A PERSON as a dog, original compositions sung in haunting, soft voices, layered messages, heart-wrenching moments, humour... that’s a lot to fit into less than an hour for a play aimed at children, while reaching parents too.
Sitting in on rehearsals for the premiere of Tall Tail is a revelation.
The play, part of the Cork Midsummer Festival, tells the story of Here-Boy, a dog and best friend who lives with his owner on the street. The dog speaks without one woof in a tender tale of loyalty. It’s endearing, charming, and big-hearted.
Tall Tail is aimed at children aged seven plus, an age that suspends belief, is intelligent and observant, often aware that homeless people live in doorways, wondering why no-one responds to them.
A multi-talented team has written and teased the story out in order to hold their attention, while leaving space for them to figure some of it out for themselves.
Writer and Director Al Dalton and Creative Producer Sadhbh Barrett Coakley formed their theatre production company ALSA soon after they both graduated in theatre studies from CIT Cork School of Music, where they are currently Graduates in Residence. This is ALSA’s third production.
The inspiration for Tall Tail came to Al when his mother’s dog died.
“I’m an only child”, says Al, “and my mother Deirdre is a single mother, so this rescue dog, Lenny (named after Leonard Cohen), meant a lot to us.
“He was unwell so she took him on a tour of his favourite beaches. I wondered what he would have said to her. He might have had to sing it. We often find it easier to emote through music, especially within families.”
Sadhbh, a critical force in the production — and already looking ahead to a nationwide tour and a school’s tour with Graffiti — said: “Al rang me when I was working double shifts stage managing two shows at Edinburgh Fringe festival. He said he wanted to make a play about a dog!”
The idea percolated (the two are a couple outside work) and Al rang Conor Clancy, Rebecca Ruane and James de Burca. “That was our team from the start. We all make each other smile. We wanted to make the audience smile too.”
Tramore-born Clancy graduated in 2015 from UCC with a degree in music and English and has since formed Toucan, which next month will support Nile Rogers and Chic in St Anne’s Park, Dublin, and in July are in the Royal Albert Hall with the Average White Band. Toucan’s original funk-bop music is already available on Spotify.
For the play, he sings music he co-composed for it, and plays guitar using a loop — “this show lives on the loop pedal!” he says.
Clancy is joined on stage by Ruane, who graduated from CIT School of Music in 2017 and is studying for a Masters in Specialised Popular Performance in Voice.
Gigging as a backing singer with Conor in Toucan, she has worked with Karen Underwood, and is on Paddy Dennehy’s second album.
Ruane added her composing talent to Tall Tail, and her singing is thoughtful and understated.
“The subject matter of homelessness and friendship is delicate, and touched me,” she says. “It’s a vitally important subject to be putting out there at the moment.”
This year, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Ireland exceeded 10,000.
The solo acting performance of James de Burca as the dog, Here-Boy, is a low key tour de force. It’s his first time playing a dog, which is not surprising!
From Athenry, fate lent a hand in moulding his career. Having written down the wrong code for an Arts degree in NUIG, James enrolled in a year’s FETAC Theatre and Performance course and fell in love.
He arrived in Cork and fell in love again, this time with CIT School of Music.
“I was hooked immediately. I thought I was a singer until I came here. Now I know I’m not, and certainly not a dancer! Theatre is my thing, and I have an interest in film.”
Living in Dublin, James has a day job with a delivery company. “There may be less volume of work in Cork, but it’s a creative place,” he says.
In the last two years he has performed in the Everyman theatre. He adds: “Typical of how Cork works is Tall Tail — musicians and actors fusing.”
Bringing the crew together has been Sadhbh’s task, and she chose Maeve Korpela as Assistant Producer, Davy Donegan as Set Designer, Assistant Director Bríon O’Sullivan, Jenny Whyte as costume designer with Gillian Roberts as Assistant Designer of costume and sets.
Sinéad Pollard is Stage Manager and Assistant Stage Manager is Molly Foley.
All are recent graduates or students at CIT School of Music. Dara Hoban, the Lighting Designer, studied drama and theatre at Trinity College.
Tall Tail is funded by the Arts Council and Cork City Council Arts office. With production partners Graffiti Theatre Company and CIT Cork School of Music, it is also supported by Focus Ireland.
A ‘Pay It Forward’ scheme provides free performances to children and families who are experiencing homelessness when supporters book online and purchase an additional ticket for a child.
The play will be performed between June 14-16 in Cork School of Music, Union Quay. Tickets: http://corkmidsummer.com