Director of The Third Policeman, Niall Henry speaks to Eoin Brady about his company’s defiantly idiosyncratic approach to theatre.
“I LIKED HER unassuming competence, her docility, the simple dignity of her quiet way. She now seemed to rest beneath my friendly eyes like a tame fowl which will crouch submissively, awaiting with outhunched wings the caressing hand. I knew that I liked this bicycle more than I had ever liked any other bicycle, better even than I had liked some people with two legs.”
This is what Niall Henry, director of The Third Policeman (originally a novel written by Flann O’Brien) – the story of a tender, brief, unrequited love affair between a man and his bicycle – is attempting to translate to the stage. Lucky guy.
The Third Policeman has come to prominence recently due to its relationship with the writers of Lost, who state that it heavily influences their work. The similarities are numerous: for example, a device like the clock that must be reset every 108 minutes features in The Third Policeman.
Even though Lost has had no influence on Henry’s production, which portrays a “surreal tragicomic existential hell”, its bizarre plotlines and absurd situations will be familiar to fans of the show because of the two productions’ shared roots.
According to Henry, his Sligo-based theatre company, Blue Raincoat, produces a “particular brand of theatre”. “Nine out of ten theatre productions are shockingly boring,” he asserts. Presumably none of Blue Raincoat’s productions are among the nine.
Among the reasons that Blue Raincoat’s plays are “special”, according to Henry, is because “the visual language forms part of the narrative”. Their productions strike a balance between the storytelling that is done by the text and by movement and visuals. It’s a mix between the wordless influence that an abstract Whistler has on the viewer and the direct communication of a dialogue-driven performance, like Emmerdale.
What Niall Henry aspires to do in his productions is to “transport people… to bring them places, so that, even if just for a few minutes, they lose themselves in the performance before eventually realising ‘Oh God, I’m sitting in a theatre beside my girlfriend’”. The goal of his productions is to remove people from the mundane and introduce them to a fantastical, alternative reality.
Blue Raincoat is not regularly on this side of the country: based in Sligo, it frequently tours Galway, Cork and other bits of the west coast, but it seems to reserve its forays east for special occasions. Its next venture is at a particularly fortuitous time: Henry informed Otwo about the existence of a “theatre season” – running from February to mid-March – which appears to be like hunting season, but with less badger-baiting, and more surreal tragicomedies in the Project Arts Centre.
The Third Policeman runs from the 17th to the 28th February in Project Arts Centre