THIS year is going to be busy for BrokenCrow Theatre Company, with three productions coming up.
The Cork-based company will present the world premiere of Our Tethered Kin, a new play by Ronan FitzGibbon, who is also one of BrokenCrow’s six artistic directors. As well as being performed at the Everyman from February 3-4, it will be on the Peacock Stage at the Abbey in Dublin from February 9-11.
Ronan, the son of theatre practitioners Ger and Emilie FitzGibbon, says Our Tethered Kin is about the elemental drivers of human behaviour. It asks: ‘How do we deal with the darkest corners of our minds?’ It’s written like a classic fairytale and then adapted into a play.
“It was a very challenging play to write,” says Waterford-based Ronan, who commutes to Cork for rehearsals.
“It’s almost like two plays. In one way, it’s a fairytale about the relationship with the light and the dark. And the characters on stage all have what we’re calling ‘beasts’. They are like stage manifestations of the subconscious.”
The two main characters are siblings; a girl called Aeni and a boy alled Abrafo who are found at the edge of a dark wood populated by beasts that guide the actions of man. As the siblings grow up, the cruelties of their world send them on two very different paths. Aeni seeks out a brilliant new light to illuminate the woods while Abrafo is dragged through the darkness, desperate to find a way back to his sister.
Ronan says that in writing this play, he was partly motivated by an interest in the conscious and the subconscious.
“It’s also to do with how difficult it is to have conversations with people in the last five or six years. I don’t think I’m alone in that experience.
" A lot of conversations that were happening with friends and family, people whom I respect, on anything cultural, social or political, descend very quickly. People want to push you into one camp or another. You’re either ‘with me, or against me’. Everything becomes very didactic.”
In part, Ronan says this black and white approach to human interaction can be blamed on social media.
“It’s never down to just one or two things. But I certainly think that when you allow millions of people to talk to each other through writing posts, a certain amount of chaos ensues.
"We’re still trying to figure out all of that nonsense. Conversations you’d have in a pub at 11 o’clock is where I like to argue about things. You’re allowed a certain freedom in that space to play with ideas.”
BrokenCrow will stage The Settling for the Cork Midsummer Festival. By Gavin McEntee, it is about memory and guilt and their relationship with the mother and baby homes.
The other play, Found, written by Aideen Wylde, was sparked by a documentary her father made about Newfoundland.
George Hanover, who plays a farmer’s wife in Our Tethered Kin, says the character is complex.
“I’m getting to know her more and more. It’s a very challenging play. The ensemble spreads to the whole creative team so it’s a real collaboration between sound, lighting, costumes and the cast. The story is told through movement and sparse dialogue, puppetry and music. It’s very rich and visually immersive.”
The play’s themes include “addiction, grief, light and dark, desire, greed and love. It’s all there. It’s quite a feast for the audience.”
Performing at the Abbey “is really great for BrokenCrow. We’re around for about ten years now,” said Ronan.
“We started out as an ensemble that changed every year. In recent years, the core group has stuck together. Our Tethered Kin is actually our first show where the whole company is involved. And getting to go on a national stage will hopefully give us a very nice springboard for the rest of the year.”
Arts Council funding is allowing the company to be very productive for 2023. It has been a long time coming and one of the company’s goals is to extend its regional audience with plays staged in Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny as well as Cork.
As Ronan points out, theatre companies work hard for a year or two developing a play, only for it to be staged for just five nights – if they’re lucky.
The fact that the company has six artistic directors means that there is fluidity there. It doesn’t put all the creative pressure on one artistic director.
George is also working on her own ambitious piece called Erik.
“I set out to write a play and ended up writing a story about a seven-legged spider. I just know that it needs to be an illustrated book, an animation and a live event. This year, I have the opportunity to dive into it, to see how those three things can work in unison.
“It’s the kernel of a story I had when I was a child and it stayed with me. Around 2014, Graffiti Theatre Company (for which George also works) received a small bursary for writers. We were offered a space in the building to sit down and write. That’s where it’s coming from. It’s for children aged 7-12. I’m kind of drawn to children’s stories.”
George is the director of Beag, the early years programme at Graffiti Theatre Company, aimed at newborn infants up to three year olds.
“It keeps me nourished,” says George, who is looking forward to a productive year.
The world premiere of Our Tethered Kin takes place in Cork this week, February 3 and February 4, in The Everyman, Cork.
The play run from Thursday, February 9 to 11 in The Peacock Stage at The Abbey, Dublin.