John says: It’s been 7 long months of work but it was definitely worth it. Performing the work of Dario Fo was something that Devious Theatre wanted to do from the outset. I’d been a massive Dario Fo fan since college, having studied and performed Mistero Buffo as well as Accidental Death Of An Anarchist. We always read, discussed and planned and just hoped and waited that the right opportunity would come to do some of his work ourselves.
Early in 2009 we pegged Accidental Death Of An Anarchist as being our major production of 2010. However, by the summer, things had come more to the forefront. With the opening of the new Set Theatre in John Street, Kilkenny and the steadily declining economy here in Ireland, we decided to fast track the production and not only that, but perform 2 of his plays. A season of Dario Fo if you will. We thought it would be quite a momentous feat to be the first theatre company to perform in this new venue and not only that, but to perform a season of work there. Especially one that could speak wonders about the dire state our country was in and the decaying insititutions that were steadily collapsing around us. The exact same insititutions that Dario Fo took well aimed potshots at back in the 60’s and 70’s in Italy.
We decided on performing Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! as the second production as we felt it gave us the best contrast with Accidental Death Of An Anarchist, and contrast was what we were all about with this season. We wanted to present the two plays as a cohesive body of work, like one huge Dario Fo show. But it didn’t matter if you had seen the first one and not seen the second one and vice versa. If you got it, you got it. We worked hard at getting both scripts in line with our aims, cutting, pasting, devising and chopping as we went. From a design perspective they would contrast and we would employ the same commedia dell’arte style and a lot of the same visual motifs. The cold blues and dark colours of the police buildings in Accidental Death Of An Anarchist would be counteracted by the bright, technicolour hues of the colourful characters of the working class flats in Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! Where Accidental Death Of An Anarchist was a black and white murder mystery with a Bernard Hermann score, Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! was a technicolour sitcom with a lively Henry Mancini soundtrack. We worked hard at developing our projects in tandem and it paid off with two plays that a lovely amount of people attended and were very positive about.
It’s been the hardest (and longest) theatrical undertaking we as a company (and myself individually) have ever undertaken but in the end I’m very proud of the final results and equally proud of my fellow collaborators. It’s been a joy to direct 2 amazing plays by a man such as Dario Fo and have such a great cast and crew to work with. Simply, I could not have asked for a better experience. I’m still a little bit taken aback at the fact that I’ve just directed 2 Dario Fo plays back to back on such a scale. What a privilege for a chap such as I. It was a hoot, one the great man himself would no doubt have appreciated. After this, everything else will seem a little, I dunno, normal? Natural? Or maybe just a bit… smaller?
Ken says: It was a hoot indeed. That, and without question the biggest theatrical undertaking for DTC to date. Like John, I’ve been on the ground for both plays, flat out as a producer, designer, developer, driver, advertiser, promoter and ultimately actor. While I’ve blogged and covered the producers element of things both here and on my own blog, it’s the actor’s view that I’ll take with our season closing.
“Commedia della what now?” I think was possibly my first response when the suggestion was made about how we should perform Accidental Death of An Anarchist. Sure enough, I’d performed the straight roles, the all singing roles, dabbled in comedy performance but this was a step in a whole other direction.
Movement in rehearsals could never be big enough. Ever. I’d find myself laughing away at how ridiculous something looks until himself (above) mumbles something like “bigger!” and then runs away to hide in the corner. However, once we took it to the makeup stage and you begin to get a better understanding of what commedia dell’arte is all about, you realise that nothing can ever be too big, too exaggerated, too overt.
Performing Accidental Death was ideal for me, first as a producer, but again primarily as an actor. We were a tight bunch. Our first real small-cast-major-production group. Granted it took us a while for us to find our characters, demeanours, voices, but as actors we gelled quite quickly. Most of us had worked together at some stage with myself, Dave Thompson and Sean Hackett going back almost ten years to our first production. Alan Butler was new to the fold and the last time we’d had Simone available was for the role of Lizzy in Trainspotting. Taking me out of the equation and the stage time between the rest (together) was rare. Yet in working as a small group there were no airs or graces about folk, no inhibitions, just terrific banter and a growing ability over the rehearsal period to read where everyone was going, something we rarely had in previous productions.
When it came to the deliver in Set Theatre, we knew it was going to work, it had to, and it did. As actors, we parted in December, never to speak of the show again, the producer hat came back on and we set about assembling the rehearsal schedule for Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!. We already knew who the cast was going to be and with John returning to helm our second Dario Fo piece, I landed the meaty role of Giovanni with Ross Costigan as Luigi, Angela Barrett as Antonia, Hazel Fahy as Margherita and Paul Young as the Inspector / utility character.
Myself and Ross work together outside the ranks of Devious and had shared some great scenes in Trainspotting so the on stage chemistry would be there. Angela, though setting out to form Devious back in 2006, was making her first foray into our world for this production. The last time I had seen her on stage was back in 2006 for a production of The Coleen Bawn. Hazel had previously been in Heart Shaped Vinyl (2007) and Cannibal! The Musical! (2007) while Paul had last been seen as the grumbling roadie in Stags and Hens. But the characters were made for these people. If I thought for one minute that the Accidental Death cast, as an ensemble, was one of the strongest casts we’d had, this one took it up a notch altogether.
