The Trailer of Bridget Dinnigan

'The Trailer of Bridget Dinnigan' at Project Arts Centre. All photos: Hugh O'Conor

'The Trailer of Bridget Dinnigan' at Project Arts Centre. All photos: Hugh O'Conor

Waiting for the show to begin, a man behind me quips back to his friends: “No haggling in the back row.” The joke ripples, before talk turns to who knows who in the production. The proud parents beside me are back for the second time, and their daughter has made it to the cover of the programme note. It’s not very often that so many members of the Travelling community gather to see a play in the Project, but tonight, knowing many of those involved, there’s a real air of enthusiasm and even ownership.

Developed in conjunction with Blanchardstown Traveller Development Group (BTDG), The Trailer of Bridget Dinnigan began as an intitative conceived by Dylan Tighe in 2008, originally funded by Create. Tighe set out to produce a version of Federico García Lorca’s last play, The House of Bernarda Alba, in which the family matriarch forces her five daughters into an extended period of mourning upon the death of her husband. Tighe and Catherine Joyce, Manager of BTDG, adapted the Spanish play to an Irish Traveller setting.

In this version, Dinnigan’s husband has just died. She returns from the funeral demanding respect from her young daughters and extended family, who all seem to be precoccupied with men and the hope of getting married before they’re over the hill, which is 24 and after. When the eldest girl gets engaged to popular Paddy Boy (who never appears on stage, like his inspiration in Lorca’s drama), the younger girl to whom he has aleady been linked is torn between an obligation to her family and her personal desires, with tragic consequences.

In Cummins' cleverly crafted set, the main action takes place on Dinnigan’s trailer which is exposed on one side, and extended across the stage. It’s a small, tidy space, proudly displaying a row of ornaments on a high shelf, and softened by matching D&G rugs. A small television flashes silent images throughout most of the performance, and some scenes are intercut with mournful video projections on the small windows inside. When the women disperse, they head for the trailers implied to be just outside, which are surrounded again by those of other families who are always at risk of knowing too much about Dinnigan’s affairs.

Keeping their own names, the non-professional actors take to the stage with confidence. Although the programme note carries a short glossary of Cant, the language itself doesn’t pose a barrier to understanding. Sometimes, however, the women speak so quickly and in monotone that words and their precise meaning are hard to catch. There are occasions too when the cast finds it hard to hold a serious moment, thrown off focus by excited family and friends in the front rows. This is fine, and in ways adds to the charm, although it’s a shame that Bridget’s announcement of her daughter’s death in the closing moments is accompanied by a few giggles on stage. In this latter instance, another reason might be that Tighe asserts a directorial stamp more so than he does elsewhere in the piece, carefully aligning all the performers to face the audience.

Writing in the programme note, Tighe maintains that the performance is “not intended as a documentary about Travellers” but it does “celebrate the Traveller voice and experience.” Nonetheless, in its focus on tensions surrounding social mores, tradition, gender conventions and especially female experience, the piece manages to illuminate real issues affecting Traveller culture, often through a range of interesting design and directorial choices. More importantly, perhaps, in being developed and staged with professional standards, the production legitimates traveller culture as an important aspect of Irish society whose relevance extends well beyond the Blanchardstown Traveller Development Group and this initiative.

Fintan Walsh is staff writer with ITM

See also, Peter Crawley's interview with Dylan Tighe in Taking roads less travelled.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Trailer of Bridget Dinnigan by Catherine Joyce and Dylan Tighe

17 - 19 June, 2010

Produced by Dylan Tighe in assoc with Blanchardstown Traveller Development Group and Irish Traveller Movement
In Project Arts Centre

Adapted by Catherine Joyce and Dylan Tighe in collaboration with the cast from Federico García Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba

Directed by Dylan Tighe

Set design: Alyson Cummins

Lighting design: Sinéad McKenna

Sound design: Sean Óg

Video design: Jack Phelan

Costume design: Jeni Roddy

With: Bridget Dinnigan, Imelda Collins, Winnie Collins, Annmarie McDonnell, Christine Collins, Catherine Kerrigan, Louise Connors, Brigid Collins, Missy Ann Collins, Winnie Keenan, Brigid Collins.