
Joining Harding onstage is ballad singer Finbar Coady whose songs add considerably to the evening. Harding’s performance of his play has been attracting rave reviews, with The Sunday Times declaring that it “is little short of electrifying, his disarming delivery weaving a compelling tale from off-the-cuff digressions and verbal tics, all of which are coated in a hilariously salty vernacular.”
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.