Award-winning playwright to take Listowel by storm (The Kerryman)

CAHERSIVEEN playwright Amy Conroy is to shortly take to the stage at Listowel Writers’ Week for her explosive play I heart Alice heart I.

The documentary-style show, now in its third year, tells the love story of two women named Alice. Continue reading

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Writing Tip of the Day: Ernest Hemingway

“I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’

So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.

The writer’s job is to tell the truth.”

– ERNEST HEMINGWAY

Image courtesy of poetryfoundation.org

Actress Emily Taaffe Takes On Shakespeare Trilogy

With only five years having passed since her professional stage début at the Liverpool Everyman, Irish actress Emily Taaffe has since taken the acting world by storm. She has performed as Irina in Three Sisters at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, as Daphne in the National Theatre’s adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Nation and as Abigail in The Crucible at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. But treading the boards as three of the Bard’s lead characters in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Shipwrecked Trilogy, she thinks, will be the most challenging of all.

Emily Taaffe as Viola in Twelfth Night. Image courtesy of The Telegraph

It all began at the age of 13 when Taaffe joined her local youth theatre. She went on to study drama and theatre at Trinity College Dublin. Her involvement with her university’s drama society, Players, encouraged her to firmly set her sights on an acting career, and she had soon secured a place at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

“I applied to [postgraduate] drama school and was lucky enough to get in,” she smiles. “I’m really glad I chose to go to LAMDA. I had a lot of instincts and quite a bit of experience from being at Trinity. What was nice about [TCD] was that I worked on all the aspects of theatre: I’d done stage management, as well as a bit of writing and directing, so I’d seen how everything worked. But LAMDA gave me technique, I would say, and the tools to be able to approach different parts. It kind of broadened my range in that way.”

Taaffe in rehearsal for The Comedy of Errors. Photograph courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Taaffe is now starring as Luciana in The Comedy of Errors, Miranda in The Tempest and Viola in Twelfth Night, in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Shipwrecked Trilogy at the Roundhouse Theatre. She laughs at the suggestion that there may be a well-kept secret to landing such amazing roles. “I think I’ve been very lucky in the parts that I’ve got. I’ve tried to work as hard as I can and I’m always prepared. You never know when you’re going to get a good audition. I think it’s your job to go in as well prepared as you can, because if you don’t get the job, at least you know you’ve tried your best and you’ve done as much as you can. There could be so many mitigating factors as to whether or not you get a job, so at least give yourself the best odds.”

Her three characters each have their own personal appeal for Taaffe. “Luciana doesn’t want to push her own interests. She’s always worried about other people. So what takes her by surprise is falling in love with, as she thinks, the wrong man – her brother-in-law – and it gives her a moral dilemma. Also, she’s quite prim and proper and that’s always fun to play,” she reveals. “With Miranda, it’s a fascinating idea to play someone who hasn’t lived in the world as we know it – she’s never been culturally influenced like we have. Her relationship with [both] her father and Caliban was a really interesting starting point. I think she feels very conflicted between being loyal to her father, but at the same time missing Caliban. Then she starts to rebel. Playing that was great: wondering where that comes from, and how suddenly someone can just go from being very obedient to finding her own voice and her own desires, and following them through. Finally, there’s Viola, who is – for me – the most fascinating. She decides she’s going to disguise herself as a boy, so I had the challenge of playing somebody who’s playing somebody else. It was also interesting for me to think about the reasons why she chooses to keep that pretense [about her gender] up all the way through the play. They’re three very different characters, but they’re all great girls.”

Emily Taaffe as Viola in Twelfth Night. Photo from RSC.

Taaffe first auditioned for director David Farr to get the role of Viola, before meeting Comedy of Errors director Amir Nizar Zuabi to be seen for Luciana, followed by meeting them both for the Trilogy. The most difficult part about bringing each character to life was doing them all at once, the actress says. “I’d never done that before. Normally, when you’re rehearsing a play, you get to focus so completely on one character and one world that you can really immerse yourself in it, whereas we didn’t have that luxury with our three plays. I could have been rehearsing Twelfth Night in the morning and then Comedy of Errors in the afternoon, or a bit of Comedy and then some Tempest. Having to learn to switch between them was quite difficult, because like I said they’re very different. [The entire company] works hard though and we’re all in it together. There’s a great ensemble feel because everybody’s having a very similar experience; we can all support each other.”

Having never performed Shakespeare in front of a live audience before, Taaffe’s priority was to not be daunted by the Bard’s reputation. “I’m just trying to make it sound fresh and natural, sort of like it’s just coming from me rather than from something that’s been learned off.” Exactly how pressured does she feel, acting in some of the most renowned plays ever written, with all the audience’s expectation, particularly during the World Shakespeare Festival?

