All in a day's work: DYT's 24 Hour Plays 2013
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24 Hour Plays was performed at The Abbey Theatre on January 13, 2013.
24 actors, 6 Writers, 6 Directors: Fiona Looney, Michael West, Arthur Riordan, Amy Conroy , Paul Mercier, Gina Moxley, Louise Lowe, Annabelle Comyn, José Miguel Jiménez, Garry Hynes, Jason Byrne, Barbara Bergin, Pauline McLynn, Eleanor Methven, Janet Moran, Caoilfhionn Dunne, Sarah Greene, Finula Murphy, Stefanie Preissner, Marie Ruane, Ruth McGill, Aobhinn McGinnity, Valerie O’Connor, Shane Byrne, Mark Fitzgerald, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Keith Duffy, Andrew Macklin, Laurence Kinlan, Peter Coonan, Declan Conlon, Gary Murphy, Nick Lee, Conor Madden, Dermot Magennis, Alan King and a musical guest, Lisa Hannigan. Produced by Eva Scanlan and Phillip McMahon as a fundraising event for Dublin Youth Theatre.

Main image: Amy Conroy

Other images: Laurence Kinlan, Keith Duffy, Declan Conlon and Michael West

Photographer: Fiona Morgan

All in a day's work: DYT's 24 Hour Plays 2013

At 9pm last Saturday night, in a large assembly room in the offices of the Dublin Fringe Festival, the time was already running out. This was the first meeting for the writers, directors, performers, producers and stage team behind this year’s 24 Hour Plays who had gathered together for the first time to introduce themselves, to share ideas and tchotchkes, and to wonder again what they had gotten themselves in for...

The contract of The 24 Hour Plays is as simple as it is nerve fraying. An exercise in extreme dramaturgy facilitated by New York’s 24 Hour Company, and staged for a second year as a fundraiser for Dublin Youth Theatre, it asks for six ten-minute plays to be written, rehearsed and performed in the stretch of one day. That would be pressure enough, but there was still more riding on the event. Dublin Youth Theatre, for 35 years a crucible of creativity, has lost 67% of its funding since 2008 and – buoyed by goodwill and a production team that don’t readily accept no for an answer – this iteration of 24 Hour Plays had attracted some of the cream of the profession, destined to deliver their efforts to an already sold-out audience at the Abbey theatre.
As the participants assembled to exchange worried smiles and deflecting jokes, DYT’s artistic director Gary Keegan considered the compatibility of this experiment in insta-theatre with youth theatre.

“I guess there are parallels between what we do on limited resources in limited time,” said Keegan. “But there’s a couple of reasons people agree to do it. Essentially, it’s a fun and challenging exercise. It gives people a chance to work with people they haven’t worked with before. It’s also a celebration of their craft in a way.”

24_hour_5.jpgIt’s also a telescoping of a process that – even at its most brisk – can take several months, many drafts and countless revisions. Here, though, the opening night is also the closing night. There is no time for hesitation. “The wonderful thing about this is that there’s no time for the writers to have a preconceived idea,” said the actor Ruth McGill. “It’s closer to improvisation. You have to go with your first idea. I think it’s a great way to think about theatre, that it can be put together in that amount of time.”

Sitting beside her, Amy Conroy seemed less sanguine. Conroy participated last year as an actor and returned this year as a writer, largely, she explained, through a series of misunderstandings. “Last year, I thought the only thing I’d hate to do for this is write. That’s serious pressure.”

Everyone felt the same, although there was some good-natured dispute over who had the tougher job. “The actors!” offered several actors. “The directors!” asserted one director. “The audience!” joked director José Miguel Jimenez. “They have to like it, because it’s for charity.”

