ONE OF the big hits of last year’s Galway International Arts Festival was Star Of The Sea, the superb stage adaptation of Joseph O’Connor’s acclaimed novel jointly produced by Moonfish and An Taibhdhearc. Audiences now have a second chance to see this much-praised show when it returns to An Taibhdearc for a short run prior to embarking on a national tour.
Star Of The Sea is a sweeping story, set during the Famine, that ranges from the wilds of Connemara to the crowded confines of a famine ship - the Star of the Sea - heading from Ireland to New York in 1847. Among the passengers are maidservant Mary Duane, the ruined Lord Merredith, Pius Mulvey a ruthless murderer, and journalist Grantley Dixon. Their inter-twined lives create a gripping drama of revenge and forgiveness which also charts the cataclysmic social effects of the Famine. The play is bi-lingual, which adds a potent extra dimension to O’Connor’s story, powerfully illustrating the catastrophic effect the Famine had on the Irish language.
Director Mairead Ní Chróinín outlines how Moonfish approached the material. “It’s a really amazing book," she says. "The writing in it is beautiful and O’Connor weaves in press articles, diaries, letters, and all these different forms of text. Because theatre is a multi-media type of experience we went for that approach. We use projections, sound, movement, foleys, and so forth which I think is true to the spirit of how the story is put together. It’s not just a character-driven narrative play, there is much more going on and I think it’s important for the audience to see how the story is being made as well as buying into the characters.”
Ní Chróinín admits to being bowled over by the enthusiastic response the play got last year; “It was a big surprise. We felt very confident in it but you never know whether other people are going to find the same joy or interest in something as you found in it.”
Among its many ardent admirers was author Joseph O’Connor, who attended the opening night.
“He had an incredible reaction, it was just fantastic, something that you would dream about," says Ní Chróinín. "He was incredibly supportive even before seeing the show; he spoke about it on RTÉ’s Arena and said why he was interested in seeing it and why he had allowed us to have the rights. On opening night we all went out for a drink and he told us he really enjoyed it, which made us very happy. He really appreciated the fact that we had brought something fresh to it by using the Irish language which he couldn’t have done himself. He said that every scene that he had imagined being onstage we had pretty much realised them. He also did an interview with GIAF TV that you can still see on Youtube where he says the nicest things about the show, which are all the nicer because he said them to camera! It was such a pleasure to have him and he has been very supportive of the tour as well.”
Ní Chróinín reveals how the upcoming tour came about. “We were approached by Strollers Touring Network which is a network of nine venues around the country," she says. "At the time the head of the network was Linda Geraghty from Riverbank Arts Centre where we will be company in residence from this November for a year. Strollers were looking for a show to tour around their venues and she suggested Star Of The Sea. They knew of its critical acclaim so they were very much on board with the idea. So we were lucky in that it all came together quite easily for us. An Taibhdhearc, our co-producers, also came on board with financial support and we got an Arts Council Touring Award and all that has really made it possible because it is quite a big show which would otherwise be difficult to tour.”
Regarding Moonfish’s future plans, Ní Chróinín says that as part of the company's residency at the Riverbank, it will look at a show for the 1916 centenary.
“It’ll be an immersive theatre touring show that will go around Kildare and happen on the library bus," she says. "The other project we are working on is inspired by a book called Mondays At Gaj’s by Ann Stopper. It looks at the story of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s, and in particular a restaurant called Gaj’s in Dublin, where people would meet and eat, and exchange ideas, and have debates, and were interested in exploring the link between sharing food and sharing ideas. Again we would be looking at stepping outside the normal theatre structure in the staging of it and possibly doing it in an immersive setting, in a restaurant so that the audience would be sharing a meal with us as the show is progressing. It’s at the very early stages at the moment though!”
Both of those projects sound intriguing and in the meantime, there is Star Of The Sea to savour. The cast features Ionia Ní Chróinín (Mary Duane ), Grace Kiely (Grantley Dixon ), Zita Monahan (Pius Mulvey ), Morgan Cooke (Nioclas Mulvey ), Simon Boyle (Lord Merridith ), and Máiréad Ní Chróinín. Set design is by Lian Bell. The show is suitable for anyone over 16. It runs at An Taibhdhearc from Wednesday September 16 to Saturday 19 at 8pm.
For more information contact 091 - 562024 or email [email protected].