Old Dog, New Dog

Walking home for lunch last Wednesday (yes, I get to do that), I was just coming up to The Mall, which is like our village green, when I saw this:

A man was standing beside his car and he was chatting to a woman. Just general chit-chat, I’d say, though I couldn’t hear any of it. What caught my eye was what was happening at the back door of his  car, which was wide open.

There was an old sheep dog there, black and white and shaggy, and he was trying to get in to the back of the car. The owner was deep in his conversation and wasn’t paying attention but I couldn’t take my eyes off what I saw.

The old dog had his front paws in the car, all fine and good, but he couldn’t manage to get his back legs in. Those rear legs were scrambling and scraping and working with a kind of tired ferocity, trying to gain purchase on the lower edge of the door frame. The old dog tried and tried but just couldn’t manage it. The dog’s mouth was agape and his tongue was lolling in a configuration that people often seem to mistake as happiness but which was clearly stress.  

The man having the conversation looked up and saw me. I hadn’t fully realised that I had stopped in my walk past and was simply standing and staring at the dog from about 20 yards away. I hadn’t realised that I was just a heartbeat away from moving to the poor dog’s aid.

The man looked at me and clearly wondered what I was staring at. Then he looked over the top of the open car door and saw his old dog there, scrambling and scraping valiantly but with an increasingly tired air about him. The owner smiled over at me as he broke off his conversation.

“He’s getting on a bit,” he said to me, “he needs a bit of help sometimes these days.”

And, with that, he moved to the dog and gently lifted his posterior so that the dog could finally get a grip on the door ledge and propel himself into the car. 

I smiled back at the man and walked on, out onto the path that runs diagonally across our village green. I was only a few steps on when I saw another dog. A younger dog. She was little more than a grown pup. Her owner, a young guy, was throwing a ball for her and she was chasing it. She was a sheepdog, just like the dog at the car but her black and white colours were bright and vital, where the other dog’s had been loose and dull. She was sleek and fast and powerful where the other dog had been weak and slow. 

She was an exact duplicate of the older dog, only twelve years younger. 

She powered after her ball, cutting ridiculous banked corners like some motorbike rider in a race and, although her mouth was also agape and her long tongue lolling, there was no mistaking her energy and her enthusiasm for the game. 

Why write this down? Why bother?

I don’t know. 

It stayed with me after I had walked on, after I’d had my lunch. The old dog and the new dog had been in the closest of proximity to each other but neither had acknowledged, or even been aware of, the other’s presence. The younger was far too engaged in the thrill of the hunt to see the elder. The old dog too taken up with the mechanics of simple movement to care who else was around.

There seemed to be some kind of comparison between these dogs and how I lead my own life. Blinkered to the old person I will soon enough become, if I survive that long. Indifferent to the young as I struggle to scramble up to the next ledge. 

Maybe there’s a good analogy to draw out of this confluence. Maybe there’s a good lesson for me to learn. 

But I’m too tired to work it out right now. I must be getting on with things. Maybe I’ll come back to it some other day.

When there’s more time. 

Plays are Happening

Plays are happening. This month. New plays that I wrote. It’s all very exciting and great fun. I’m certainly a lucky boy, to have these things happen to me.

First up, on 22nd March, at The Claremorris Fringe Festival, it’s ‘I Bet You Say That to All the Boys’. 

This is my sixth consecutive new play in the Fringe Festival and it’s only been running for six years, so it’s a record I’m a bit proud of. Some might possibly tut and say, “It’s his local area, they’d let him in, even if he only entered his shopping list”, but I don’t think it’s like that. Every year, I take my entry very seriously and try my best to write the best play that I can. This year is the first time I’ve tried to write in response to a political or current situation. I don’t think anybody will know that when they see the play but I did and it makes me feel all grown up and stuff.

The same three actors have appeared in all six plays and I have directed them, with lots of help and conspiracy from my thespian pals, Donna, Tara and Eamon. The rehearsal process is a joy of discovery, of pushing each other’s boundaries and of generally taking the piss out of each other.

I’m looking forward to our night at the Fringe in Claremorris. I think this may be my last year for a while but then I always say that, don’t I?

Then, later in the month, Donna Ruane’s superb ‘Acting for Fun’ teen group is back at the Linenhall. It’s the 27th and 28th, actually, and tickets are going fast so… y’know. After having such an amazing time over the last two years with the productions of my plays, ‘Midnight in the Theatre of Blood’ and the premiere of ‘Deb’s Night’, I found I couldn’t just let them go off and work with some other old playwright. I had to try to get their attention again. 

Thus was born ‘The Colour of Red’. This one is a romantic comedy about such lightweight subjects as Love and Death. The play has its genesis with Mary Carr in St. Patrick’s Drama Group in Westport, who asked me to write them a second radio play many years ago. That play became ‘A Place in Between’ and it has now transformed itself (well… I transformed it) into a teenage play for the stage. I say ‘teenage play’ but really we try hard to allow the young actors an opportunity to present themes and stories which will connect with the parents and all the other adults in the audience. The surprise, for the adults, is that the play they see is really as much about them and for them as it is for the teenage members of the audience. Over the last two years this aspect of the work has been very satisfying. To see the adults emerge from the theatre, every bit as moved and amused as everybody else. That’s what we’re going for again this year. 

