John Gallagher discusses the recent successes and the honesty of contemporary theatre with Jim Culleton of the Fishamble New Play Company
Dramatically speaking, Dublin has a lot to offer – according to the Fishamble New Play Company’s artistic director, Jim Culleton. Culleton, who was educated at Belvedere College before pursuing a degree in drama and theatre studies at Trinity College, has for the last twenty years been a driving force behind modern Irish theatre on a national and international platform. In 1990, after graduating, the Dublin native coalesced with like-minded Trinity graduates and members of UCD Dramsoc to form Pigsback Theatre Company. In 1997 it would be renamed Fishamble: the New Play Company.
Since then the company has expanded quite substantially, its work regarded by many as the cutting edge in modern theatre. In 2008 over 16,000 people attended Fishamble productions. The work of Sebastian Barry and Joe O’Connor has travelled the world being staged everywhere, from “the nooks and crannies of Temple Bar,” as Culleton puts it, “to 59E59 in New York City.”
What people all over the world find so appealing about the Fishamble productions is the “ethos of honesty and invention.” Plays such as Noah and the Tower Flower based in the Ballymun Towers, and Forgotten, which tells the story of four elderly people in care homes around Ireland, have been extraordinarily well received outside Ireland. “Fishamble aims to show us ourselves and reflect on society. People engage with this uniquely Irish perspective,” admits Culleton humbly.
The success of Fishamble productions would not have been possible without the support of the Arts Council and Culture Ireland. The director encourages the government to continue supporting the arts as it has been doing, remarking with a giggle that “the arts are one of the only things to have not let us down in recent times, with the banks and the church and so on.” The Trinity graduate goes on to further justify the importance of the arts, informing otwo of its economic benefit in stating, “Cultural tourism alone is worth €5.1m, it has created 50,000 jobs in Ireland, and from every euro spent on the arts, three euro goes directly back to the Exchequer.”
As the arts in Ireland continue to thrive, Jim Culleton prepares for the world premiere of Strandline, a play by Abbie Spallen and directed by Culleton. Based in a small coastal town in Northern Ireland, the recent work from Spallen, the winner of the Stewart Patrick Trust Award, tells the story of a woman whose husband has recently died. As she wakes him in the company of three women she never liked, secrets are shared. It’s a dark, vibrant and funny piece of drama which comments on what is worth revealing and what is better left unsaid.
Strandline runs at the Project Arts Centre, Temple Bar from 11th Nov to 5th Dec.