We’ve lost two actors to Hollywood over the years. The first to Batman, the second to the Oscars with Paul Young being whisked away to promote The Secret of Kells on the back of their Academy Award nomination. Five weeks into the rehearsal period as one of the busiest characters in the show and he was out the door. So it felt like we were “getting the band back together” when David Thompson arrived to rehearsals to take over the role with four weeks to go to opening.
The girls took to the commedia style like ducks to water, Ross the same, and now there was a second actor in the fold who had gone through everything Accidental Death.
Flash forward a few weeks, add the white faces, the green dungarees, the pink shirt, the pencil mustache, the enormous sideburns and hobnail boots and I’m finding myself as Giovanni, pacing around the Set Theatre. If the productions were all about contrast, there couldn’t be any more contrast between the Superintendent (AD) and Giovanni (CPWP). If one was the slightly reserved albeit angry bull, Giovanni was the animated, gullible, energetic opposite twin of the super’. While I could walk home after Accidental Death, I feared I’d need an ambulance after Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! given the frantic pacing and delivery of the show.
But if I’d to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Ok, maybe a few things, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
For an amateur / semi-professional / whatever type of actor in a company like ours, while running your own business(es), it’s a hell of a commitment to give over seven months of your time to ultimately what boils down to two five-night runs in a theatre, three months apart. But that’s what we did. Everybody was committed, from our own committee level, down to actors, to friends who helped out in the venue, front of house, back stage, lighting, sound, video, the lot.
It’s been a fantastic acting experience and a massive professional development experience. There were massive learning curves, sleepless nights, days with myself and Paddy trying to rush the AD set to completion, last-second painting, blood, spilled olives, hundreds of miles driven (genuinely, I’ve driven hundreds of miles, just in Kilkenny, to see the show right), but that’s part of what we do and it’s what we do best.
So, after seven months, I’ll enjoy a weekend or two off but I know it won’t be long before we’re back digging through scripts, adapting, changing, financing, booking…
Paddy says: As with all of our productions over the years, the prospect of designing the look and feel of a show is both daunting and yet very, very exciting. You could double this mix of emotion when we committed to something as big as our Dario Fo Season! How could we, from the get go, create a concept that was consistent and had a coherent look and feel that would overarc the two plays?
Firstly, we looked at a multitude of musical, theatrical and filmic references. Stuff that we liked and what we felt would fit perfectly into this world we were hoping to create. Accidental Death Of An Anarachist would echo the style of both silent comedy and the thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock. With this in mind, our teaser campaign for both shows bore a conscious resemblance to the work of Saul Bass. With the two teaser posters (pictured above), we hoped to evoke a particular style, establish our very strict colour palettes and hopefully create an image that was simple, striking and, in all honesty, something we would want hanging on our walls.
The theme of mirroring and consistency continued through to our Main Posters for each of the shows. For this, we took a not so iconic image, namely Drew Struzans’ poster for Chris Colombus’ 1987 film Adventures in Babysitting. (Now there’s an obscure reference point for you!) The concept was simple: carry over our established colour palettes to a photographed scene of ‘hijinx’, all taking place outside the window of the settings for each show. ‘Windows’ played a big part of the plots for each show, so it made a lot of sense to play up to this. It was also a great way of framing all of our actors in an ‘event’ of sorts.
Having created a brand new green screen for the task, myself and Ken set about photographing our intrepid actors in all manner of still-life hilarity. The poster and promo photo shoots were the most enjoyable I have ever worked on, due in part to two aspects: 1. We were very, very well prepared for it and 2. Our actors were nothing short of enthusiastic, helpful and excited about the project. Not once was there doubt in my mind that this giant two show concept wasn’t going to work.
We shot the promotional photos on the same day as the green screen shots. Again, the idea was to mirror both plays. We had specific blocked shots in mind for both shows. Characters in a chase. A view from above with our actors in a semi-circle. A shot of the protagonist(s) seated, surrounded by the cast. And so on and so forth.
I shan’t waffle on too much more about the mass of promotional imagery we had (and boy did we?!), but needless to say, it was an absolute blast to work on and what resulted was some of my favourite posters and images of created thus far with Devious.
Donning the Producers hat for the shows was quite an undertaking and possibly the most involved I’ve ever been on any of our productions. Being that I live and work in Dublin, my direct contact with a show is only every Friday, Saturday and Sunday I could make it down the country. On Accidental Death I was there at every rehearsal I could. It was an absolute joy to see that show come together, piece by piece. The natural progression the actors went through over those 10 weeks was incredible. Stellar work from everybody. With Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! my involvement grew even further when I assistant directed the show with John. Much like Accidental Death, the commitment and progression of the actors was outstanding. A true testament to their unbridled commitment and dedication to the entire project.
It was an epic undertaking, encompassing 7 months of work all culminating with 10 nights of performance. I couldn’t be any happier with the work done by all. Thank you to all for your constant support and for getting yer arses into the seats at Set.