CORK’S MUCH-feted Corcadorca Theatre Company celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and mark the occasion with a national tour of Franz Xaver Kroetz’s remarkable one-woman play Request Programme, featuring Eileen Walsh, which promises to be one of the must-see events at this year’s Galway Arts Festival.
This is Corcadorca’s first appearance in Galway since the arts festival of 1997 at which they staged Enda Walsh’s electrifying Disco Pigs.
Eileen Walsh also featured in that landmark production, alongside Cillian Murphy, and as she and Corcadorca prepare to revisit the festival it was natural that she should recall that earlier play which launched the careers of herself, Murphy, and author Enda Walsh.
“Disco Pigs meant a phenomenal amount to me in my career,” she says, speaking by phone from Cork where Request Programme is currently running. “I remember meeting Enda one day in Bewleys during a break from college and he asked me would I like to do it. That whole summer in Cork was amazing, rehearsing and then performing the show and experiencing the reaction it got.”
Walsh has gone on to become one of Ireland’s leading actresses. Her CV includes classic roles like Medea, Lady MacBeth, and Synge’s Pegeen Mike, alongside leading parts in plays by contemporary authors such as Marina Carr, Sarah Kane, and Mark O’Rowe.
Kroetz’s play however offers a different kind of challenge, both for the actor and the audience. It is an intimate, non–verbal, site–specific show which takes an extraordinary look into the life of a woman who, in the course of one evening, makes a decision that changes her life forever.
Accompanied only by the sound of a radio request programme, she moves through the small daily acts on which her life is built. But this is not a day like all the others.
“This piece is intensely difficult,” Walsh admits “but it has a phenomenal pay-off at the end. It asks a lot both of its audience and of me as an actor. It’s a remarkable study of human nature.
“While the play might seem very different to what I usually do, I actually think the character is similar in others that I’ve portrayed onstage; the kind of woman she is, the predicament she finds herself in, I’ve found similar in other characters I have played so ultimately the piece doesn’t feel so strange to me.”
Walsh expands on the nature of the play and its sole protagonist.
“The audience experience the joy of being a nosy parker or voyeur, which we all are really,” she says. “We look in on this woman’s inconsequential life. She feels at a loss and it’s as if all her nights have built up to this particular evening. Her only real relationship is with the radio. She’s listening to the John Creedon show and him playing requests. It’s as if she hears other people’s lives being acknowledged and celebrated while her own is ignored.”
Request Programme is directed by Corcadorca’s founder and artistic director Pat Kiernan. As he reflects on the company’s eventful 20 year history he sees Request Programme as part of a new cycle of Corcadorca work.
“We tend to go in cycles of six/seven years of working in a particular way then you reassess, think about what you are doing and the kind of work you are making and maybe go in a new direction,” he observes. “I think we are at the beginning of a new cycle now. We’ve developed a performance space at the Triskel where we can develop our own work and also manage it for other companies to use.
“Request Programme is the first show we have toured in a long time and we are also building new partnerships with other arts organisations such as Cork Opera House. We’ve also been responding to the recent changes in the economy where we’re working in a situation where funding is no longer guaranteed.”
Born in Munich in 1946, Franz Xaver Kroetz has written some 60 plays and is also well known as an actor. A one-time member of the German Communist Party, his plays have often provoked controversy. Themes of inarticulacy and silence - like that of the woman in Request Programme - feature in several of his works.
“A divide opened up between the eloquence required for a highly intelligent Brecht text and the inarticulacy of real life,” Kroetz has said. “This stirred up a social anger inside me and I joined the Communist Party…I wanted to grab this bourgeois theatre by the head and dunk it into this wordless sauce, to make anti-theatre.”
While Kroetz’s plays are familiar to audiences in Germany and continental Europe, his work is less known here in Ireland. Pat Kiernan explains how Corcadorca came to do Request Programme.
“We did a production of Buchner’s Woyzeck in 2007 and that got me interested in looking further at German writers,” he says. “I came across Franz Xaver Kroetz’s work; I read a few of his plays and Request Programme really grabbed me. I think it speaks a lot to where we are now.
“It was originally written in 1971 during the so-called ‘German economic miracle’ which brought all this prosperity on the one hand but also sidelined a lot of people. We hear a lot of talk these days about economics but less about individuals and how ordinary lives are affected by it all.”
Kiernan explains how, despite its seeming mundanity and the lack of language, the play still achieves dramatic suspense and impact.
“It works like the theatrical equivalent of a film close-up because the audience is so near to the performer you can see that level of subtlety and detail in everything she does,” says Kiernan. “It shows someone performing the mundane domestic actions and we’re right there beside her. And it does have a political stance as well, I think it offers a commentary on the ways in which capitalism has a bearing on our existence.”
Request Programme runs throughout the festival, from Monday July 11 to Saturday 23 at acity centre apartment (audiences to meet at Prospect Hill’s Western Hotel ) at 6.30pm daily, with matinees on both Fridays and Saturdays.
There will be a Backstage at the Festival discussion about the show featuring Pat Kiernan, Eileen Walsh and special guests at Druid on Thursday July 14 at 3pm.