Well the Woodlands Hotel complex is truly showing its versatility in being able
to cater for such a variety of functions and events. On returning from NYC I was surprised to be greeted by this circus top-type tent opposite the hotel and
wondered had another circus show come to town.
Then I noticed poster a mysterious but interesting looking character called Riddley Walker. My next discovery was that it was the name of a play being put on by Waterford’s Red Kettle theatre company. But who was Riddley Walker and what was its story and why was this being put on in a big top ” why were the city’s theatres not being used? It is probable that the many thousands who either reside in this area or pass by as they come and go have also wondered the whysobecause of it all, so naturally I had to find out.
I discovered that it is a most ambitious undertaking and a considerable challenge both in dramatic and production terms for all involved. For director Ben Hennessy it is the realization of a 20 year ambition form the time he first encountered this gripping tale by Russell Hoban.
I also discovered that this only the third time ever this play has been performed anywhere in the world since the author first adapted it for stage in the 80’s. This is being staged with the express permission of Russell Hoban having met with Ben in London earlier this year in London.
Ridley Me This
So what’s it all about and why stage it in a “Big Top” – well heres something of what I discovered about the genesis of Riddley Walker: Riddley Walker is set in an unspecified, post-apocolyptic era in the future, when dogs have become humanity’s enemies, and history is a rubble of allegory. It’s told in a language that recalls the “smashed mess of mottage” of Finnegan’s Wake, but Mr. Hoban’s inventiveness guarantees that the language of Riddley is his own creation.
Gutteral yet eloquent, we hear in it echoes of rudimentary English (and a tendency toward sagas) that evoke Beowulf, mixed with remnants of the technological catchphrases and political jargon of the 20th Century.
Riddley Walker is twelve years old, and at the outset of the book three remarkable things happen to him that seem to set him on a path toward mystery.
First, on his “naming day”–the day he turns twelve–he kills a wild boar, and he notices the eyes of the leader of a wild dog pack watching him closely. (Since the time of the nuclear holocaust that precipitated humanity’s fallen state, dogs have turned against humans; those few humans who can enounter dogs unarmed without getting their throats ripped out are called “dog frendy” and generally distrusted.)
Three days later Riddley’s father is killed in jobsite accident. Riddley is suddenly thrust into prominence as he succeeds his father in the role of “connexion man”: the one responsible for giving prophetic interpretations of the traveling puppet shows that serve as a combined religious ceremony, government propaganda tool and public entertainment. Later that same day on forage duty,
Riddley is approached by the leader of the wild dog pack, who chooses to die on Riddley’s spear, a powerful omen of “the far come close took by the little come big.”
Something’s up for Riddley, and it’s all about to hit the fan. The next night the “Eusa show” arrives at Riddley’s settlement; Goodparley & Orfing, the “Pry
Mincer” and the “Wes Mincer” stage the traditional puppet allegory depicting how
a figure named Eusa, in a time long ago, became greedy for “clevverness,” using technology to pull the “Littl Shining Man” of the atom into two pieces. (The idea of lost wholeness represented by the Littl Shining Man is woven throughout the book; it recurs in many of Riddley’s reflections, and is underscored by the way the book’s language has been smashed into monosyllabic fragments. Longer words are broken down into one-word components, e.g. “sir prizes” for “surprises.”)
The result of Eusa pulling the Littl Shining Man apart was an explosion known as the “1 Big 1.” Since that time (according to legend) the Littl Shining Man has existed in a broken state, while humankind has lived with the bleak consequences, and “clevverness” has fallen into disrepute reinforced by a sense of religious prohibition.
But Riddley soon learns that all is not as it has been; there’s a movement afoot to recover the lost “clevverness” and rediscover the secret of the 1 Big 1. The final catalyst arrives when Riddley unearths a mysterious puppet figure at an excavation site and defies an official who tries to confiscate it. Soon Riddley is on the lam, running with the wild dogs who have inexplicably befriended him, heading down darkened roads into an explosive mixture of danger, intrigue, and forbidden knowledge.
An Exciting and Challenging Drama
So you can readily see that this challenging drama is a huge undertaking and beyond the capacity of an ordinary stage to present it ” it has to be theatre-in-the-round writ large and as such pushes the considerable talents of Red Kettle production and directorial skills. There’s an impressive array of local talent at work, for example I see the very creative Dermot Quinn (of Spraoi) alongside that of Ben Hennessy, as well as the multi-talented Jamie Beamish bringing his composing skills to the fore. Then there’s puppet making
by artist John O’Connell with an important input from Miriam Lambert. Stunning music performances from Waterford’s Torann and of course a great field of actors ” young and old, local and national Cormac McDonagh plays the lead role of Ridley Walker, among many others I see the names of Conor Halpin, Alex Browne, Jenni Ledwell, Joe Meagher, Sasha and Nick Hurt but also Pascal Scott and many more as an undoubtedly an impressive cast. Red Kettle since its foundation has brought a new dimension to the world of the dramatic arts in Waterford – they have proved to be daring and dynamic in many of the productions they have undertaken. They have not shied away from pushing out the boundaries and the is no doubting that that’s what is being done here is a brave and ambitious project and deserves not just your nodding appreciation but real and tangible support by people flocking in their droves to this awesome and bold production.
Previews this Wednesday, Thursday&Friday and the running from Saturday 10th to 17th November 8 O’Clock each evening. Bigi ann! is being performed in the field opposite the Woodlands with the kind permission of the Lynch brothers.
Red Kettle are very appreciative by the way of the great support they have received from every body locally and the hotel and all of its staff, in particular, have also been most helpful and supportive. Well Done!
Here’s an update on what has been happening under the aegis of WHAT out at the
WRHArtist and writer Brighid “Biddy” McLaughlin launched the Waterford Healing Arts Trust’s fifth exhibition of art by HSE staff InsideOut5 on Thursday 1st
November 2007 in Waterford Regional Hospital.
InsideOut5 is an annual exhibition that showcases art produced by the staff of the Health Service Executive in Waterford. Each year the exhibition aims to uncover more budding artists, and it now features more than twenty staff members from the HSE within Waterford.
Brighid “Biddy” McLaughlin, formally a writer for the Sunday Independent is now an artist living and working in Dublin. She commended the staff on their artwork and talked about the role of making art in her own recovery from cancer.
Cllr Tom Cunningham, Chairperson of the Waterford Healing Arts Trust, described insideOut as an opportunity for staff to present on a public platform, to their colleagues, patients and visitors to the hospital, and to the general public, the artwork they have been creating on a private basis. As the name suggests, this exhibition is making a private activity public and the artists are to be commended for coming forward in sharing their artwork with others. Some of the artists are experienced exhibitors. For others, this is their first time to show their work in public.
The exhibition will run until 14th December 2007. Some artworks are for sale and all proceeds help fund the activities of the Waterford Healing Arts Trust.
For further information contact Siobhàn McLaughlin, Waterford Healing Arts Trust at (051) 842664 or e-mail WHAT@maila.hse.ie
This had a very successful 8th outing a couple of weekends ago when over 1,500 Euro was raised in PJ’s honour for our local oncology services- I’ll have a fuller report on this next week.
Go Seachtain Eile, Slan.