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New play puts prison population centre stage

ENNIS writer and director of Dhá Lamh Theatre, Laura Mulcahy will present two plays in Glór at the upcoming Ennis Street Festival on July 4.

 

The first, entitled This Happened in the City Jail, is inspired by the original tale of Hansel and Gretel and explores Laura’s experiences as a drama facilitator in Mountjoy Prison’s Dochas Centre and the incomparable experimental jazz album Basquiat Strings.

Laura has experience as a director, writer, filmmaker, actress and has been working in theatre arts for many years. She now divides her time between different projects around the country, particularly arts and health along with literary modernism.

Her work in Mountjoy concentrates mostly on modernist writers, such as Lorca, Albee, Beckett and Faulkner.

Laura, who is a modernist, explained writing This Happened in the City Jail used the idea of a fairy tale and placed the prison population centre stage. She said she is bothered by this “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” notion and wanted to address the idea of “lock them up and throw away the key”.

“I’ve been spearheading a drama programme in Mountjoy Prison, at the Dochas Women’s Centre, for a long time and I take the work from that each year and we showcase it in an arts festival called Phizz Fest in Phibsborough annually. Because Mountjoy Prison is slap-bang in the middle of Phibsborough, it’s a community arts festival. We have presented everything from Beckett to Lorca,” she said.

The text in This Happened in the City Jail (The Story of Hansel and Gretel) offers a blend of fantasy and documentary play writing. Comedy and drama are juxtaposed in the piece, resulting in a fresh, innovative and touching look at both the conventions of theatre today and the way the prison population are viewed.

This is the first performance in the theatre of This Happened in the City Jail, which includes a cast of nine local actors.

Laura’s work at Mountjoy was facilitated after a professor of occupational therapy at Trinity College saw a piece of her work locally and thought her use of space was really unusual.

“I had performed this piece in a promenade style, with the audience split at each side looking in on the action and she thought it was unusual and asked would I think of doing work in the prison. It grew into this wonderful relationship.

“The programme is supported by Trinity College and is supported by the prison service as well. It’s at least five years I’ve been working on it. It changed my life. It made me a better person in realising that nothing is black and white,” she said.

“The prison opened my mind, that you can work with absolutely everybody in life and you don’t need to have big names behind anyone to get good quality work. Believe it or not, some of the people in prison could be professional actors, they are that talented. We presented some Beckett a number of years ago and the festival committee from the Phizz fest came in to see this performance of four of his smaller plays. They came out of the gym hall because you don’t have a theatre in prison, surrounded by gym equipment and they came out of it amazed by what they had soon because we stood up to all the professionals,” she added.

The second play of the double bill is the one-woman show Baglady by Frank McGuinness, which Dhá Lámh have been touring with for the past two years.

Laura elected to work with this script because of her experiences of people’s, particularly women’s, traumas within the same system. Baglady is about homelessness and many of the people in prison are homeless.

“It is a touching and revealing story about a homeless woman. It’s a fragmented story and centred around women. I’m passionate about women’s issues,” Laura said.

Theatre has been in the Mulcahy family for three generations. In the early 20th century, a cousin from Sligo by the name of Dooney was the founder of a theatre company in the county town.

The “wonky theatre gene”, as she describes it, was then passed down to the present generation from Mr Dooney through Laura’s mother, Marcella, who as an actress and drama teacher has worked in theatre for over six decades.

“Theatre runs in our family like a wooden leg,” she said.

Laura’s sister, Jan Mulcahy, is also presenting work in Glór in the upcoming Ennis Street Festival, where she brings three performances of her self-penned production of the all-time classic puppet show The Tragical Comedy of Mr Punch.

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