Monday, September 20, 1999

“In the past, people have had a different view of Beckett,” says Mick Lally of the writer in whose play Happy Days he is currently appearing. “They used to think he was very bleak and depressing. But he is a much funnier writer than he’s been seen, or at least, a funnier writer than he’s been performed. If there is a blackness and a bleakness, a lot of the time Beckett is satirising it.”

The first time Lally saw Godot performed was in Galway, by a touring group from Maynooth that gave a misleading impression of the playwright,” says Lally. “It was a very gloomy, serious production,” says Lally. “A while after that I saw the same play performed in Irish at the Taidhbheach and I realised after a while I was sitting there giggling at it.”

Now, Lally is involved in a production at Tallaght’s Civic Theatre that emphasises Beckett’s comic side. “For the character I play what’s funny mostly is the timing of what he does, the little interjections. To be funny, he has to do things at precisely the right moment.”

But even if the Glenroe star sees him as a comic writer, the actor’s commitment to Beckett remains deadly serious. “I played Pozzo in the Druid’s version of Waiting for Godot and the character is supposed to be bald -- even though we can only see that for one moment when he lifts his hat off. I shaved my head just for that, to make sure the moment looked just right

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Monday, September 06, 1999

Paul Meehan's Cell

When it came to finding inspiration for the characters in her prison drama, Cell, writer, Paula Meehan had plenty experience working with prisoners to draw on. Meehan conducted workshops in prisons up and down the country from the mid-eighties, up until the mid-nineties.

Her work includes leading creative writing workshops in Shelton Abbey, Arbour Hill, Portlaoise and Mountjoy, where she worked with both men and women. But it was with Mountjoy’s women inmates that she found the greatest connection.

“I come from what is now called the north inner city, although we used just to call it town,” says Meehan “And a lot of the women I worked with in Mountjoy were from that same background. I mean a lot of them might have been the daughters and the granddaughters of people I grew up with.”

Not all of the characters Meehan created, however, were inspired by prisoners. Indeed, Meehan says during her time working in prisons she “did not come across people I would describe as evil, people with an evil intent in the world”. So when it came to creating one of her main characters - Delo, played by Eithne Guinness, a viscous and abusive drug dealer who terrorises her fellow cellmates -- she had to look elsewhere for inspiration.

In the end, Meehan decided to base her personification of evil on a teacher she encountered as a schoolgirl. “She was a nun who taught me -- and tortured me -- when I was young.”

The play, which starts previews at the City Arts Centre tonight, tells the story of a group of cell mates, three of whom are Dubliners imprisoned for heroin-related offences, and one of whom is a quiet-seeming middle-aged country woman who has just been convicted of murder. The advent of this older woman effects the delicate balances of power of the tiny room where the four women are locked. At first her influence is subtle, but as time goes on her ways of thinking have a dramatic impact.

“I wrote the play out of a sense of compulsion, a sense of rage “about the women I met in Mountjoy,” says Meehan. “They were talented people with raw, native intelligence who had just been dumped.” But writing a work of propaganda did not interest the writer. “When you sit down to write, you have to kind of leave that behind you and let the characters tell the story,” she says “When I write I want to make a discovery rather than reiterate what I already believe.”