Keith_duffy242.jpgEach participant contributes towards the plays in much the same way as the fabled creators of the Stone Soup: everybody throws something into the pot. These include a prop, an item of costume, a professed skill and a personal ambition for the stage. “I’m up for whatever,” said the former Boyzone star turned actor Keith Duffy, “no problem.” As though to prove the point, Duffy had brought goggles and a wetsuit and professed no special skills. “I’m not a great singer,” he added. Other talents ranged from the narrowly specific (lighting cigarettes with her toes - Sarah Greene) to the downright incredible (an impersonation of The Lord of the Ring’s Gollum doing an impersonation of the actor Derbhle Crotty doing an impersonation of the actor Fiona O’Shaughnessy – Ruth McGill), while props and costumes made for even more bizarre muses: a miniature Barack Obama, a podometre, an adult-sized tiger-suit onesie. “I’ve never not fucked up on the first preview of a play,” promised Laurence Kinlan while Gary Murphy anticipated the line-learning nightmare of most actors: “I’ve always wanted to play a mute onstage,” was his hopeful request.

Working to a 5am deadline, the writers chose their cast members and began.

By 7.35pm on Saturday, the auditorium of the Abbey was humming when Keegan and the 24 Hour Play Company’s Philip Naudé introduced the evening, followed, for reasons that were never entirely apparent, by special guest Lisa Hannigan who performed a few readymade songs. Although their staging was extremely spare, the plays were each more considered than a series of sketches and no performance bore conspicuous signs of frantic assembly. Nobody blanked, nobody corpsed, nobody called for line. It was so free of failure, in fact, that it began to feel almost like a failing. “It’s the building,” Conroy told me later. “Project can feel as comfortable as performing in your own living room. Here, it’s like being in your granny’s house.”

If there’s a safety net that the 24 Hour Plays writers can reach for, it’s comedy, and most of the pieces notched up a high joke-per-minute rate.

Declan_conlon_24.jpgAmy Conroy’s Tap That was an amusing mix-up in a new age therapy meeting for sex addicts and rage-aholics, directed by Garry Hynes, which saw Eleanor Methven’s chakra-clearing positivity (“You’re a damaged soul but we can fix you.”) acquire an hilariously violent edge – an emphasis that was discovered somewhere between the tech run and the performance.

It’s The End of The World As We Know It And I Feel Hungry, by Fiona Looney, merrily worked the irony of Pauline McLynn, Marie Ruane and Stefanie Preissner in an abandoned supermarket, commiserating, calorie-counting and finally celebrating on the eve of the Apocalypse.

Both Gina Moxley and Arthur Riordan layered their work with self-reflexive gags, Riordan’s Smiley Face Lol a spiral of Flann O’Brien-meets-Pirandello gameplay (“It feels like we’ve been rehearsing forever,” said Andrew Macklin’s character, and the house came down) and Moxley’s Pants a trippy farrago about feckless Irish refugees in Goa which found room for a stew of unlikely props and talents, while a commendably up-for-anything Keith Duffy found room for himself in an adult-sized tiger-suit onesie.

Michael_West_24.jpgIt was more interesting, though, to see Paul Mercier and Michael West use the plays as a rapid response to contemporary issues and reach for deeper resonances. The complex overlapping conversations of Mercier’s play for voices, Call Centre, may have been over-ambitious for the event (director Annabelle Comyn allowed her actors to use clipboards) but it touched on outstanding debts and unseen traumas, while West’s fascinating Going, Going was the story of an adult family caring for a father with Alzheimer’s, whose darkening comedy of responsibility and despondency made it a subtle and sombre metaphor for the nation.

Afterwards, I congratulated Laurence Kinlan for breaking his streak of preview mess-ups, and was surprised to hear him gamely own up to several mistakes. In fact every performance had, at some point, gone slightly off the rails, and the actors improvised almost imperceptibly around every mistaken line, every lost cue.

“There are several performances,” said Philip Naudé. “The one the writers see, the one the directors see and the one the audience see.” Sadly, none of them featured cigarettes lit by toes, nor cameo appearances from Gollum. That may be another day’s work.

Peter Crawley is News Editor of Irish Theatre Magazine


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