CORCADORCA Theatre Company have been producing ambitious, site-specific pieces of theatre in Cork for more than 25 years.
They have drawn audiences to unconventional locations in abandoned factories, the top floor of Cork’s County Hall, and Fitzgerald’s Park. The company that gave us Cillian Murphy’s breakthrough role in Disco Pigs has never shied away from going to great lengths to produce memorable and award-winning work.
For their latest play for Cork’s Midsummer Festival, they’ll be quite literally pushing the boat out… to Spike Island.
A call-out for community involvement, from residents of Cobh and beyond, will see more than 60 local people joining the professional cast of three for a promenade production of Caryl Churchill’s Far Away at the historic military base turned tourist attraction.
At the company’s first open call meeting for the production at The Commodore Hotel recently, almost 80 Cobh residents, plus a handful of people who had travelled from Cork, listened to director Pat Kiernan and artist Rachel Doolin run through the opportunities for community involvement in the play.
Although Far Away was written in 2000, it is not set in any particular era, but in a surreal dystopia in what appears to be a hat factory, and it explores the political theme of abuse of power frequently recurring in playwright Caryl Churchill’s work.
For Corcadorca’s production, which will run as part of Cork’s Midsummer Festival, cast members will create their own hats and have an opportunity to work with visual artist Rachel Doolin and costume designer Lisa Zagone on their own fantastical headpieces.
For those who prefer arts and crafts to acting, there’s the opportunity to take part in the workshops and opt out of performing.
Cobh Animation Team, founded in 2012 to “breathe life into the rich history and heritage” of Cobh, has been involved in numerous historic re-enactments in the town. Corcadorca’s project is right up their street, and several members attended the meeting to discuss their involvement. For some, a lifelong connection to Spike Island is part of the motivation to get involved.
Sisters Mona Kennedy and Claire Stack, members of Cobh Animation Team, were born on Spike Island; their large family of nine children, the Hogans, only moved from Spike Island to the mainland in the eighties, before the infamous prison riots of 1985.
“I remember having to leave. We’ve done plenty of things at Spike Island at different events so for us this is great to see so many people get involved in this as well,” Claire said. Mona, the eldest sister, used to bring her own young children back on the boat to Spike to have dinner with their grandparents in the early eighties.
Teresa O’Donovan-Wyatt, whose father was a harbour pilot based in Cobh, said the Corcadorca play represents “another new adventure” for the members of the team.
“It’s fantastic to see this being done on Spike Island, what with the history there,” she said. “We sit and watch Spike Island every day. We’ve seen people come and go, families leave, and now visitors arrive to it as a tourist attraction. It’s a part of Cobh; we’re making the most of what we’ve got.”
However, several of the team felt that they were better suited to working behind the scenes by volunteering their millinery skills. For others who were present, though, the production represents an opportunity to work with one of Ireland’s most critically acclaimed theatre companies.
Ciara Morrin from Cork is a drama student at Kinsale College of Further Education. She said that working with Corcadorca will be a good learning experience, and will boost her resume as an actress.
“Volunteering is beneficial for me,” she says. “It gives you a chance to network, and to grow and develop.”
Ciara is planning to take part in both the play and the hat-making workshops.
Corcadorca’s artistic director, Pat Kiernan, will direct Far Away.
“To engage with the community here made complete sense,” he said. “The history of Spike Island as a military base was one of the reasons we wanted to use it as a location. Originally, we were looking at Fort Camden, but it wasn’t going to work for bigger numbers. When I went to Spike and saw Fort Mitchell with its high walls and fences, I knew it would make for amazing imagery.”
Never one to allow logistics to get in the way of his vision, Pat admitted that staging the play on Spike Island was going to present a unique set of challenges, not least in ferrying audiences and cast members between Kennedy Pier in Cobh and the island each night during the play’s two-week run, as well as during rehearsals and for shipping technical equipment to the location. The project has been the beneficiary of part-funding by Cork County Council’s Creative Communities Award for the Cobh municipal district, which Pat said is very welcome.
Due to ferry capacity, the audience numbers will be limited to 70 per night, and with a start time of 10pm for the night-time performances, cast members need to be prepared for a nocturnal schedule for the duration of the play’s run, Pat said, but that the experience will be a rewarding and memorable one for those taking part.
“It is a commitment, but it’s a short capsule of time,” he said. “People will be excited: to animate the island at that time of night is an opportunity that may never come again; there becomes this sense of ownership of the site. There’s an appetite to work with us to overcome the logistical stuff once people understand your intentions, and how serious you are about what you’re doing.”
As a promenade performance, the play will essentially start for audience members when they board the ferry on the mainland, Pat said, and the boat trip itself will become an inherent part of the drama.
“There’s this idea in the play that when it comes to global events, if they’re not on our doorstep, we’re desensitized to them,” Pat said. “So the idea of bringing the audience quite literally Far Away to tell them the story, and then returning them to the mainland, was very interesting.”
Pat’s last production saw him reunite with playwright Enda Walsh and actress Eileen Walsh, who starred opposite Cillian Murphy in the original production of Disco Pigs, for Enda Walsh’s new play, The Same, which was staged in Cork Prison to celebrate Corcadorca’s 25th anniversary.
Far Away won’t be the first time Corcadorca have used a location in the harbour area: ten years ago, they staged a production of Woyzeck by Georg Buchner in the Naval Base on Haulbowline Island, earning nominations for Best Production and Best Lighting in the 2007 Irish Times Theatre Awards.
Anyone interested in participating in the workshops, with the community cast or both can sign up through Corcadorca Theatre Company’s Facebook page or by emailing email@example.com.
Performances of Far Away will run nightly from June 16 to July 1 (except Sundays) at 10pm. Due to ferry capacity audience numbers will be strictly limited so early booking is recommended. Tickets can be booked at http://www.corkmidsummer.com
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