Thursday, June 16, 2005

Paul Mercier's Breaking Ball

“We all had GAA rammed into down our throats,” says Paul Mercier, the director of a new play that promises to serve Gaelic games in a slightly less intrusive fashion.

“We were taught to see other games as a pollutant, polluting the pure sport that was GAA,” he says. “And people responded to it the same way they responded to having religion rammed down their throats.”

But now Mercier and playwright Alan Archbold think the time is ripe to redress the balance and offer a vision of the GAA as positive force it is in many Dublin fans lives.

“The play is about reflecting a whole experience that needs to be dealt with,” says Mercier. “It’s something that you never see on the stage. There is a richness in the sporting experience of the GAA that is just impossible to ignore.”

This is not, of course, the first time that Mercier has been involved in celebrating an under-appreciated sport on stage. Soccer in the Ireland was nowhere near the sacred cow it has now become when, of the 1980s, The Passion Machine premiered Studs, for many years the ultimate Irish football show (until, of course, the advent of I, Keano.).

Mercier has recently finished work on the film version of that theatrical smash, in which he directs Brendan Gleeson.

“It was actually harder to make a film version of that play than it might have been just to write a brand new film,” says Mercier. “On the stage we never had a football, which meant that in your imagination we could make it go anywhere. But in a film, you have to start doing that for real…”

And how did they achieve that, how did they make the ball go where they wanted?

“Well, that’s the question, isn’t it… We spent a lot of time running into the bushes getting it back…”

Mercier’s film version of Studs was produced, as it happens, by Cúán Mac Conghail and his brother, Fiach. Fiach, the more astute readers will have noticed, is the new director of the National Theatre. Mac Conghail’s appointment, which unites the theatre’s two previous top jobs, makes a great deal of sense to Mercier.

“The Abbey now has a producer who will be able to produce, and not have to keep running downstairs to direct play. The Abbey should have done this a long time ago. The previous way made no sense in this day and age, with all the financial, marketing and administration responsibilities, it really made no sense to expect one man to do all that and then run down and direct plays…The Abbey can only get better now…”

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