Play written by Corkman is a meditation on loss, life, and grief

Al Dalton tells COLETTE SHERIDAN how his new play, to be performed in Cork Arts Theatre this week, came about after the death of his beloved aunt Breda - who was like a second mother to him
Play written by Corkman is a meditation on loss, life, and grief

EMOTIONAL REFLECTIONS: ‘At The Moment, Everything Is Missing’ is written and performed by Al Dalton, directed by Katrina Foley and produced by Sadhbh Barrett Coakley

THE death of his beloved aunt Breda in 2019 acted as the catalyst for Al Dalton to write a play about grief.

The result is At The Moment, Everything Is Missing, and Al, from ALSA Productions, will also perform in his play when it is shown in Cork this week.

In this one-hander, Al plays three characters. There’s the Resistant Performer, a version of himself. There’s also the voice of a child, another version of himself who feels disconnected because of losing a stable force in his life. And there’s the voice of the sea, which represents the presence of grief.

The sea was very important to Breda Dalton, a former lecturer at the Cork School of Music, who lived with her husband Tony in Oysterhaven and swam every day of the year. She was also a deep sea diver.

But Breda’s hobby was curtailed when she suffered a stroke in 2014. It was the result of a brain haemorrhage and she was 57 at the time.

Paralysed on her left side (she was left-handed), Breda was told that she might end up in a wheelchair. But she was determined to walk again and did as much physiotherapy as she could, slowly regaining some use of her left side.

Breda defied the doctors’ fatalistic predictions. After a while, she was back in the sea (having walked to the water’s edge with the help of a walking stick.)

She swam with as much gusto as she could muster, having visualised herself in the sea, willing herself to move.

Such was her remarkable recovery that Al, proud of his aunt, felt her story should be told in theatrical form.

The result was a devised play, with input from Breda, called Swim/Stroke. Breda’s recorded voice was used in the play.

However, the play only ever got two development showings, at the Cork Midsummer Festival and at Clonmel Junction Festival.

“Then we were awarded funding from the Arts Council to produce the play,” says Al.

“We were literally about to go into production when Breda was diagnosed with stomach cancer.”

She had surgery to remove most of her stomach, and Breda underwent immunotherapy for about four months.

“Then, unfortunately, Breda got the news that the treatment was no longer successful and she started chemotherapy,” said Al.

“I think she had one round of it when she had a fall which indicated that the cancer had travelled to her brain.

“A scan showed a tumour on the brain and she passed away in April, 2019, at the age of 62.”

Al had been very close to Breda.

“My mum was a single parent. We lived with Breda and Tony until I was 11,” he explains.

“My mum went back to college and I would have been passed around the family, mainly near Breda and Tony.”

Following Breda’s death, ALSA Productions staged a play called Tall Tales. That brought the company into 2020 - and the pandemic.

“The Arts Council enquired about our open funding for Swim/Stroke (which hadn’t been drawn on.) We felt there was no way we could have gone ahead with the show, which was very much Breda’s story.”

However, when Al came up with his play about grief, the funding was made available to produce At The Moment, Everything Is Missing.

“In essence, the play is about love, hope and grief. It’s really about someone moving on after having lost someone.”

Asked how he deals with his grief, Al says he deals with it every day. 

“For anyone who has experienced grief, it pops up in different forms and looks and feels different,” he explains.

Al says he tries to distract himself in healthy ways. When theatre wasn’t happening because of Covid, he took over his aunt’s business which had been founded by his grandfather. Al rebranded this outdoor advertising business, calling it ‘Notes to Cork.

While he is kept busy, Al is still grieving, but he can mostly manage it.

“A big part of my process is connecting to the sea,” he says, “It was a big part of my relationship with Breda.

“When I was a teenager, Breda would have brought me surfing, body-boarding and deep sea diving.

“I had moved away from that connection a small bit because it reminded me so much of Breda. But I’ve been able to get to a place where I can get back into the sea. When I’m in it, I’m able to process things.

“Also, going through therapy and counselling has helped me. The writing of this show was difficult to do.”

However, Al says the experience has been cathartic.

Breda, who didn’t have children of her own, was like a second mother to Al. 

“When you lose somebody like that, you have to grow up and find your own way,” he says.

For Al, Breda represented stability, “a concrete foundation. I could go to her and she would have all the answers when I was stuck with something. I’d get the direction I needed.”

The play, which is at the Cork Arts Theatre from December 14-18, promises to be “an immersive and multilayered theatre experience with an integrated lighting design,” says Al.

“Our hope is that the audience will feel very much immersed in it and also part of it.

“Energy-wise, the piece itself is almost like a meditation. It takes in a two-year period. Thoughts and feelings shift just like how that can happen on any given day.

“Initially, there’s anger at the loss. You go through the process of trying to understand it and you just have to live with it.”

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