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L'adaptation théâtrale en Irlande de 1970 à 2007

Thierry Dubost

Le texte à l'épreuve de la scène

MEAT au Midsummer Festival Workshop

Transcription de la prise de parole de Donal Gallagher (par Anne Étienne)

Donal Gallagher

Texte intégral

1I would like to start just by saying one thing. Not to contradict Anne, the feel of that was very complimentary, but I would just like to be very explicit. For me, working with Pondlife was an amazing experience and Enda’s an incredibly talented writer. Actually for me an awful lot of that was a learning process. Listening to that suddenly I felt: ‘hold on a second. Donal came along and made it all great…’ It’s absolutely not true at all. For me it was very much a learning experience and yes a lot of the changes happened but it was through that collaboration, and I suppose that’s kind of what I’d like to talk about a bit. Just having a look at the picture of me up there: ‘oh the director does everything’, I absolutely patently feel that that’s a wrong approach. When we started Pondlife first we got to spend a week at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, which is an artists’ retreat in Monaghan. We just sat for a week talking through plot ideas, talking through theatrical devices that we could use to tell this story and talking through the narrative and what way it was going to be woven. To be honest, I was slightly lost for that week, I was in awe. But it was brilliant and I learnt a huge amount from it. It was a really exciting time to be there. We were talking yesterday about influences that come in. For that week in Annaghmakerrig we brought a number of different influences with us: Pat McCabe’s Butcher Boy came in a lot – sorry, Frank Pig Says Hello the stage adaptation – and the notion of the one character performing everything verbally out came a bit from there. There was this notion of Jean following these post-its which came from Alfred Hitchcock’s MacGuffins – the plot device driving everything forward. And the structure with all the props being against the back wall: he had this notion of telling a narrative so that you knew where you were going before you got there actually came from Christopher Nolan’s Memento – this notion of knowing the story before you got there. So it was brilliant and – once again, very secondary to that and not to contradict Anne, thank you very much – but I just felt that it was a brilliant learning experience and so when it came to the next production which was a production called ‘MEAT’, which I’m going to talk about a little bit, I first got a script e-mailed to me. I got a lovely e-mail from this guy, Neil O’Sullivan, who I had never met. He said ‘I saw your production of Bedbound’, which is a play I produced, subsequent to his [Enda’s] own production, for touring and Neil had seen it. He had actually reviewed it for Irish Theatre Magazine. And two years later he sent me this e-mail; he said he’d loved Bedbound and he wanted to send me a script. I had got this wonderful review from him so I said ‘yes, I’d love to meet you, you’re wonderful, and your review helped us to tour, so I’d love to meet with you’. So I met with him and he gave me the script which I instantly loved just for the sheer energy of his writing and his language. I’ll give you a little excerpt from it actually just to give you a context.

2This is one of the central characters from the play, and I’m just going to give you the opening monologue from the play. This is Mark O’Brien, a wonderful actor, who since left acting unfortunately because he couldn’t afford to live any more. He does it much better than I do.

3MEAT extract – music background ‘Simple piano’

Are you tender? Fragile, perhaps? Then be warned. If you are not given to tales of spine-shivering malignancies, leave now and preserve your serenity. But if you enjoy a little spice in your entertainment, the tale that follows contains scenes of betrayal, adultery, nudity, poverty, gambling, corruption, political scandal, psychological torture, an epic battle of sexual wits and at least six varieties of drug abuse. Oh and not forgetting pornography, prostitution, bisexuality, male, female and vegetable sodomy, fellatio, castration and group sex. Oh yes, and bigamy, bestiality, incest, decapitation, disembowelment, necrophilia, cannibalism and murder.