“We began the show in Stratford [where Shakespeare was from],” says Taaffe, “and initially I was really intimidated. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. It’s the Royal Shakespeare Company. You look at the women who’ve played these parts before and you pale a bit, because you just think, ‘Oh my God, how have I sneaked in here?’ That’s really when you sit back and think about it, though, or when you’re talking to your friends, and suddenly you look up and see the RSC’s logo. But, actually, when you’re doing it – the show is a great company of 18 people – it’s just like doing any other play. You’re just always trying to do your best to tell the story and hopefully the audience is enjoying it. That’s really all you can do: try and do justice to the text, and be in [the zone] every night. I think that’s the challenge no matter where you’re doing a play; that’s always the aim.”

Taaffe in rehearsal for The Tempest.

She remarks that while the plays may be centuries old, the characters’ emotions are timeless. Her favourite line of her character Viola’s is when she is confessing her true feelings for Duke Orsino, while still dressed as a man:

She never told her love, / But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud, / Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought, / And with a green and yellow melancholy, / She sat like patience on a monument, / Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?

“That bit’s just so beautiful,” grins Taaffe. “She’s concealing [herself] and at the same time telling him that she’s totally in love with him.”

Taaffe has several other Shakespearean characters in mind that she’d love to tackle one day, namely Rosalind in As You Like It, Goneril or Regan in King Lear, and Lady Macbeth. “I’d really love to do Juliet too, before I get too old! Although the parts for women in Shakespeare are fewer and they might not necessarily always have as many lines, I think they’re incredibly powerful characters and brilliant to play, because they’re so complex – which, when you consider how long ago they were written, is really amazing.”

The actress says one of the best aspects about working in the theatre is the fact that she gets to collaborate with a team. “The designers, the director, the other cast members and stage management [all come together] to create a show,” she declares. “I just absolutely love this world, so I’d be delighted to carry on doing great theatre. I’ll mix in some film and television [down the line]; hopefully, I’ll just keep doing interesting and good work. That’s my aim.”

Emily Taaffe in Twelfth Night (RSC)

The best advice Taaffe can offer any aspiring actors is to not compare themselves to others and to love what they do. “Remember, everybody’s experience and journey is different, so do what interests you.” She also points out that your passion will shine through during a performance. “Enjoy acting, it’s a great job, and I think if you’re enjoying yourself on stage, it makes it a lot easier for the audience to enjoy themselves. Personally, I really notice when I’m watching a show if someone’s having a good time. So if you work hard and have fun, hopefully a little piece of luck will fall into your lap.”

You can see Emily Taaffe perform in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s What Country Friends Is This? Shipwrecked Trilogy (The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night and The Tempest) at the Roundhouse Theatre, London, until July 5. The shows will then return to Stratford until October 7. Tickets are available on the Roundhouse website.

What do you think of Taaffe’s journey? Are you going to any of her performances? Comment below!

 

A Book That You Can Quote/Recite: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is over four hundred years old and we are still captivated by its story of “star-cross’d” love. The passion, the fury, the frenzied swordfighting, the rivalries and the play’s ultimate tragedy have been examined worldwide by scholars of literature for many centuries, but the tale of the two young lovers will never grow old.

Despite being one of Shakespeare’s earliest tragic works, Romeo and Juliet is packed with humour, dramatic tension and iconic characters. It is truly a universal play, defying all barriers and boundaries, and appealing to audiences of all ages. At fifteen – about to start my third year of second level education and my first state examinations – I had very little experience of plays, and was not looking forward to diving headfirst into the scrutinisation of the renowned Bard and his writing…

…but something changed.

The naive Romeo and the young Juliet exploded off the pages, overcoming the hatred and bitterness between their Montague and Capulet families with their sincere and genuine adoration for each other. Shakespeare showcased the ultimate power of love in this tragedy. The sacrifices and challenges that the protagonists suffered for their betrothed made their devotion to each other all the stronger.

“These violent delights have violent ends,

And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,

Which, as they kiss, consume.”

Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes as the iconic couple

Their names have become synonymous with love. Thousands visit Juliet’s balcony in Verona, Italy, with their own hopes, dreams and desires. Opera, dance, musical, stage and movie adaptations (particularly Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film, starring Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes) have modernised the story and helped a whole new generation to become enamoured with the tale. The opening of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London, in 1997, only served to highlight the playwright’s achievements.

“Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,

Take him and cut him out in little stars,

And he will make the face of heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love with night,

And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

“Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”

Not only can I recite it because of constant revision and study sessions, but the magnificent beauty of the language and the wonderful, engaging story make this play a true classic.

“Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day

Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain-tops.”

London Calling

Time has absolutely flown this summer. One month ago, I returned from the unbelievable city of London, and I already want to go back.

London has a way of never letting you forget it. When it calls you, you have to answer.

