How did you spend your time during the Covid lockdowns?
At first, waiting patiently for it to end! It was especially strange for us because on the day the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, we were in our second-to-last rehearsal of Marina Carr’s The Mai and were about to go out on a six-week tour. Originally, the government announced a two-week closure so when we all left Dublin, we thought we’d miss the first two weeks and then carry on.
Eventually we realised it was going to go on a lot longer. During the first two months of Covid I dealt with all the horrible jobs. There were a lot of things to figure out like trying to pay our actors, contacting all the venues, and also practical jobs like returning hired costumes.
It was an incredibly strange time for the Company since we’re usually so hands-on in terms of production. We had planned a major production of Juno and the Paycock, a new play called A Hundred Words for Snow, and we were progressing plans for the Irish premiere of Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen.
For the first time in years, I wasn’t thinking about rehearsals or putting up a piece, so lockdown has been an opportunity to read a lot and to develop new work. You just have to try to make the best of the situation, don’t you?
What is your next project?
I’m directing Kevin Barry’s adaptation of There Are Little Kingdoms, his collection of short stories, for the Galway International Arts Festival. Kevin’s stories are a brilliant blend of tragedy and humour with fantastic dialogue and wonderfully drawn characters. We got a small bursary from the Pavilion Theatre in Dún Laoghaire, and Kevin and I workshopped it there with a group of actors I regularly work with. That resulted in Kevin’s fantastic script. It’s a kind of modern Under Milk Wood where the six stories are set in the same world. We link them by a sort of Greek chorus, and out of that chorus emerge the different stories. Kevin has intercut them so you don’t get one full story, and then the next and then the next. Instead, the stories are spliced and over the course of the play they’re intertwined.
There Are Little Kingdoms by Kevin Barry runs in Town Hall Theatre Galway from Monday 1 – Saturday 13 September 2021 as part of the Galway International Arts Festival. It stars Peter Gowen, Diarmuid De Faoite, Maeve Fitzgerald, Patrick Ryan, Jarlath Tivnan, Aisling Kearns, Zara Devlin.
Kevin Barry is the author of the novels Night Boat to Tangier, Beatlebone, and City of Bohane and the story collections That Old Country Music, There Are Little Kingdoms, and Dark Lies the Island. Night Boat to Tangier was long-listed for the 2019 Booker Prize and was named one of the New York Times Top Ten Books of 2019. City of Bohane was awarded the International Dublin Literary Award in 2013.
Is there anything else in the pipeline that you can share at this time?
We’re leading the charge to the return of touring live theatre with a 20-venue tour of Eden. It’s a really powerful play by Eugene O’Brien who many people know as the writer of Pure Mule on RTÉ. We open in the Everyman Cork on October 6th and we’ll travel all over Ireland until November 27th.
Touring has always been at the heart of Decadent – it’s in our DNA – but this time we’re having to plan for every possible Covid scenario. We’re grateful for touring grants and capacity building grants from the Arts Council which make this tour possible. The capacity building grant is helping us create a new and simpler model for touring work, to upskill our capacity to digitally record the play, and to commission theatre educator Dani Gill to devise an enrichment programme.
This year happens to be Eden’s 20th anniversary. It premiered in 2001 and bizarrely, that tour was cancelled because of foot and mouth disease. It’s ideally suited to the Covid era because its structure demands that the two characters never meet, interact or touch. Social distancing is intrinsic because the characters are completely alienated from each other. They are in their own worlds on the stage and don’t even know the other is there.
Andrew Flynn directs Eugene O’Brien’s Eden which is on a 20-venue Irish tour from 6 October – 27 November. It stars Maeve Fitzgerald and Patrick Ryan.
Eugene O’Brien is a Dublin-based writer and actor. His 2001 play Eden won an Irish Times award for best new play, and the Stewart Parker Prize. It was staged at the Arts Theatre, in London’s West End, and on Broadway, subsequent to runs on the Abbey Theatre’s Peacock and main stages. It has since been translated into a number of languages and turned into a successful 2008 film. O’Brien has also written for television, including the IFTA-winning RTÉ series Pure Mule in 2005.