Interview with Paul Meade – Director of Stronger – Dublin Theatre Festival

Interview with Paul Meade – Director of Stronger – Dublin Theatre Festival

We had the chance to put some questions to Paul Meade, the director of Stronger, ahead of its opening at the Dublin Theatre Festival this weekend. You can see the results below.

Gúna Nua Theatre Company’s STRONGER by Geoff Power stages its world premiere at Smock Alley Theatre, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival, from September 30 – October 9.

“Inspired by true events, Stronger tells the gripping story of Jan, a teacher who is sexually assaulted by her student. As Jan journeys through the legal system, she struggles to find closure and her life is in danger of falling apart. A glimmer of hope appears but it could mean lying to the person she loves the most and confronting the person who has done her most harm.”

When did you first read this script? Were you involved with it from the start or did you first read it as the finished article?

I read the script about 4 or 5 years ago.  Geoff had approached me to direct the play.  At the time he was trying to raise funding for a production through project grants and I saw great potential in the play.  The producer Geoff had attached was Gill McCaw and it felt very right because we had all worked together on a site-specific play called ‘Green Street’ at the 2012 Fringe.  Geoff staged a reading around that time and it gave me clues as to how I could stage the play.  Then in 2018, Gill joined Gúna Nua and we both agreed that Stronger would be a great project for the company.

Was writer Geoff Power involved during rehearsal? Did the script change much during this period?

We had built in a development week in early 2020 and then the fates (in the shape of the pandemic) gave us a lot more development time where we worked with dramaturg Hanna Slattne and staged a reading and webinar at the Dublin Theatre Festival.  Geoff worked with us in rehearsals too and has been really supportive of all the different ways we have re-imagined the script.  The script has changed but it is very much Geoff’s vision and his dialogue.  Gúna Nua’s ethos is collaborative but we also respect the writer very much.  Striking the balance between the two is what makes the shows successful.

STRONGER is about the powerful practice of Restorative Justice – can you explain what it is?

Restorative Justice is about repairing the harm caused by criminal behaviour.  It is usually accomplished through a meeting of the perpetrator and victim of the crime but there can be other approaches available.  Through researching the play we have become aware of what a delicate process this is but also how effective it can be. There is a long process leading up to the eventual meeting to ensure a satisfactory outcome when it takes place.  There can be very strong positive outcomes from Restorative Justice.  The process helps to meet the needs and concerns of the victim while also raising awareness and understanding of the offender of the impact of their offending behaviour.  At its best, these meetings can be a healing process for all and a new way of looking at criminal justice.

I believe this was based on real-life events, can you tell us a little about them?

The play is loosely based on real-life events that occurred in the UK many years ago, in a case where a female teacher was sexually assaulted by her male student. This woman is a strong advocate of restorative justice and was the inspiration to Geoff Power to write the play, as he met with and interviewed her as part of his research for it. She was also one of the first people in the UK to use restorative justice for sexual assault.  Restorative Justice is more challenging in cases of this kind of crime because often the perpetrator is known to the victim and there can be a power dynamic already in play.  This woman took the route of restorative justice because she wanted to show the offender that she was a survivor but also how much he had hurt her. Geoff also works in the prison system delivering writing workshops and was able to call on many experts in the area of justice as part of his research too.

The production has a great cast including Love/Hate’s Mary Murray & Marcus Lamb – how are the cast handling the real and psychodramatic themes of the play?

The cast have been terrific.  I can’t speak highly enough of their commitment to the story, the process, and of the quality of their acting.  Early on we brought in a psychotherapist Marianne Marcote to work with the cast on how to deal with the challenging content in the play.  Marianne was an actor and theatre practitioner before studying dramatherapy and brought a strong understanding of the challenges the cast would face.  The cast have been very supportive of each other and despite the material, there has been a lot of fun and joy in the rehearsal room.

What’s next step for Gúna Nua?

The next step for Gúna Nua is another new play.  In November we will premiere, ‘Sham’ at the Belltable in Limerick and we will subsequently stream the play.  ‘Sham’ is a play I wrote based on the plot of Hamlet.  It concerns a young woman returning to Limerick after her father has been murdered in a gangland shooting.  She has tried to break away from her family’s involvement in the drugs trade but finds herself sucked back into a very murky world.  Like Hamlet, there is a great mix of tragedy, comedy and the supernatural and we have a terrific director on board in Amy Conroy.  I am very excited to see the play come alive on stage and I think people will love it.

Gúna Nua Theatre Company’s STRONGER by Geoff Power stages its world premiere at Smock Alley Theatre, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival, from September 30 – October 9.


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