4He did it much better than I did. It was an intriguing tale that he sent me but he freely admitted that, as a writer, he wasn’t very experienced in terms of structure and, to be honest, neither was I. We had a context in the Granary Theatre in Cork, which Vic Merriman actually ran for quite a while, and they were doing a series of rehearsed readings, and I got together a bunch of actor friends and we started reading the text. And we had three days to rehearse this and put it on for an audience. And in the very first day I realised that the cast I had, who were all kind of friends of mine, were also pretty decent script developers themselves. They had all written or developed devised work, and they immediately started to question the text and raise really good questions. So I went back to Neil and I said ‘Look Neil, we can do it for 3 days and put it on for 30 people in the studio and it will be grand, or we can actually use the time to kick the script in the arse and see what happens’. Neil fair dues to him – he’d had a play produced before for the Corcadorca Playwright Award – he was a little bit nervous but he kind of said, ‘OK, fair enough, go for it, do what you will but don’t tell me about it’. So we went, ‘Right!’. So we went to town on it, with everybody’s influence, and everybody’s kind of thoughts coming into it and we knocked about a quarter of the script out and presented it in a reading. And he loved it. He didn’t miss anything that was gone. He was just really really pleased with the process. So we went off and tried to get some money together and started to develop further. He told me that the piece originally, he had written it after reading a novel called Ingenious Pain – I don’t know if anyone’s familiar with it, Andrew Miller. This was his own influence in writing it. But I start very early working with the design team, and one of my co-designers is a huge fan of graphic novels, and the minute he read it he handed me Alan Moore’s From Hell. A lot of the play is sort of Victorian England, kind of a take on serial killers, Jack the Ripper, that sort of thing. And Olan [Wrynn], who was the designer, gave me From Hell. I read it and it really was really quite close so I gave it to Neil. Neil [had] never read it and he was quite shocked by it. At the time I was very interested in the notion of graphic novels – all these graphic novels were being adapted for cinema – and I was wondering, it would be interesting to look at that idea of staging a graphic novel. So we went back to the text again and we played it again and this time we had a cast, again a really amazing cast, and from the early stage the cast came in with the writer and started talking about their parts, so there were an awful lot of influences coming in for Neil and again, as Neil would say himself, it was a great learning experience for him as a writer. It’s something I talked about yesterday. When you don’t have the chance, as a writer, to get your stuff produced, it’s really hard to learn those techniques, to learn that sort of work. I suppose for me, as a director in the project, I kind of felt it was my job to create a space for that kind of work to happen and for that kind of feedback to come back. As I was saying yesterday, Neil sat through the play every night and he said it was one of the most amazing learning experiences. He’s gone off writing like a lunatic now, just on the basis of that sort of input. That’s where it came from. The production itself was quite successful. It was a strong piece. I’d rate it as a good solid 4-star show – it could have been a 5-star with a little bit more work, with a bit of time, but I think it was a solid piece. And I think where Neil goes from here in terms of his writing will probably be really really interesting, having had that experience behind him. I suppose the more general thing for me is… and again it was conversations with Enda. When we started on Pondlife, he had just come from working in Germany with the Munich Kammerspiel. He wrote a play for them. Its translation has been produced over there, it’s been running in rep at the moment. He said the experience of working with a dramaturg in the room from a very early stage was terrifying but also brilliant for him, that it really kind of kicked his arse. He made the point that writers are sitting in a room on their own and they’re writing away like crazy and they produce this child and then they give it over to a bunch of other people do other things to it that you have very little control over. That’s a scary experience when you do that passing over. And he said it’s much easier, more fluid when the collaboration happens earlier – because let’s face it the theatre is a collaborative art form, it’s not like writing a novel, it’s not like making a painting, it’s a collaborative art form – and for him the sense of having that collaboration happening earlier made the whole transition more seamless and smoother. I suppose for me the opportunity to work with less experienced writers to give them that sort of smoothness, not having to give over this thing that they’ve created to somebody else, was sort of where I was coming from with that.

5I’d love to take questions, because I feel I’m sitting here lecturing and I don’t like doing that. If anybody has any question or anything that they’d like to talk about, I’d love to hear it.

6Q. What is the piece exactly about?

