Worlds Apart, Same Difference

Michael Collins

Michael Collins

Michael Collins sets out to articulate the experience of the Irish Traveller from the inside and it is appropriate that he has hit upon a dramatic framework that strongly echoes that of the fit-up show. While sitting in the Cube, I was transported to a field in Donegal, more than twenty years ago, when a touring company of three pitched a tent, with benches on the grass and an open-sided caravan for a stage. Apart from the raffle and the dance that formed pack of the total package, the audience was treated to an episodic melodrama that unfolded in a series of short scenes – scaled to the economy of acting space that never allowed more than two actors on stage together at the one time. Characterization was conveyed in broad strokes, dialogue rather than action was central, but the onward drive of the narrative was mesmeric – the story was all.

The story is also the strongest element of Michael Collins’ piece. He engineers the meeting of two men, a Traveller and a Nigerian, two cultures colliding and then – to some extent – coalescing. A lost sister, now a dying woman unites them, but first they must unpack their differences through the exchange of their stories: Miley Cauley (Michael Collins) is the archetypical Traveller, knocking on doors to offer tree-cutting and pruning, “give ye a good price”; His emotions are volatile, primed for trigger-sharp responses to perceived insults, or overtly devastated by the death or suffering of those in the family. Tiga (Tiny James), the Nigerian, is a gentle giant of a man, bemused by his encounters with the Traveller.

There is a strong sense that this is a play written directly out of the Traveller culture, articulating that experience for both the community it portrays and for the settled community. There is also a strong sense of mission, an urgency to make the point. In a series of dialogues between the two men - in Miley’s place, Tiga’s place, and a park bench in between - the playwright covers a range of issues: the closed cultures of the Traveller and Nigerian tribalism; arranged marriages in conflict with contemporary ideas of emotional freedom; the silence within abusive relationships; prejudice within as well as outside the ethnic minorities; weddings and funerals; illiteracy and education; love and death.

The play is most effective when it conveys the authentic voice of the Traveller; it is at its weakest when it engages in didactic exposition. While Miley’s words ring true to the ear, those of Tiga are not as convincing. Collins, as writer and actor, is most at ease when he’s under the skin of Miley, rather than teaching. Then there’s room for humour – around language, around names, and around the inquisitive world of the halting site (Collins Jnr. as the prying urchin who wants to know why Miley is entertaining a dark stranger in his caravan).

If Collins nods towards the fit-up in his dramatic style, he has to live with some of its naivety. The transitions from one scene to another involve unnecessary black-outs (so often a retardant to narrative flow). Central in the denouement is the letter, the stock-in-trade of so much drama. (The one major concession to current times is the extensive use of the mobile phone to move the story-line.)

Collins didn’t really require the modest trappings of the Cube – this is a piece for the community hall, the halting site, wherever an audience can gather and feel at ease – there might even be a case for the revival of the fit-up.

Derek West is the Arts & Education Officer of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals. He edits the Association’s publications and administers its arts scheme for schools, Creative Engagement.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Worlds Apart, Same Difference by Michael Collins

24 - 29 May, 2010

Produced by Traveller Wagon Wheel Theatre
In Project Cube

Directed by Mick Rafferty

Assistant Director: Patricia McCarthy

Light & Sound: James Reilly

Technical Assistance: Christine Collins

With: Michael Collins, Tiny James and Michael Collins Jnr.