Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Donal O'Kelly's Vive La!

"Stanislavski would go green in the gills if he saw what we were doing," says Donal O'Kelly, of his latest venture, Vive La!, a show in the style of a traditional mummers company.

"But you know, performance is a huge rainbow of styles that you can use, and we are all just trying to pretend with as much truth as possible. Which is pretty much what every actor does."

And in the case of Vive La!, finding the correct style of truth has meant dipping back into the native performance tradition, to a folk style always associated with the Christmas season, The Mummers plays. These rough folk performances, which leant heavily on rhythm, rhyme and music, previously provided the inspiration for Druid's in At the Black Pig's Dyke, in 1992, which used the mumming style to look at trouble and strife in the Irish borderlands.

"The mummers' plays also always had a bit of satirical steel in them, way before Boucicault or the Abbey, or anything like that came along. There was often a bit of hand-biting directed at the powers that be, the local landlord or bigwig. And we wanted to put a bit of that metal into the show."

The metal in Vive La!, the story of a Frenchman who fetched up in the village of Naul in North Dublin, in 1798, is, according to O'Kelly, about the great Irish tradition of spies.

"Because it certainly is a tradition, something that is really part of what we are. And I'm not just talking about 1798 and all that, but also part of what has been happening in the North in the last 30 years. Spying is something that we do as a species, and I suppose the play is about pointing to that and suggesting maybe, that there might be other ways of doing things…"

O'Kelly, devised Vive La! with Sorcha Fox, Ciaran Kenny and Sinead Murphy, a group which now forms the company in residence at the Glen's Arts Centre, Co Leitrim, near where the Dublin actor now lives.

"I brought the original story, which came from a book of Fingal folk tales by Patrick Archer. And then together we all had to work out what would be the best way of telling this particular story, the best way of pretending. And we decided that the mummer's style was what was going to work best, so we developed it from there."


If you were going to trust anyone to discover the useful contemporary aspects of mummers, O'Kelly, the performer behind some of the most lyrically inventive acting seen on the Irish stage, would seem like a very good bet, especially when he pegs his motivation so far from the realm of academic exercise.

"To tell a good story is always the main thing…"

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