A Long Time coming
When Sarah McKenna Dunne heard that the renowned theatre group the Hacklers were looking for an actor her age to star in their forthcoming production, the Munterconnaught woman was eager to go for it. She recalls the thrill she felt when Kim McCaffetry, the dynamo behind Cavan Arts Festival had recommended her to the Hacklers’ director Damien O’Brien.
“I was like, ‘Oh God’, because I had known of the Hacklers for a long time and held them in such high regard that the opportunity to work with them was really exciting.”
One phonecall later and it emerged that Damien had actually been looking for a male lead actor for his stage adaptation of Dermot Healy’s final novel Long Time, No See. Given than neither director nor actor were particularly hung up on that singular detail, Sarah went ahead and read the script. Five months later she’s now poised to star as Mister Psyche as the Hacklers continue to give expression to their admiration for Healy.
The Hacklers’ last outing, back in 2017 saw them stage a memorable production of Healy’s On Broken Wings. Now the theatre group founded by Healy will have the honour of performing Long Time No See as the first play to grace the newly refurbished Townhall Cavan stage.
“People could come in for a nosey as well,” Sarah says as she dons her promotions cap. While the landmark building has enjoyed a much needed facelift, let’s not be under any illusion, every seat will be taken by people left enchanted by the Hacklers’ delightful production of On Broken Wings in the hope of more of the same.
Long Time, No See is set in an isolated Irish townland and introduces us to the world of Mister Psyche. A recent schoolleaver, occasional worker, full-time companion to Uncle Joe-Joe and his friend The Blackbird, Psyche is a boy on the cusp of adulthood, undone by a recent traumatic event.
Hanging out with these two “characters” some fifty-plus years his senior proves hazardous for Mister Psyche and draws him into a series of (mis)adventures which in turn unsettle and bemuse him.
It is a play about community, family, love and loss, and bonds across generations, peopled by a cast of innocents and misfits.
Sarah confirms that they haven’t reimagined Mister Psyche as a girl, and she downplays the significance of playing a boy, when speaking to the Celt.
“You don’t read him and think – oh he’s a hardy man or anything like that. His gender is almost a secondary factor of him, what I think is most important is his vulnerability.
“I think having a female playing a male character in the script adds to the absurdity of the narrative. Because the narrative is very much about Psyche, who’s caught up in this world of tragedy and bemusement, he’s never quite sure what’s going on. What his relationship is to the other characters - the audience is never quite sure of that. Switching his identity as a female playing a male allows myself to play into that bemusement that runs through the narrative.”
She has put some work into getting into the physicality of a male character.
“It’s funny because I had to hug a character on stage and I thought how do boys hug on stage? They don’t hug, they pat on the back.
“It’s so interesting to watch even other men in the room and to think, right how do they walk? How do they sit? What do they do? The only thing I’m finding difficult is the voice.”
Is she deepening it?
“I’m carrying my own voice because I think if you try to deepen it, the illusion is ruined. You are more likely to buy into something that’s authentic rather than you knowing it’s fake and you’re trying to make it seem real.”
Sarah admits to having wondered if what a male performer could bring to the role that she couldn’t?
“Because it is Psyche’s internal thought process, and internal trauma that he’s trying to deal with, the emotional understanding that I can give to this character may,” she politely apologises at this point if she sounds like she’s belittling men, “perhaps as a female, there’s a layer of complexity that I can relate to more, than perhaps a lad that can come on and say,” she breaks into a gruffer voice: “‘Oh yeah, that’s grand, Psyche’s sad because of A, B and C’.
“Maybe I can go: ‘Psyche’s sad because of X, Y, Z’. Perhaps, I’m not sure.”
It is a simple story told in a visual style with the use of music, video, animation and puppets to portray the characters, animals and Psyche’s interior world. According to both Sarah and director Damien, the work in creating the Psyche’s environment is fabulous.
“I think visually, the set, the lighting design, is stunning and it will really captivate people’s imaginations and help them to get into this world that Psyche’s in – caught between reality and his own mind.
“Even if you came for the set and lighting design alone you would leave happy.”
Sarah did her MA in Theatre in Dublin – an amalgamated course between UCD and the Gaiety – and wrote and directed her own show for Smock Alley ‘The Girls of the Sacred Heart’ about the Cavan Orphanage fire.
Since returning home the 23 year old also wrote, directed and performed in her own show on the All Ireland Circuit in November.
She says that young actors have a mindset that they have to stay in Dublin to further their career, but this idea should be challenged.
“I think the arts scene in Cavan is fantastic – I think it’s one of the best in the country. We need to encourage more young rural performers to stay in rural Ireland, instead of having to move to the city and get caught up in the life up there, and not progressing their careers because they are trying to manage normal jobs, to live up there.
“It was nice to come home and get all the support and network I needed around me right here and now.”
What does Sarah hope for the Long Time, No See?
“If the audience could leave reminiscing on the relationships they had with the elders in their own life as young people, I think you’ve achieved something.
“Everyone will be able to identify with the fear of losing these people in your life – I think the audience will be very touched by the play.
“Come with an open mind and allow yourself to feel what is evoked from all the elements – from the lighting from the design, from the
The Hacklers perform Long Time, No See in the Townhall Cavan on March 6, 7, and 8. Doors 8pm. Admission €15/€12conc.