A PROVOCATIVE play with an all-female cast that tackles dying and assisted suicide aims to open up a conversation about this taboo subject when it runs at the Firkin Crane, from June 18 to 22, as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival.
Produced by Gaitkrash Theatre Company, Cosy, written by UK-based Kaite O’Reilly, has been transposed to Cork and features three generations of women who are in conflict with each other. They each have strong views on end-of-life scenarios.
There are six women in the play, five of whom are from three generations of a middle-class Cork family.
“There’s also a strange sidekick, a woman who is an outsider, speaking in a broad West Walian accent,” says Kaite.
The play is darkly comedic in its exploration of the joys and humiliations of ageing and how we shuffle off this mortal coil.
Rose, played by Mairin Prendergast, is the matriarch of the family, a mother-of-three daughters and a grandmother-of-one.
“She is looking to have agency about how she will die. She predominantly wants to open up a conversation about dying and what makes a good death. Everyone seems to have an opinion.
“Her three warring daughters are all incredibly diverse. There’s that love/hate thing among siblings. The granddaughter is 16 while the grandmother is 76.”
In real life, Christiane Cronin Reicke, who plays the granddaughter, is the daughter of actor Bernie Cronin, (Gloria in the play) — making it very much a family affair.
Kaite, born in Dublin but reared in the UK, is keen to write strong roles for women. A former actor, she recalls being told by “a very grand classical actor from the RSC” about the trajectory of an actress’s life.
“She said that if you’re lucky, you’re the ingénue playing Juliet. Then you might have to wait a while before playing Lady M in the Scottish play. After that, there’s nothing. You’re the wallpaper unless you get to play Lady Bracknell. And that’s it.”
Kaite found this scenario quite depressing but it galvanised her to write decent female roles.
“Having started out as an actor, I wondered why women couldn’t play the Hamlets and the Richard III’s or whatever. We can now. Last year, Phillip Zarrilli (director of Cosy) and I made a version of Richard III for Sarah Beer (who plays the outsider in Cosy). That’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Cosy highlights the fact that even in later life, “you still have your passions and beliefs”.
She added: “Rose is very passionate and on top of everything. She is really interested in looking at assisted suicide. She is saying that she’d rather die before things get really bad. She likes the notion of dying with dignity at a time you decide. That’s explored throughout the play.
“Once the daughters hear (their mother’s wishes), they all have different perspectives. Gloria (Regina Crowley) has very strong spiritual beliefs. She believes her body is actually only loaned to her and you can’t determine when you go. Only the creator can decide that.”
Kaite, who says she inherited her storytelling techniques from her Irish parents, is happy to be staging her play, first produced in the UK in 2016, at the Cork Midsummer Festival.
“It deals with a subject we need to talk about. It’s not just the idea of assisted death/euthanasia. It’s about end of life. We don’t tend to talk about it but we need to, more and more.
“In my experience, a lot of my friends were losing members of their families and they were going, ‘I have no idea what their wishes were’. We avoid the conversation.
“This play has a rollercoaster of emotions, making it an engrossing family drama. It has a lot of dark humour which, hopefully, allows us to shine a light into the dark corners of a subject that is a bit taboo.”
While Kaite used to be accused of being morbid by her mother, because of her interest in writing about dying, the playwright is adamant about the importance of highlighting the issue.
“It’s not being morbid to talk about how we want our end of life to be. It’s part of living. But there’s so much medicalisation today and so much intervention. There are people we know are dying and yet medical interventions are carried out on them to prolong life — for a few hours. Do we want that? Shouldn’t we talk about that?”
The play, which has a dramatic arc, “is provocative in raising questions about dying but it’s done in a way that isn’t shocking and hopefully, is very entertaining. It’s in that typical tradition of an Irish family drama but it’s not necessarily exactly like life. It is stylised and theatrical and very contemporary.”
End of life issues are being debated in the UK and in the Houses of Parliament, says Kaite. She adds that her play was “seeded in Cork” in 2014 when she was here with another production for the Cork Midsummer Festival. She is grateful to Regina Crowley and Bernie Cronin of Gaitkrash “for supporting me in writing the play and producing it for the Midsummer Festival.”
The play also deals with ageing women and how they become invisible.
“It asks: What do we do? How do we value ourselves and our lives in a culture that seems to be obsessed with youth?”
An adjunct event to the play will see Kaite O’Reilly and Phillip Zarrilli in conversation with Dr Seamus O’Mahony, author of the award-winning book The Way We Die Now. It will take place at the lecture theatre in the Crawford Art Gallery on June 20 at 5.30pm.
Cosy runs from June 18 to 22, tickets €18 / €15 concession. Book on (021) 4507487.