ONE OF the most acclaimed Irish shows of recent years makes a welcome visit to the Town Hall from Thursday June 13 to Saturday 15 at 8pm.
Written and directed by Amy Conroy, and performed by Conroy and Clare Barrett, I Heart Alice Heart I won two Dublin Fringe Awards during its premiere run in 2010 and has toured successfully to the US, Scotland, Iceland, New Zealand, Australia, and Tasmania.
The play introduces us to two extraordinary women, both named Alice, who are now retired and have known each other since childhood. Not only are they lifelong friends they are also lovers. One day a writer spots them sharing a kiss in a supermarket and subsequently coaxes them into sharing their remarkable life story.
What results is a play The New York Times hailed as an “affecting and quietly empowering work that fully convinces in its artful facsimile of real people sharing experiences both ordinary and precious”.
While Conroy wrote the script, her co-performer Clare Barrett, was closely involved in the show’s creation, as Conroy reveals over an afternoon phone call.
“Clare and I have been friends a long time and worked together on several shows so she was the natural and perfect choice to be involved in this show,” she tells me. “When I rang her and told her what I was doing and asked would she be interested it was a hard thing to explain the idea properly in words but thankfully she trusted me and said ‘Alright I will!’
“From there we got in a room and started working on the characters, on the physicality of the women and the timelines of their lives, then I went away and wrote the script and then we came back and worked on it some more, then I did another draft. It was a long process but Clare was involved from the beginning.”
I ask Conroy about the fact that both she and Barrett are playing characters considerably older than themselves.
“That was kind of the whole idea of the piece in a way,” she replies. “It’s kind of a poke at the whole notion of documentary theatre, that style of theatre featuring real people and real lives, real stories told in their own words.
“I’d seen an awful lot of documentary theatre some of which I liked and some which I hadn’t. People were saying it was the most honest kind of theatre and it had so much integrity and while I understand the beauty and charm of seeing non-performers perform, in a way it being heralded as the most honest way of doing it negates what we as writers and actors do so I wanted to play with that notion.
“The idea with the Alices is does it really matter if they are real or not? The experience we have all shared as actors doing it for audiences is honest and real so that’s what counts. For us in making the play it was imperative to have the characters played by younger people. We worked with a fantastic make-up artist called Val Sherlock and we really worked hard on the physicality of the women and how they moved, their gestures, so that everything seems as authentic and honest and possible.
“And we think of them as real women, you’re always working from a place of their dignity and their pride so you tend not to veer too far off track when you think like that. That’s why they are played by young people.”
Conroy goes on to offer her own description of the play.
“I would describe the play as beautiful, human, moving and very, very, funny; that’s the experience the audience will have,” she says. “Structurally it’s doing one particular thing, it relates this very mundane life story but I think the reason this story resonates with people so deeply, and people all over the world have said this to me, is that it is so human and people see themselves reflected in the smallnesses of the story that the women are telling.
“Our audiences have spanned ages from 15 to 85, men and women, all of them feeling it is a personal story to them and that is something we are very proud of. It’s a show for everybody.”
The production’s appearance at the Town Hall holds a special thrill for Galwegian Clare Barrett.
“Clare is dying to get to Galway with the play,” Conroy confirms. “She’s a Renmore native and it will be a very proud moment for her to bring the show to Galway.”
Tickets are €18/14 and available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie