In Development: The Maeve Brennan Project directed by Annabelle Comyn (Hatch Theatre Company)
@Project Arts Centre Oct 6 2011 (Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival)
Thursday afternoon in the Project Art Centre’s Space Upstairs provided a glimpse of a work in progress: an as-yet-untitled play exploring the work and life of the Irish writer Maeve Brennan. Emma Donoghue (writer) and Annabelle Comyn (director) were on hand to discuss the ongoing development of the piece and what attracted them to the story of this extraordinary woman and to her brilliant, unusual, fragmented mind.
Maeve Brennan was born in Dublin in 1917 to fierce and fearless Republican parents and experienced a chaotic childhood due to their political activity. Still, it led the family to Washington D.C. and Maeve to a university education, which culminated in a remarkable writing career. There was a strange disconnect between her life as she lived it as a beautiful, charming, assured woman writer in New York city, and her inner world, shaped by memories of her fractured Irish childhood. Her writing is rife with strained relationships, the tension between characters humming like a generator in the background. It is this disconnect, amongst other things, that Donoghue and Comyn seek to investigate in the play.
To their credit, they resist the temptation to focus on the more romantic elements of Brennan’s biography – daughter of revolutionary parents, physically stunning, mentally ill, ultimately destitute – eschewing these lurid details in favour of a more nuanced analysis of her self-generated identity.
Having creators/writers talk in this way, about the trigger that sparked the initial idea and the process that fed the flame, can be as fascinating as many a finished production, and all the more precious for being so rare. A five-piece ensemble that appear onstage to enact a few snippets of the play as it exists so far. They’re very engaging, even while reading from scripts, and it’s enthralling to see each character emerging, partially formed, like an unfinished sculpture.
The piece is a co-production between HATCH Theatre Company, Landmark Productions, and Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival.