Holding the audience in raptors
SPARROWHAWK Culture night gem for Dun Na Ri
In or around this time last year The Celt spoke to John McManus about ‘The Barber of Belcoo’ a play specially commissioned for Culture Night. It was set to premiere at Cavan Burren Park with Bríd Ní Neachtain as the ‘Barber’ in a site-specific work directed by Padraic McIntyre.
John mentioned he had made a number of changes to the way the story developed, but had yet to tell the director. Padraig later recalled how he first heard of those changes when he read the Celt. He’d already started rehearsals on the work. Whether this is a 100% accurate account of proceedings, or “not letting the truth get in the way of a good story” has not been verified.
It clearly did not result in a schism between the two parties as they have teamed up again, under the auspices of Culture Night, to bring another site specific play to an eager audience.
Last year’s “Barber...” was a magnificent piece. Staged in a breathtaking location, on a perfect autumn evening it was an antidote the trauma of a society still coping with the burden of the pandemic.
This year’s offering, ‘Sparrowhawk’, has a lot to live up to, but the auguries seem very promising. Commissioned by Cavan County Council Arts Office and presented by Townhall Cavan in Dun A Ri Forest Park, Kingscourt it tells the story of three men who meet in a Cavan forest. All are in a state of despair.
Benny because his beloved Mayo have lost yet another All Ireland final; Cian because his best friend is missing and presumed dead; and Mattie because he has discovered the reason why there are no old people in Dublin.
The director has drawn together a talented cast of Peter Trant, Paul Marron and James Quinn for the show. As the actors are in the final stages of their rehearsals John says there will be no replay of the rewrite that happened last year: “No, this one was fairly seamless. I’m pretty much pleased with it,” he laughs.
Having another play staged in the outdoors may be a gamble, but the experience of last year illustrate how that gamble can pay off: “Things are starting to open up a little bit now, but when we were making the arrangements we did not know what was happening. We were following on from what we did in the Cavan Burren last year. We decided to go to the other end of the county and we ended up in east Cavan,” he tells.
“Setting it in Dun Na Ri I had the idea of two forestry workers. One super serious about his job, and the other a bit of a gobshite. They both have hangovers after the All Ireland final,” John says. “Dun Na Ri is a fantastic location. Padraic is going to stage it in the round.”
He hopes by taking the play outside it will enhance the experience for the audience.
“The natural world is so much better. Atmospherically, lighting and the aesthetic of the outdoor all add to the play. ‘Barber...’ was quite a dark play. As the evening progressed it suited the story, for the last five minutes of the show it was getting dark. We hope ‘Sparrowhawk’ will benefit from the setting as well.”
McManus has a gift of playing with dark themes without swamping the audience in unpleasantness. Humour is used with scalpel like efficiency.
“The primary purpose is to entertain people. No one goes to a theatre to be miserable for a full hour. I think with this play people will be affected, and still enjoy their night.”
There will be two performances of “Sparrowhawk” on Culture Night: 5-5.45pm and7–7.45pm. Wheelchair accessible, it will take place at Dún a Rí Forest Park, Kingscourt.