Interview with Lynne Parker – Director of Northern Star by Stewart Parker – Project Arts Centre Dublin 21 April – 7 May
We had the chance to interview Lynne Parker ahead of the opening of Northern Star at the Project Arts Centre next week. Northern Star is written by Stewart Parker, who is Lynne’s Uncle. You can see the results below…
What was it like growing up with a playwright for an uncle?
He was a magical, somewhat exotic figure, coming from a world of style and ideas that was completely unknown to me as a child – enormous fun, but mysterious before I got to know him as a student and nascent theatre maker. We were all terribly proud of him and loved him to bits. I only began to realise what a significant figure he was as I grew older – he wore his brilliance very lightly.
Did he have a major influence on you starting to work in theatre?
I saw his first play, Spokesong in Dublin when I was fourteen and it made me realise what was possible in the theatre. After that his influence was profound, in terms of approach and ethos. His personality – humorous, humane, generous and vastly intelligent has, I hope, had a huge influence on the nature of Rough Magic and its work. It has certainly shaped the way I think about the world and its relationship with art and artists.
The play was first produced in 1984, do you remember the original version?
I saw it in the Olympia during the DTF. I loved it, but being young and ambitious all I really wanted was to direct it myself. I remember being enthralled that this unknown part of the Ulster Protestant story was being told, one that completely contradicted the prevailing stereotype. I was also excited by its political complexity.
Many people would be aware of Stewart Parker through his trust which does great work in promoting new writing. How did the trust come about?
After Stewart died John Fairleigh and other close friends including Stephen Rea and Seamus Heaney wanted to do something to commemorate him. The Trust aims to help emerging writers in that crucial period after their first success. It’s a really important organisation, providing a unique service in the Irish theatre sector.
Does it feel unusual to be working on one of his plays? Do you feel an extra weight of responsibility?
I’ve directed most of his full length stage plays now – the process gets richer each time. And yes, a huge sense of responsibility but also privilege. It’s very satisfying that you can still access him through his work, but desperately frustrating that he isn’t here to see it, and to make the immense contribution he was capable of. Northern Star interrogates what it means to be Irish and comes up with complicated and unexpected answers; so this, of all years, is the perfect time to do it. But as an analysis of commemoration it goes far beyond 2016 – as Henry Joy McCracken says “It isn’t true to say they forget nothing. It’s far worse than that. They misremember everything”. Stewart’s deft wit and prescience belong at the heart of the national conversation.
It’s a great cast with many regulars for Rough Magic. Does it make the rehearsal period easier to work with people you have worked with previously?
A mix of new blood with the stalwarts is the quintessential RM ensemble. Always a pleasure to work with our regulars, but equally wonderful to bring new people into the RM family – Robbie O’Connor I knew from the production of Northern Star at the Lir Academy last year and he and Charlotte McCurry are a fantastic asset to the company. Paul Mallon has worked with Rough Magic under Matt Torney’s direction – I’d only worked with him once before in Belfast and he has been a revelation.
What’s next for Rough Magic after this production?
Northern Star is touring to Tron Theatre, Glasgow and Lyric Theatre, Belfast next month – it’ll be wonderful to bring the play back home to Belfast, and also to take it to a Scottish audience currently debating its own independence! We’re about to announce exciting new international dates in the Autumn for How to Keep an Alien by Sonya Kelly. And we have several plays under commission and ongoing work with our SEEDS programme – artist development is one of the core activities of the company.
Northern Star by Stewart Parker
Project Arts Centre Dublin 21 April – 7 May
The Tron Glasgow 11 – 14 May
Lyric Theatre Belfast 17 – 29 May