When secrets come back to haunt you

TAELNT Kilnaleck Youth Drama Society devise and stage their own play

As the young actors rattled their way through their scene entrances and exits in Townhall Cavan last Thursday night a few matters became clear: the talent and passion of Kilnaleck Youth Drama Society actors, all seemingly completely at ease under the glare of theatre lights, the ambition of this full length drama they were staging, and the sense of camaraderie between the group.

The Secrets of Masenca is the impressive result of a series of workshops devised and performed by the teenagers. Unfolding over different, sometimes merging timeframes in the fictional border town of Masenca, the play shifts between the civil war and contemporary life - and even the shadows of the crushing of the 1640s revolution reverberate.

Billed as “a political thriller; a ghost story; a gripping blend of comedy and tragedy”, the script, penned by professionals Alice Lynch and Declan Gorman, challenged the young actors to take on multiple characters.

“I play Aggie and Amanda,” says Aoibhe Beatty, who possibly has the most contrasting of roles. “Aggie is a really old lady - between the ages of 90 and 150; she’s really old. She can see ghosts and talks to them. She likes to drink tea and she’s is one with nature and loves the bog. She’s really down to earth and cool.

“Amanda is a junior cert student - she’s more laid back and likes to ask the questions about what happened around the town - the stuff people don’t want to ask in the class. They’re both very interesting,” said the Mullahoran teenager.

“Some of my scenes it’s Aggie, then straight away Amanda and then straight back to Aggie, so it’s hard to switch but with practice it’s become a bit easier. I like the challenge.”

The Secrets of Masenca was developed as part of the Decade of Centenaries and Creative Ireland programmes. An essay penned by Dr Brendan Scott, historian in residence, highlights how the sporadic violence in the Border area had a more sectarian hue during the Civil War, in contrast to the ideological differences elsewhere in the country. Kilnaleck Youth were tasked with coming up with a creative response to Dr Scott’s paper. Meanwhile a Farney counterpart went through a similar process, responding to the same paper and came up with an entirely different piece. In that case Monaghan Youth Dance devised a physical theatre piece titled ‘A New Beginning’ featuring a live musical accompaniment.

While the Civil War provides the backdrop to one of the most gripping scenes, the Irish Confederate War - which was effectively ended when Cromwell’s men brutally crushed resistance with a number of quick-fire sieges of rebellious towns - also casts a shadow.

Aodhán Collins plays Armstrong, a Cromwellian soldier whose ghost can be seen by Aggie, and also young Sonja (played by Saoirse O’Brien).

The Celt wonders how Cromwell wandered into the plot?

“We were talking about all the things we had heard about in history, and obviously that was such a crucial moment in Irish history - we wanted to show how this [political conflict] happens again and again, so we brought it back to that very old stage.”

The merits of youth drama has been well documented in terms of building confidence and developing communication and teamwork skills. It can also be seen here in the artistic progression of its cast. For example 19 year old Aodhán has been learning his craft under Alice Lynch’s tutelage since he was just 11.

“I’m at the Gaiety School of Acting at the moment doing a part time course,” says Aodhán, who is also studying computer science in Trinity.

The practical experience of bringing Secrets of Masenca to some of the best theatres in the region will only help the actors to further develop. Its debut outing was in Monaghan’s Garage Theatre the week before.

“Monaghan was good - that was my first play outside of Kilnaleck, so I was quite nervous,” said Aoibhe. Thankfully her nerves were eased by the audience response, particularly when she hammed up elderly Aggie’s rickety gait.

“As the show progressed when Aggie came out I could hear my mam - because I know her laugh, and, I was like - I can’t laugh!”

It seems Cavan’s proud history of quality theatre and its future hopes is in good hands.