Q&A with Dan Colley – Lost Lear – Dublin Theatre Festival
Lost Lear – 26th September – 9th October, Project Arts Centre
Mermaid Arts Centre – 13th – 15th October
I think a lot of people were very sad to see the end of Collapsing Horse. Can you tell us about what must have been a tough decision for the collective?
No one was sadder than us! The thing was we were spending so much time and energy keeping the company going and trying to grow it and express what we wanted it to be, we were finding it harder and harder to concentrate on actually making the art. We were also a lot of different things and hard to define what we did; we made theatre (some of it for young audiences, some of it not), we produced and programmed comedy, we made a podcast, we threw parties – some of it was commercial, some needed support. I think audiences liked the eclecticness and it was part of Collapsing Horse’s appeal, but when it came to securing funding I think we were difficult to define and fell between stools. It was a tough call but the right one I think.
What have you been up to since that time?
I’ve been artist in residence in Riverbank Arts Centre, I made an online interactive piece of theatre with Fionnuala Gygax ‘TWENTY FIFTY’ as part of Duets in the Dublin Fringe, I directed a short filmed play for the Abbey’s ’13 Voices From a Bloodied Field’ project, I’ve been touring my last theatre piece ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’ around Ireland and to the Edinburgh Fringe, and I’ve been developing and writing ‘Lost Lear’.
Can you tell the readers a little about this new play ‘Lost Lear’?
It’s a remixed version of ‘King Lear’ from the point of view of a person with dementia. She’s undergoing a particular form of care where her carers actively support her in an old memory which gives her comfort and confidence – in her case, she was an actor and her memory is of rehearsing a production of ‘King Lear’ from when she was younger. Everyone who comes into contact with her has to find some role in that story in order to be in her company, lest she get disoriented and the method would stop working. Complications arise when her estranged son shows up and the obvious role he would play – Cordelia, Lear’s own estranged daughter – turns out to be anathema to him. Shakespeare’s themes of nothingness and familial duty are echoed and twisted between the original text and the contemporary drama playing out around it.
The play is written by ” Dan Colley and company after William Shakespeare”. Can you tell us what this means? Has it developed considerably during the rehearsal period?
Yes. It’s changed a lot. Not fundamentally but more like “meat on the bones”. The way my mind works, I need to be able to see it and play with it before I really know what the theatrical event is going to contain. So in this, I ask a talented group of people to improvise around the play outline which we’ll video record and then reorder and edit into the next draft of the script. There were about four or five drafts of the play in the rehearsal period. Though the written play is really only a blueprint for the show – the real thing happens in time and space so they’re learning substantial parts of it as we go.
You have an impressive cast, with Venetia Bowe; Peter Daly; Manus Halligan. How has your rehearsal period been going?
Superb! As you can imagine, not every actor is necessarily up for this way of working. It’s high wire. They have to trust the process and trust the team. They have to be playful and creative and take on a lot of responsibility for creating their characters and generally having a 360-degree view of what the whole show is trying to achieve. I’ve worked with Manus Halligan many times before so he knew what he was getting in for, but Venetia Bowe and Peter Daly are actors I’ve admired from afar but never worked with. So, to be honest, I had a sense but didn’t know how well they would take to it; and the answer as it turns out is very, very well. Considering the strength of the material – working with the story of someone with a disease like Alzheimer’s which so many people have been touched by personally – we’ve had a really excellent, joyous time working together along with our ensemble members Em Ormonde and Clodagh O’Farrell.
What are your plans for the future? Are any other productions in the pipeline?
Yes! But, as ever, it’s tentative and funding-dependent. My residency with the Riverbank will hopefully continue next year and that allows me time to develop new ideas and bring on collaborators and run research workshops for shows that won’t see the light of day for at least another 2 years. I hope to have a new production inspired by the Wrens of the Curragh that will be ready to show to audiences next year. I’m working on a short film with producer David Collins and a documentary feature film with Nuala O’Connor, as well as in the very early stages of a VR piece. And of course, a whale opera.