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.

 

Ain’t we in for a Corker!

So the Get-in has begun! And while I sit in the techbox, watching Joe and Ciara light up our show, I wait. I play the waiting game. For what? I can’t say.

No, I can.  A quick blog post before hitting up Kerry to sort out prop storage and bus transport!

So we all piled into the bus and car at 3pm yesterday afternoon, after a great run in Galway, warmly played to friends and strangers alike! Including several French people and the son and daughter of Patrick Galvin himself, the latter of whom is bringing a big crowed with her to our Cork show tonight. What a cool run of a show Galway was. Including a performance on Oisin Robbins’ birthday, during which, he snook an angry cry of celebration into the mob scene unbeknownst to the onlookers! This birthday also included a cake on the following night! Where we surprised Oisin with a cake onstage in the middle of a scene. Ah, to fuck with and keep actors on their toes. A special gift I give to them indeed. 🙂 Looking forward to Patrick Galvin’s birthday in Ballinasloe, cupcakes for all who attend!! Marred only by an early morning in Dublin the following day! Oh well! As is the nature of a tour. Sleeping in transit, that’s what it is!

So we had a lovely lark in Supermacs after our last Galway show, our get-out leaving us only to locked doors of the lovely Galway Arms. -A blessing in disguise for the actors I’d say. Everyone was knackered.

Thus began the trip to Cork! The entire trip dotted with me exclaiming everything was a moose, and the gang on the bus trying to decide when and where we can hold our ceremonial, end-of-the-Southern-Leg-of-the-tour burning of Muireann.

I’m now currently waiting for the cast and crew to get back from a lunch break. I cleverly timed my breaks to when they are gone, ensuring that I am at work when they leave and  return… thus looking as though I am an unstoppable machine. It’s good to build terror in the hearts of your co-workers. So I’ll leap back to my notes of entrances and exits and transitions before they get back, feign a meek yawn, or a sigh when asked to press a button to assist the technicians and carry on, tirelessly, to their wonder and awe… I am a genius. A non-productive genius.

Anyway, lemme tell ya this: Things go awry so fancifully!

Since arriving in Cork, several transport issues have bubbled! We got here about half an hour later than expected, meaning that once we got in, the Cork Arts Theatre was closed so we couldn’t store our set, costume and props at the venue. Meaning only one thing, LUGGAGE OVERLOAD for all involved. Each person had to take on a piece or set, or prop or costume, and bring it to the domicile of those with whom they stayed.

Thanks to the lovely Jamie Hooper, and Laura Hicks and her family, everyone was housed, and now so was every THING.

The production team stayed at Jamie’s in the city, for an early get-in and deliciously-hilarious-breakfast-banter-in-the-early-morning-rain, along with all of the set. Bags and bags of soil, rakes of rakes, and kilos of material, while Laura, in her car, took every single costume and prop. This of course was much too heavy causing ThereisBear!’s first fault of car breakdown. Her car is now in the garage and the entire cast, half an hour away from the city by car, must now bus it in from her house, courtesy of her fantastic family.

Please God, no one will be too furious and these stupid slip-ups. Hence, meticulous attention to where props and shit go from now on and not to assume anything at the risk of abiding by the ‘make an ass out of you and me’ law.

Needless to say transport became a bit of a mess, so. But I’m thinking hiring small buses to bring the gang to Laura’s from the city, and to store everything in the theatres, hell or high water. Thankfully it’s just transport and storage as opposed to several other things too! *touch wood.*

Phone calls to be made. Let us hope we’re greeted as warmly as we were in Galway to give a bit of a buzz!

Onward and Upward!