Thursday, September 5, 2013

Looking at People Leave

Promotional art for ChalkTalk Theatre Company's production of The King's Feet by Louise Melinn and Máirín O'Grady. 

"Live in hope. You have chosen heat.
The desert. The King's feet".

Such is one curious quote from the upcoming new play by Louise Melinn and Máirín O'Grady: The King's  Feet. I meet the playwrights to discuss this dark comedy/dystopian fairytale. 

"The Irish emigrants moving to Australia - that was the narrative we were looking at", says O'Grady.

It's not a new subject for either artist. Both were part of the writing team for the 2011 Spilt Gin production You Can't Leave - There's Always Something, which was a play about an Irish individual's emigration to Australia and how it alters the dynamic in the friends and family that they leave behind. 

"We're looking at the differences in between our economy and the economy of the places where people are being forced to emigrate", says Melinn. She says that some of her inspiration came from the Middle East and from when she spent some time in Dubai: "The wealth that is over there was such a reflection of where we all believed that we were at one point in the early 2000s. This fantastic utopia".

The play sees two Irish professionals, Liam and Amanda, move to a land that promises prosperity. But instead of a life filled with barbeques they are issued microwaveable burgers by the government. It sounds loopy but they assure me it's grounded in reality.

"You can recognise things inside the world", says Melinn, "but everything has a kink".

The king himself is absent in the piece. "He represents a higher power", says O'Grady. "And ambition. I mean, it's "The King's Feet" and it's about a chiropodist and his ambition to do the king's feet".

Melinn mentions how they were also inspired by the Australian painter Sidney Nolan, specifically his image of the man in the iron mask: "It's this idea of being in a beautiful place but still trapped within yourself".

Sidney Nolan's image of the man in the iron mask.

The play is the first from Melinn and O'Grady's ChalkTalk Theatre Company, which seems to have a very writer-actor collaborative ethos. They write material for a few weeks and then workshop it closely with actors and the cycle repeats. It sounds like devising but with a certain centrality of the playwright. 

Aoife Spillane Hinks is directing the play. "She's really focused", says Melinn. "When we started, the ideas that we were talking about were so broad. We had taken inspiration from all around the world. Aoife came in and focused it and that allowed us to tell stories that were more human".

Very importantly, they hope the play is timely. As two writers who have repeatedly portrayed contemporary life in Ireland, I ask them what role they think theatre can play in our society.

"All we aim to do is reflect what's going on", says Melinn. "All we can do is write through this and that's our way of dealing with the situation. That's how the play has come about - how can we talk about the experience that we have of looking at people leave?".

The King's Feet runs Sept 11-14 at 19.00 at The Lir Academy. 

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