Donnacadh O Brian Interview

June 13, 2010


In a nation that can be positively acidic towards new talent is it any wonder that those not in like Flynn skedaddle across the pond in search of love and affection? Thankfully some come back to the tribe to show what they have learned. Donnacadh O Brian is one such director who through his bi national company, Natural Shocks, brings Leo Butler’s The Early Bird to the Project Arts Centre. Featuring real life husband and wife Catherine Cuasack and Alex Palmer, The Early Bird is about a couple at possibly the darkest moment in their relationship, breaking point, a state provoked by the disappearance of their child. “It really shows how in moments like this we are really two individuals,” O Briain says. “ As much as they are in a relationship, even though this child was shared, is actually a private trauma.”

Did the fact that Alex and Catherine were married in real life play any role in your decision to cast them?

When I found this script I thought it was an incredibly challenging play. The two actors in it have to have this incredibly intimate relationship on stage and it’s not easy to conjure that from two people who have never met before in two or three weeks of rehearsal. Not only is it not easy to conjure it but also you’re not sure if it is even going to be possible.

So it was absolutely part of the decision. I was very interested in working as a team. It helps me to do my work when there is a shorthand where you can get more done faster. I worked at the RSC for three years with one group of actors. We did 8 shows together and by show 5, show 6 show 7 the work was becoming richer and deeper.

What role does the aesthetic, the set, play in this production?

It is essential. It is the first thing people meet when they come into the space. I put the actors in the centre of the space inside a solid Perspex box. It’s a metaphor for the fact that they are trapped inside this trauma. They can’t get out of it but they also can’t escape each other.

Does the opportunity to make something truly original play a big part in your selection of a project?

A play is very original piece of work and if you respond to its originality you will come up with something unusual. What I try to do is think very specifically about what a play requires.  If you can be open-minded about that you would inevitably come up with something unique.

Do you feel you were forced abroad by the lack of training and employment opportunities in this country?

I’m sure I could have continued working here. It was a choice. I am ambitious and I was looking into the future and thinking of how I could get to where I wanted to be. In Dublin I didn’t see enough possibility for forward momentum.

If I was where I was six years ago today I would be more willing to stay in Ireland. The company structure is changing; the funding is mainly towards companies. There is more funding available for independent artists. The funding used to be tied up in a certain amount of companies and there was no freelance work to be got. You either had to force your way into being one of those companies or leave.

What do you get in London that you don’t get here?

In terms of learning what it is to direct major productions, I don’t think I could get in Ireland what I got working for the RSC. Also being around theatres like the National and the Barbican and the West End. To see the work of major professional directors from all over the world. It pushes you and makes you better and there is nothing like the challenge of seeing what a real master of their craft is capable of to push you to raise your game.

You’ve said recently enough “You make people notice by what you put on stage”. What about your work has made you a one to watch?

The only way you can hope to move forward with your career is through the quality of your work. The only way that that can happen is by putting your work on public display and making sure that it is as good as it can be.

I feel with The Early Bird I have found the way of telling this story that is original, that is striking. That is affecting people. It’s amazing to watch people leave the auditorium. You really see in their eyes that they have had an experience. It’s what going to the theatre is about.

You’ve been described as one of our ones to watch, whom are you watching. Who in this country inspires you?

Fabulous Beast are quite special. I mean, I don’t make work like they do. But as a punter I find them absolutely…when I arrived in Dublin, aged 17, studying drama at DIT one of the first things I ever saw was Fragile, their first ever show and I’ll never forget it. It was totally striking and unforgettable. It thinks they are a very special company and I find them inspiring.

Even when your work looks nothing like the people who inspire you, there is something in their soul their imagination and their rigorousness and their bravery. I hope that even thought they are aesthetically different. Some of the fundamental approaches are similar.

Natural Shocks present The Early Bird, by Leo Butler at The Cube, 8.15PM, 8 – 26 JUN 2010, Tickets €20/16

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