7A. MEAT. He created this array of wonderful characters. There was Richard the police officer. He started with this character of Ethan. It was basically this man who had been reduced to nothing. He’s living in a cave, chewing on bones. He’s sort of the dissentive man. It’s turn of the century England, London, when all this sort of ideas were coming, you know, Eastern philosophy and all these things’ve been mixed. And here’s this man who believes in eugenicism and purity of racial species and stuff. He’s the coroner to East London, and he talks about the purity of mankind. When we meet him he’s completely destroyed: ‘I was once a man erected proud’. And we trace his journey. We’re led to believe he’s ‘the Lambeth butcher’, who was basically Jack the Ripper. Then we have Louise, his good lady-wife, who’s started from quite a high-born place, but Papa caught her in flagrante with the stable boy and consequently threw her from the house, and she’s a fallen woman, she’s like the good-natured whore who was living on the streets in London and trying to make a living. She ended up falling in love with Ethan and they married. And they have a very interesting conjugal relationship. But gradually it begins to reveal itself that she’s already been married to Richard – a really complicated plot, which is one of the original problems of one of the original drafts. It was so complicated that it was really really hard to unravel. We gradually reveal that she has been… Well, we as an audience are led to believe that he’s the butcher and that she’s in great danger, but it actually turns out that she’s actually the serial killer. It’s quite complex and there’s a lot of other stuff happening in it, but basically yes, it was that feel and that sort of time frame. There were a lot of different influences coming in. There was the notion of the graphic novel and From Hell coming into it. There was also the idea of Victorian theatre and the bawdiness of it and the richness of it, and these larger-than-life characters telling this incredibly complicated story. There was quite a lot of sexual innuendo involved as well, which is always kind of funny. That vaguely answers your question without going into too much detail.

8For me again I suppose I’m a firm believer of when you create a collaborative environment for artists to work together… I love the notion of happy accidents. Some of my favourite theatre moments have happened through accidents. There’s these things that happen occasionally when you create the right environment. This bit of red fabric here coming across. You probably don’t see it in the picture but there was this beautiful image and it created this gorgeous stage picture, of which I don’t have proper production shots. It was like a sweeping tail and it came through this gorgeous set that was co-designed by Olan Wrynn and Medb Lambert, it was a kind of collaborative set design. That piece of cloth was just hanging there one day and Medb just caught it and threw it onto the sofa. It looked beautiful and it kind of followed the sweep of the stairs down. I don’t know that’s just a very small example of happy accidents but I’m a firm believer in, if you create an environment where happy accidents can happen and then run with them, for me as a director it’s finding that space where actors, designers, and again writers if you take it back an extra step, set designers, lighting designers, just creating an environment where you can make those things happen. I spoke to my lighting designer, who did Pondlife as well, Kath Geraghty. She did an awful lot of shows for Alan Ayckbourn over the years and for other people in London as well. She said she really enjoyed working with me but it was also very different because – I didn’t realise this, when you’re a director you never know really how other directors work unless you have an opportunity to work with them in some other context, but it’s really insightful when you find out people are doing things completely differently somewhere else… what I would do with Kath is we would create – she was used to working in a situation where she created all of the lighting states and then someone the director said ‘no that doesn’t or that does work’ for each scene. But what we would do is we would create a playground. She would hang a rig and that had a lot of potential that we could play with, like different colours and everything. And then we would have quite a long tech session, where it was an opportunity for the two of us to play – oh that thing is kind of nice, and can you try a bit of that one there and that one there – so it was a much more – it’s kind of a cliché term – it was a much more organic process. But it really was, and again it’s the same with designers as well. I had two designers working together. That was kind of scary for both of them because neither had worked together before either. Medb Lambert who was also the dramaturg on the piece and Olan – who I had worked with before as a designer and was really keen to work with again. But Medb had some brilliant ideas. So again, we sat in a room the three of us – actually in Olan’s living-room and just threw ideas at each other constantly until such point as they kicked me out because I was just too mouthy, and the end result was much better because of my absence.

9But it was interesting for me to be able to compare how I work to how other people directors work because it’s something you never really know about.

10Q. Has the text of MEAT been published?

11A. No, it hasn’t been yet. There’s been a little bit of interest but nothing concrete yet.


Donal Gallagher est cofondateur et directeur artistique d’Asylum Productions, et metteur en scène indépendant. Il a été fortement impliqué dans le développement des nouvelles écritures en Irlande. Il a notamment dirigé Six By Sundown (Ciaran Ruby), Meat (Neil O’Sullivan), Cleaner, Pondlife Angels et Bedbound (Enda Walsh), Touched… (Ursula Rani Sarma), Bar & Ger (Geraldine Arron), End of The Line, Down Through the Years et Stuff That Happens When You’re Deaf Chatroom…

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