Trawling through the maze of the city’s streets is an experience unlike any other. It’s incredibly vast, and with only four days to explore…we spent thirty-eight hours camping out in Trafalgar Square.

Madness.

From 5am on Wednesday morning to about 7pm Thursday evening, we took up residence in one of the most iconic squares in the capital. The final Harry Potter premiere was to take place, on Thursday the 7th of July, 2011, in this very spot. We not only wanted to visit the quintessential, historic London sights and spend more money than we had on shopping, but we wanted to be there when the epic film saga, based on the world-famous J.K. Rowling’s book series, came to a smashing close.

 

Our new home: Trafalgar Square

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 shattered records all over the globe, not only to become the highest grossing film of 2011, but is now the third highest grossing film of all time, after Avatar and Titanic, taking in box office sales in excess of $1 billion.

We, however, still had over a week to wait before we could flock into the cinema for the finale, and time was ticking ever so slowly away to the start of the premiere. Seventeen hours down, fourteen hours to go: it was the middle of the night. We were frozen, lying on one solitary blanket with jackets wrapped around us, huddling together for warmth. The stage setup’s bright flashing lights were whirling and spinning in every direction. preventing us from getting any valuable sleep in our makeshift tent.

Our lone voices began to sing. Our choruses of Disney classics and rounds of Abba songs sailed through the dark, amongst the mass of humans gathered in the Square, below the faraway shining stars.

The next day was spent clutching small umbrellas amidst the lashing rain, squashed against railings, and screaming our heads off with excitement. After waiting for endless hours and finally meeting the actors, hearing the heartfelt and tearful speeches by the cast and crew, and seeing Jo Rowling at the last HP premiere EVER…

…We were wrecked, emotional, deprived of sleep and food, and ready for our real London adventures to begin.

The following morning, being the literature enthusiasts that we are, off we trotted to Shakespeare’s Gl0be in Southwark for a tour of the reconstructed theatre. As we walked over the old cobblestones and spotted painted poetic quotes on walls, it felt very much straight out of the Elizabethan era. The theatre itself only opened its doors in 1997.

The Replica of the Globe Theatre, London

Since, I believe, there is no actual image of the Globe Theatre as Shakespeare would have known it, the faithful reproduction is based on authentic original drawings from Queen Elizabeth I’s time. Under the direction of American actor/director Sam Wanamaker, the atmosphere of the new Globe was created by the replication of techniques that would have been used to build theatres in the 1600s, such as a thatched roof, with no steel or use of amplification.

Inside the Globe

We treaded on famous names carved into stepping stones underfoot, were told about the walls made of goat hair (ew) and saw the stagehands setting up for the afternoon performance. There were a few costumes onstage for the ‘Anne Boleyn’ play later that evening, threaded with the utmost care and devotion; they were all handmade dresses, each worth a cool £10,000!

That night was spent with The Wizard of Oz cast at the famous London Palladium Theatre, Argyll Street, which has the most amazing location: just off Oxford Street. I hadn’t heard a live orchestra play probably since I was in school. The booming clashes of the ‘Over the Rainbow’ overture theme magnified a thousandfold throughout the massive theatre when we entered.

The spectacular visual effects, particularly the hurricane in Kansas, combined with the show’s powerful musical numbers and strong soloist performances to make it a truly fantastic production. The show’s cast even got a standing ovation from the audience at the end!

Our last day in London was spent by the River Thames in the beautiful Westminster (my favourite part of the capital), where we ran into Johnny Depp (“Cap’n Jack Sparrow”) and Charlie Chaplin beside the London Eye, as you do. I really wanted to experience the London Eye and see the whole of the city below me…

…except I did not really factor in my fear of heights. Hmph.

After a thorough security check, we hopped on the London Eye (and it doesn’t stop. AT ALL. You actually have to jump onto the pod, while the wheel is MOVING). Rising higher and higher into the air, the golden sun glistening over Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, the crowd below on the bridge became smaller and smaller, until all we could see were little human dots bobbing along beside the rumbling, bright red, double-decker buses.

By this point, I was obviously clinging to my seat in the middle of the pod, taking deep breaths and wishing for dear life that I was back on the ground.

Our view of Westminster from the London Eye. Photo courtesy of Shauna Cunniffe.

Once the half-hour tour was up, my feet were firmly and delightedly back on English soil (knowing that I would be thousands of feet higher in the air later when I got on the plane home. Very reassuring as you can imagine). My first and, hopefully, last time on the London Eye had been terrifyingly fun.

On the flight back home to Ireland, we were already missing our favourite city: the fact that when we’d got (BRIEFLY) lost, we had ended up on a landmark (London Bridge), being proud that we knew what Lines to get on at the Tube stations, and just the real friendliness of the people.

London is such an easy place to love.

The Blazing Sun on the Palace of Westminster