“The starting point was the question, what age do you feel in your head as opposed to your body?”
– writer and theatre performer Noelle Browne on Creaking
THIS year’s tremendously successful First Fortnight festival wraps up on January 20 with an immersive piece of theatre, Creaking, at the Riverbank Arts Centre in Co Kildare. Creaking was co-created by Oonagh Murphy and writer/performer Noelle Browne, who explains more about the ideas behind the development of the show here.
Q. Creaking is variously described as immersive theatre, movement documentary and dance using an improvised vocal score so it seems like it might not be exactly what people expect from a dance piece. How would you describe it and what can the audience expect?
Creaking is less of a dance theatre piece in the strict sense of the word but more a movement based theatre play. The sound is a vocal score performed live by Opera Singer/Vocal Improviser Cliona Cassidy. At the centre of the story is an indomitable older character named Rita Murphy. Her thoughts and sensations around how her body feels at different stages in her life is the starting point for the movement choreography. She invites the audience into her day to day life and leads them through one eventful day when she decides to change how she lives her life after feeling ignored by people close to her. The audience will find it both humorous and thought provoking but ultimately hopeful and life affirming.
Q. Tell me a bit about the concepts it explores in relation to mental health?
Through the character of Rita, Creaking questions how older people can be stereotyped and the benefits to their mental health that breaking stereotypical views can bring. Creaking also explores how older people are subjected to a lot of stress because of the fast-paced society we live in. Even our traffic lights are set for faster, younger legs. Society really needs to look at the strain we put on older people by not noticing their needs when they are naturally slowing down. The piece also examines how older people need to be viewed as individuals, not as a collective with a one-size- fits all attitude that can leave them emotionally vulnerable. The play ultimately celebrates older age and the benefits that older people bring to the lives of people around them.
Q3. Geraldine Plunkett plays Rita, has she been developing the role with you and what qualities does she embody in the character?
The character of Rita was written with Geraldine’s voice in my head as we have worked together in the past. It is common knowledge that as well as being super talented, Geraldine is one of the loveliest people in Irish theatre. The character of Rita really had to have that kind of lovely quality and a matter of factness for her to engage properly with the audience in the non-traditional theatre style of the play.
Q. Can you explain a little about your own background and theatrical career?
I have been working as an actor in theatre, film, tv and radio since 1987. I began directing and writing for theatre in the 2000s as I felt underchallanged at times as an actor. My first play POSTSCRIPT, co-written with my pal Michèle Forbes, and in which I perform, was part of the Dublin Fringe Festival 2013 and was nominated for the Bewley’s Little Gem Award and the Fishamble New Writing Award. It has toured all over Ireland and to Paris.
My second play Foxy premiered at Project Arts Centre in October 2015. I am currently researching and developing a play for young people that looks at children adopted into Ireland from other countries for Barnstorm Theatre Company. I’m always participating as a writer in the 24 Hour Plays, taking place at the Abbey at the end of January.
I had wanted to create work that looked at older people’s lives for a while when Bealtaine approached me in 2015 to do something that involved working with older people. I then did a series of workshops with choreographer Michele Cahill around Dublin where I met groups of older people from different communities. The starting point was the question, what age do you feel in your head as opposed to your body? The general responses were sixteen to early twenties which sparked ideas for the play that is now Creaking. Taking the workshop experiences, I applied and was successfully funded by the Arts Council and my co-creator and director Oonagh Murphy and I began to develop Creaking in January 2016 with a group of older volunteers.
Q. You staged this show at the Bealtaine festival previously. How did that go and what was the feedback like? When will it run again?
Bealtaine have been hugely supportive of Creaking since it began as a series of workshops as part of Bealtaine 2015. In May 2017, as part of the Bealtaine festival, Creaking will tour to several venues around Ireland. It will take the form of a participatory studio piece that will involve workshops with active retirement group participants who will then be part of a performance of Creaking.
We did an initial 30-minute showing of work during Bealtaine 2016 at the Pavilion Dun Laoghaire in May as part of the development of the project. The Pavilion gave me a Patron Donation Bursary and provided the space to develop Creaking. The 30-minute showing had a great reaction and based on that feedback I wrote a second draft of the script. Recently I was part of the Fishamble Play Clinic and out of that has come the script that will form the staged reading in Newbridge on the 20th of January 2017.
Q. Have you changed the piece in any way for the upcoming First Fortnight show at Riverbank Arts Centre?
Yes, the script we have now is a third draft and one change is that the central character is now an older person. I had been playing around with the idea that the main character would be a young physio surrounded by eight older volunteer performers.
Any thing else you’d like to add?
Oonagh Murphy and I have been continuing to develop Creaking since January 2016 thanks to funding from the Arts Council, the Pavilion Dun Laoghaire and Fishamble, plus an incredible amount of non-financial support and good will from other sources including the Abbey Theatre and Tiger Dublin Fringe. We have had the brilliant opportunity to work collaboratively with Choroegrapher Emma O’ Kane and Opera Singer/Vocal Improviser Cliona Cassidy.
We have also been working with the same fabulous group of older volunteer performers since then. They have shared stories which inspired this piece, danced, sang and basically did anything we asked them to in order to shape this project. They are brave and wonderful and we are so grateful to them for their time, energy and patience.
Click here to book tickets for this immersive theatre event, Creaking in Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge on January 20, followed by a post-show discussion with the director, writer and members of the cast, tickets €12.