The Last Burning: A quick jog down memory lane, by Martin Kenny

Last summer, Thereisbear! Theatre Company brought Patrick Galvin’s The Last Burning on tour throughout Ireland, performing in various venues across the country: Nun’s Island Theatre in Galway, Cork Arts Theatre in Cork city, St. John’s Theatre in Listowel, Kerry, Canavan’s Pub in Tuam, Hayden’s Hotel in Ballinsloe and Smock Alley in Dublin. The play is based on the final days of Bridget Cleary’s life, the last woman to be burned alive in Ireland under suspicion of witchcraft.

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Muireann Ní Raghallaigh as Bridget Cleary in The Last Burning. Photography by Matt Burke.

As this was Thereisbear!’s first foray into the world of professional theatre, the project that loomed before us presented endless challenges, some of which would have made even seasoned veterans weep. However, with a 14 member strong ensemble, a production team that decreed sleep to be for the weak, all under the guidance of Artistic Director/Director Mama Bear, Hannah O’ Reilly, the old proverb rang true that many hands make light work. I had the honour of being involved in both the cast and production team, as a Villager (not the YMCA type, more the, “I’ll burn you if I don’t trust you” type) and producer of the show.

The entire process kicked off back in May 2012 (exactly a year ago now *sheds tear*) with the casting of our beautiful/handsome actors. In the months that followed, venues were rung, posters were created, a photoshoot in Barna woods was organised, programmes were designed and printed, props were acquired, costume and fabric shops were raided, rehearsals were scheduled, characters were developed and a general mighty fine time was had. Segments from the play were staged at the Volvo Ocean Race in order to spread word of the play, and scenes were also performed at the Galway Arts Centre for the official press release. By August however, the dress rehearsal was (literally) over and the tour was underway.

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Another beaufitul composition from Barna Woods by Matt Burke: the estranged couple, Michael played here by Conor Kennedy-Burke, the mysterious Mr. Blaney played by Darragh O’Brien, and the witches who haunt Bridget.

The opening few shows were fantastic, the audience being full of friends, family and well wishers from Galway. From the instant the tarp was dragged onto stage, “The Hare’s Lament” sung and the soil raked across stage, both cast and audience were transported to another time and place, the insidious and supernatural nature of the play seeping into the air. After a successful home run, the rest of the country encountered the production. Through the tireless dedication of cast and crew (here we must include the ever level-headed Ciara Moyna who was our stage manager for the duration of the tour) in the various get-ins and get-outs, we were able to organise the transport of 18 people and their luggage, costumes, set, soil and other accoutrements, and pack it all into a  hired mini-bus (thanks Seamus!). Sadly, the tour had to come to an end and by the 17th of August 2012, it was time to wipe off the make-up, brush off the soil , pack away the Russian gas mask with horns that served as the severed head of goat, and hop on the bus one last time. The production was a roaring success for the first time outing of Thereisbear!, with acclaim at every stop along the way and Patrick Galvin’s own son and daughter coming to see the show three times.

The tour was an incredible experience, one which has indelibly soaked into my brain and still colours my experience of theatre a year on. Thereisbear!, while producing top-quality productions for audiences all over Ireland, also help to create incomparable memories here in Galway amongst its cast and crew, and continued support of their work will hopefully allow the company to keep doing both.

Break a leg Bears! If The Last Burning is anything to go by, Angels in America will be a blinder.

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The witches had very cold feet all day in Barna Woods, no joke…troopers! Played here by Ruth Darcy, Mary Conroy and Meghan Smyth. Photography again by Matt Burke.

 

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