Monday, July 8, 2013

WillFredd Gets the Lay of the Land as Masterful FARM Returns

Emma O'Kane and Ralph the Pony return in FARM

"I still live a little bit by Brian Friel's introduction to Dancing at Lughnasa, which is Ireland is thirty years behind everywhere else".

It's a fitting ethos for director Sophie Motley, considering that her 2012 masterpiece FARM evokes many of the same feelings twenty years on from Lughnasa about the sanctuary of rural Ireland and the imposing nature of the urban world. Since then, studies have discovered that the migratory patterns of Irish people moving from the countryside to the city are a more recent occurrence in comparison to other European countries. FARM unearths that still ripe sentimentality buried under the concrete pavements.

Motley is a director with WillFredd - a company who uses light, sound, and movement to guide action similar to how a play text conventionally does. In FARM expect to be led through the warehouse space by Sarah Jane Shiels's shimmering lightbulbs overhead, to hear the gentle hum of Jack Cawley's guitar score kick into the upbeat strum of a seisúin, and to witness Emma O'Kane's choreography whip up a line-dancing scene that skillfully trumps any barn-dancing stereotype associated with country people.

The company collaborate closely with different communities, a method which brings its own concerns of representation and truth. "You have to create something that you can feasibly and respectively show back to that community", says Motley. So far they've been doing a fair job. Their 2011 debut FOLLOW inspired by actor Shane O'Reilly's personal experiences coming from a household of deaf parents, harnessed the theatrical possibilities of sign language and resulted in a show accessible to both deaf and hearing audiences alike.

"With FARM the process was a lot more pastoral", she says, referring to the close involvement of social rural organisation Macra na Feirme and various farmers they interviewed. These communities create the performance content, which then allows Motley's beautiful directorial vision to play with form while reflecting truthfully the sentiments of their collaborators.

Motley reveals that actor Paul Curley, who she was adamant to have involved in the production considering his growing up on a farm in Galway, introduced the company to the concept of Meitheal - the old Irish tradition where members of a community would gather and help each other harvest their crops - a tradition that for the most part has vanished in the advent of agricultural machinery. This became a leading force in the devising of the piece as an emphasis was placed on how an audience could experience Meitheal in the space.

"People look out for each other", she says, "and you don't always get that in the city. You get it in the odd little enclave in Dublin where Old Dublin still is. But so many people don't know their neighbours and I find that kind of astonishing".

It's what every artist strives for: the acquisition of a true subject. WillFredd, with an artful subversion of invented narrative, sweetly sway us closer to the truth - a rare and exceptional feat. FARM creates a uniquely Irish sense of community, and there's no denying the sublime power of Marie Ruane's soaring ballad or the spectacular transformation of Ralph the pony (Motley's secret weapon) to bring us in touch with those miraculous properties of the land, of rural togetherness, all to sadly perish when you step back onto the street when the performance ends.

FARM runs July 9-13 at the Lir.

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