Rehearsals are going very well. We had one yesterday and the level of commitment and care from the cast is very high indeed. We also laughed our asses off quite a bit, which is a fundamental part of the endeavour. It’s acting for fun but it is also acting of the highest integrity (kudos to Donna Ruane) and with the most noble intent; to bring the best show we possibly can to our audiences, with no concessions to anything. 

‘The Colour of Red’ is about 45-50 minutes long so I've also written a new short play to go in front of it. I like this ‘Pixar’ notion of presenting a short piece before the main event. We’ve done it before with my short plays ‘Fine’ and also with ‘Dream On’ This year’s short play is called ‘Tweedie’ and I hope it raises a smile. 

We’re also taking another short play from a book of short plays by John Dessler and Lawrence Phillis and (being permitted to do so)  I have ‘tweaked’ this around a bit to suit our own local ways and peculiarities. It's called 'The Date Tests'. A read-through on this yesterday resulted in almost unbearable hilarity so I have high hopes that this one will pave the way for ‘The Colour of Red’ with our audiences. 

I return to the same thought regularly. I am just one lucky duck. I get to write and to find people who are willing and able to bring my writings to fruition on the stage. The writing then often goes on to be performed by other groups and in other places. I have a wonderful theatre on my doorstep who back me up and encourage me on to do the next thing.

Thanks to everyone who  enables me and encourages me to keep typing my stuff out in the dead of night. I always try to do it the very best I can because the people I work with deserve nothing less. 

This month of theatre-stuff is going to be edgy and a bit scary and great fun.

Bring it on.

Tickets for 'The Colour of Red, Tweedie, and The Date Tests' can be booked at The Linenhall Theatre, Castlebar or on 094 90 23733. The Claremorris Drama and Fringe Festival can be booked on  094 93 10999)

A Toss Up Between Love and Anger

This is traditionally the week where I start to get to see the best movies of the year.

I’m not sure why, but the week preceding the Oscars seems to often be the week where I finally get paid legal access to the big award contenders, in my own home. I don’t get to the movies much anymore and I have never in my life illegally downloaded a movie to watch so I tend to exist in a sort of Limbo until I am allowed to see the puppies for myself.

This week, I have seen ‘Lady Bird’ and ‘Three Billboards…’ and I’ve got to tell you that I really liked both of them. 

It seems clear to me that I can’t say anything about either of these two film that won’t already have been said a thousand times before. I liked them. They are good. You should see them. See? Nothing new. 

What did strike me, having seen both of them in such close proximity, is how thematically close these two films are to each other. To my mind, at least. Perhaps nobody else has said that yet? Oh, I’m sure they have but let me give it a bash anyway. It’s Sunday and I have to be typing something. 

Two completely different films but with striking similarities in their concerns. 

Both films give us a set of characters, vivid and sensitively drawn, each of whom have the same problem, the same choice to make. Do they choose to love the people they love or do they give in to the almost overwhelming anger and outrage that those people evoke in them?

Love or Anger? Anger or Love?

In ‘Lady Bird’, it’s all about Family. Mother and Daughter. In ‘Three Billboards…’ it’s Community. 

I don’t tend to do spoilers and I’m not going to do any here. Suffice it to say, that both films bring laughter and tears to their careful examination of this problem. The ‘turn on a sixpence’ nature of feelings of love and outrage are brilliantly and memorably depicted in both. Particularly in that scene where… but no, I won’t do that. See it yourself. 

I will just say (slight spoiler) that, in one of the movies, a wine bottle, carried to a confrontation as a weapon but left there as a gift, is an apt depiction of the struggle. 

Martin McDonagh has mined this territory before, in my favourite of his earlier ‘Leenane Trilogy’ plays. In ‘The Lonesome West’ two brothers fight their battles in the little house where they live together. They make a conscious decision to try to treat each other better but will love or anger ultimately prevail?

There are two things evident in each of these love/anger fables. The first is how the conflict invariably dresses itself up as a sort of a game. The parties to the game manoeuvre and play and try to trick each other into action or submission. It is like a fake battle that is in no way fake. The second evident thing is how the persons on the periphery of this battle, who may try to referee or even broker a solution, inevitably become casualties of war. Witness the priest in ‘The Lonesome West’, the Dad in ‘Ladybird, the advertising person or the co-worker in ‘Three Billboards…’ 

These are two good films and a good play too. ‘The Shape of Water’ seems destined for the Best Picture Oscar but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that ‘Three Billboards…’ may shade it to the post. Martin McDonagh does not have a Best Director nod (though I thought he deserved one for his adept handling of his own material and his luminescent cast). Pictures without Best Director nods don’t win Best Picture very often. Without looking it up, I think it’s only happened about four times in the past. I think it may happen tonight. If not, then this post will be out of date before twenty people will have read it. Such is life. 

One other thing that both these movies have in common, for me at least. Both of them were significantly lessened in impact for me by my having viewed the trailers before I saw them. There was lots of material in the films that was not in the trailers but, time and again, I found myself going, ‘Oh, this is the bit where she says that,’ or, ‘this is bit where that must happen’. I can only imagine how much more I would have enjoyed each of these if I could have come to them fresh. We need trailers and such to get anticipation and word-of-mouth going but, man, I just need to leave them alone.