Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Thornton Brothers' Moonlight Mickeys

The opening of their latest show, Moonlight Mickeys at Bewley’s Café Theatre is definitely a move upmarket for the play from Dundalk’s Calipo theatre company. The nice, cosy Grafton Street theatre will make a significant change from Dundalk Gaol, where an earlier version of the play first appeared, as part of a site-specific production commissioned to celebrate the restoration of the building.

But Moonlight Mickeys will take with it many of the gaol stories that first inspired the piece. “There were a lot of stories floating around about the gaol,” says Darren Thornton, a founder of the company and director of their first show at Bewley’s Café Theatre. “One of them was the story of two brother who were locked up there. So Colin [Thornton, Darren’s brother and author of the piece] used some of those stories as the basis for the show.”

Moonlight Mickeys still tells the story of two brothers and their involvement – willing and unwilling – in the early days of the Civil War. But the show has, says Thornton, been substantially retooled for its Bewley’s outing. Where there were a multitude of players and characters in the original, now everything rests – in the manner of Stones in his Pockets and so many more contemporary Irish shows – on the shoulders of just two actors, Peter Daly and Colin O’Donoghue.

This intense doubling up of roles is something of a change of tack for the Calipo, a company that earned its stripes by giving video an ever-larger role in its productions. Indeed, eventually the mix of theatre and video became so insistent that the leap to television became almost unavoidable.

The company’s original stage production of Love Is The Drug, an episodic stage show about twentysomething relationships first seen in 1998, was turned into an RTE TV series two years ago. And since then, the company has been directing some of its attention towards making its own TV shows.

Now, however, while plans are cooking for a two-part drama on RTE, as well as a feature film, Calipo’s stage productions are taking a more even-handed approach to the use of video technology.

“It is always a difficult balance,” says Thornton. “But I think nowadays we make sure there really is a need for a video element to a show. We are more skilled at knowing that maybe we are very giddy about using it, but sometimes it is just not helping the show.”

All of which, of course, is not to say that Thornton and co are heading back into a romantic past, when a little white pancake and a lantern were enough. In fact, one of the company’s main sources of income remains an outreach program they run in Dundalk, helping local kids get to grips with the technologies and the techniques of television.

“Funnily enough, as well as being very rewarding in itself, it is a very good way for the company to get our hands on new equipment to use in our own productions, because capital expenditure on expensive video equipment is not really something that the small amount we get from the Art Council is going to stretch to…”

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