ACTRESS and playwright, Éadaoin O’Donoghue, says her latest play, Hail To The Great Wave! is “a dark, sweet comedy about an ordinary couple, trying to have a baby during the apocalypse”.
Having written it, she is starring in it, opposite Moe Dunford, and Éadaoin says that being directed by Pat Kiernan of Corcadorca is an interesting experience.
“I like the challenge of it. I like to shake theatre up a bit. I feel like I’m totally immersed in the whole project. If something is too easy, it means that something is not working. There’s nothing worthwhile that’s without challenges.”
What inspired the play, which Éadaoin says is definitely not a Covid play, is “the general existential dread that’s in the air about climate change and what the western world is going through in terms of democracy collapsing.
“It struck me that there’s this interesting tension between all of the stuff that’s happening and yet life going on with people still having children and going to work. I felt it could be interesting to have a couple trying to have a baby when the world is ending.”
Éadaoin wrote the play in 2019, prior to the outbreak of Covid. She says she is not apocalyptic-minded but is using the idea of the apocalypse as a convenient trope to explore the world we live in.
“When I wrote the play in my late thirties, a lot of female friends of mine after a few glasses of wine would go, ‘Are you thinking about having a child?’ It’s a strange time but I think we’re somehow hardwired for hope.
"I wanted to examine the couple in the play when the worst thing happens and yet life in a way goes on. How do they get their heads around what’s happening?”
The apocalypse is “a kind of exaggeration of what everybody has to deal with in some way in life such as death and grief, losing the people you love. You have to find a way to keep growing and living but we all know where we’re going. Most importantly, it’s about trying to talk about those things in a light and funny way. Humour is a great tool to demystify and change the power dynamic when you’re talking about something that is kind of serious.
“I’m trying to talk about heavy things in a light way, to make people take a breather and look at things from a different point of view.”
The aim of Éadaoin’s drama is to “play with anxieties and dramatise them as a kind of exorcism for my own head and also that people might recognise some of their own worries. Making a comedy out of them shows we’re not entirely powerless. That’s really important because I often think a lot of people feel powerless.”
As to her personal take on that most optimistic decision - having children - Éadaoin says that, while many of her friends have had children, despite their misgivings about the turmoil in the world, she is not so sure.
“I find it really interesting that people say, ‘How on earth are we going to get a mortgage but let’s do it anyway and have a child’. That makes me really hopeful in a way.
“Part of the reason I wrote the play is because I’m still in two minds about having a child. I don’t know. It’s not such a heavy decision for me. While there is a lot of stigma about not having children, you can be still full of hope and put your energy into the world in a different way. You can give your talents, your time and your energy to the world. It’s a different type of hope.”
Éadaoin, from north Cork, was drawn to theatre as a result of having been a gymnast when she was younger.
“I always loved the performance aspect of dancing and doing acrobatics. I found it incredible fun. Theatre is another way of doing that. So I trained in physical theatre. That was my way in.”
At 27, Éadaoin - who had been involved in Dramat as a student at UCC - went to Paris to train with the Jacques Lecoq International School of Theatre, after various jobs in the arts.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I left it quite late but I knew I had to do it. It was extraordinary. We learned everything through French. There were people there from all over the world.
"They throw you in at the deep end and you either learn or you don’t. It was very intense and living in Paris was a dream.”
After graduating from the two year course in 2010, Éadaoin devised and performed a piece which played in Paris, Avignon and three festivals in Korea. When she returned to Cork, she performed with companies such as Corcadorca, Blue Raincoat, Conflicted Theatre and Broken Crow, of which she was a member for five years. She began to make work as well as performing in it.
In a relationship with composer and director, John O’Brien, Éadaoin has collaborated with him, most recently in her play, Heart Of A Dog which he directed. How does she find working with her partner?
“I don’t question it. It just seems to work. I think we trust each other’s taste and capacity. So if he challenges something I’m doing, I know that he wants the thing to be as good as it can be. I feel the same about him. It’s kind of simple. I don’t like to analyse it too much.”
Being back in the theatre after the lifting of Covid restrictions “is absolutely incredible,” she said.
“Everybody is thrilled that theatres are open. The alternative is no fun at all. At the Dublin Theatre Festival, I got the impression that people are hungry for theatre. There is a massive appetite for the live experience. I think there has been a paradigm shift. We were all so attached to our screens all the time at work and at home, on our own in a room. Just being with other people has become almost a luxury item.”
With increased funding for the arts, Éadaoin feels the Government is seeing the value of cultural happenings.
“A society without art or some sort of collective experiences is a dead one. We have certain needs in our lives like food, shelter and warmth. But we’re not just that. We need vibrant cultural exchange.”
Éadaoin has a strong sense of democracy being threatened in the world: “Just look at our neighbours and what has happened to their institutions. People have lied so much without consequence and it’s playing out in a really bad way. I find it absolutely reprehensible what’s been done to that country. It’s Brexit and, basically, cultural brainwashing under the Tories. I’m not a political scientist but I don’t think it’s too far from fascism. And the same in America. There are massive movements to stop people voting as a civil right. There’s massive movements to control power through corporate interests. Every society has its challenges but I think we are in a very worrying time for democracy. The state has to fight off corporate interests and corrupt politicians.”
On a lighter note, Éadaoin hopes that “after a few heavy years, people will feel lighter” when they see her play.
Hail To The Great Wave! is at the Theatre Development Centre at Triskel from November 22-December 4.