With the world premiere of Tom MacIntyre’s play Only an Apple around the corner, Jake O’Brien meets with the idiosyncratic director Selina Cartmell.
THE DEATH OF the theatre is a long awaited event that could lead to the smallest funeral in Irish history. According to esteemed Irish actor, Gabriel Byrne, Irish theatre is on its last legs and the life support machine has given up its efforts. In a recent interview he admitted that when he looked out on an audience during a play, all he saw was grey hair, and that’s when he knew it was coming to a drastic demise.
Attendance is low, patrons are pensioners, and things are, for once, exactly as they seem. Various morose efforts from numerous differing playwrights have attempted to breathe life into the proscenium arch, yet all to little avail. But fear not! There is indeed a glimmer of hope on the horizon, a faint line of dark thought and entertainment, stretching vicariously from the sunset over Irish theatre’s twilight hours. Director Selina Cartmell meandered into our interview with the look of a child who was definitely lost, but she couldn’t be happier at her physical displacement!
“We’re looking forward to putting it in front of an audience!” These are her musings on the impending world premiere of playwright Tom MacIntyre’s fresh work, Only an Apple. The play concerns the dramatic downfall of an ageing Taoiseach and his bemusing encounters with none other than Queen Elizabeth I and the infamous Irish sailor Grace O’Malley, aka Granuaile.
Without giving away too much, Cartmell discusses the contemporary constraints of dealing with the immediate dangers that come with such a character as the Taoiseach. “Every morning you wake up and come in to do a play about the Taoiseach… we’ve been talking to each other about who, potentially, this Taoiseach is… [there’s] a mix of them all in there!” “In making them [the characters] appear in the contemporary world of a Taoiseach of today; it automatically throws up those questions of history between England and Ireland, politics –it’s all in there.”
In keeping with her veritable smorgasbord of wide-angled theatrical vision, Selina Cartmell comes to the Abbey as a well-travelled woman. Having studied here in Ireland, she has also received accolades in Scotland and England. In terms of production, she holds possession of a CV that most would kill for.
With awards, prizes and nominations galore, Cartmell remains a subtle when asked about her idol and mentor, American director Julie Taymor. “You are an artist who works in many different media, and you can use influences, you can be inspired by film and art and music as much as you can by text… I think that she [Julie Taymor] gave me confidence to believe that anything’s possible as well.”
As clichéd as some of this may sound, Selina Cartmell is not a page out of the ‘Book of the Ordinary’. Intriguingly eccentric and attractively strange, this director is a creature hand picked from the Twilight Zone. As proud as she is with her countless successes, she mainly remembers the little victories, citing her semi-amateur production of Titus Andronicus as her proudest moment in theatre. “I think the thing that still baffles me, because I don’t know how we managed to pull it off with the money we had, was the production of Titus Andronicus that I did three or four years ago with my own company.”
Selina Cartmell’s attraction to the darker side of things is exactly what Irish theatre needs to strike back at its feigning audience. Her work is engaging, entertaining, and most importantly, different.
Cartmell is offering Irish theatre something it must not ignore – a fresh start. In the wake of this director Gabriel Byrne will no doubt eat his own words!
Only an Apple is showing from 29th April to 9th May in the Peacock Theatre. Admission is €22/ Concessions and Previews, €15.