A LITTLE boy is dressed in a suit too large for him, to meet the mother he believes abandoned him at birth. Clutched in his hand, a stone he carries to give him courage.
It’s a mental image with a particularly emotional resonance at the moment, as Ireland comes to terms with a painful and recent past resurrected by the recent publishing of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.
But, although real-life survivor testimonies are all around us, particularly in Cork where Bessborough home was revealed to have recorded the deaths of 923 infants over 80 years, the little boy in his too-large suit is the fictional work of Cork actress, playwright and director Tzarini Meyler.
Tzarini wrote and directed a monologue inspired by Ireland’s Mother and Baby homes, starring actor Eoghan Burke. In the ten-minute piece, filmed and released online during lockdown, an adult man played by Burke recounts his childhood in a home, where cruelty and neglect were rife and where he sought refuge in the world of his imagination.
Although the account is dramatised and fictional, Tzarini says the revelations of the past couple of weeks have highlighted that almost everyone in Ireland is connected to this story.
“I feel like a lot of people have family connections to these things.”
Having read and researched accounts of Mother and Baby Homes and Industrial Schools, Tzarini wrote the script with actor Eoghan Burke, who is based in Athlone, in mind. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, Eoghan and Tzarini worked over Zoom and filmed the monologue, which is now available online.
“I think the power of monologues filmed like this is that I think it forces you to listen to their story, their personal feelings,” Tzarini says.
“Eoghan is very natural and so real. I couldn’t tear myself away from his eyes while he’s talking. I think it’s really powerful.”
Tzarini grew up in West Cork and studied English and Drama at UCD, before doing an MA at the Institute of the Arts in Barcelona. She founded LipZinc Theatre Company, where she is Artistic Director, in her first year of studies at UCD in 2016.
The Mother and Baby Homes monologue is one of 24 interlocking pieces of theatre, called Talking Tarot, written by Tzarini during the Covid-19 lockdown. For actors and theatre-makers, 2020 was a particularly challenging year as their live artform was banned for most of the year; many turned to filmed and online performances, and LipZinc Theatre was no different.
“I started 2020 having jaw surgery and staying with my father near Mitchelstown in North Cork,” Tzarini says.
“I had a show that was due to go to Edinburgh fringe and that was cancelled: it all felt very frustrating, creatively and socially.”
Adapting to the bizarre conditions 2020 presented, Tzarini began writing and producing pieces of filmed theatre from Mitchelstown, first a cycle of works called Talking Icons, which dealt with the themes of cocooning and isolation. She followed this up with Talking Tarot, the suite of which the Mother and Baby Homes piece forms a part.
“I actually did a Tarot spread for inspiration and imagined the cards as people, but I also took inspiration from Irish myths and legends. So Eoghan’s monologue was inspired by the idea of the Changeling: I thought about what a changeling would be if it was in real-life Ireland.”
For theatrical actors, adapting to filmed performances has been a challenge, and for Tzarini as director, a steep learning curve. What works on a stage doesn’t necessarily on film.
“I’ve watched a lot of people just put a camera on in a room and perform a monologue and I just can’t connect, because you have to remember that the camera is a whole other element,” Tzarini says.
“It was an interesting process to see how small differences become very big on a camera. On a stage, they’d be lost.”
Having premiered on YouTube in October, the Talking Tarot suite is available online and Tzarini has ambitions to display them in a physical space when the Covid-19 crisis finally ends.
She also says Mother and Baby Homes may be something to revisit, perhaps with the aid of survivors, in future work. The healing power of theatre has a role to play, Tzarini believes, in healing the collective wounds of the past.
“Through the medium of theatre and film, we’re forced to stop and actually think about life, about society. And sometimes it puts into words things we can’t talk about otherwise.”