Thursday, 30 July 2020

THEATRE PRACTICE: an interview

Interview with Dónall Mac Cathmhaoill, for his Phd thesis in drama. April 2019
Part-edited extracts, with permission.

Prompts from interview questions in italics

… authorship and advocacy …

Eh all the work I make be it theatre or fiction is...are and acts is a good word ‘cause they are actions, they are conscious, I get up and consciously say I’m going to make a play, consciously write a novel, I’m going to write something so they’re actions and I would say they’re acts of art so the primary impulse for me is to make art in everything and so a consequence of that is the finished objects to use that as a finished processes and objects are affirmably art practices, art objects, art processes so the people when I engage with professional actors, designers, musicians and so on or non-professional actors or people who don’t see themselves involved in say theatre at all, they...the orientation I am bringing to our engagement is one of an art practitioner. So they are meeting an artist so if somebody meets me I’m not a social engineer, I’m not a politician, I’m not a community worker, community development worker, I’m an artist so I make art so then the question you say well what’s that Dave, well I make things up, firstly they’re fiction and I think that’s important to me. They are unashamedly acts of fiction, they tend to be in the main poeticised rather than realistic, they are acts of imagining and where words like beauty and order are the primary words. So yea, so in a roundabout way coming back to your question are they acts of advocacy, yes, more primary thing they’re advocating is art. The primacy and importance of art in the world and everything you set in a context, nothing is neutral, people will say ah it’s just a story or it’s just a play, they are affirming the current discourses, current world order so the people who say they are neutral or kind of just telling a story they are consciously or unconsciously affirming the current order. In my case the acts of art are advocating the possibility of other world orders, ones that would move us closer to greater equality, greater justice among peoples and considerably less violence. So they advocate as art and in those directions. 

fiction and truth … 

Yea, specifically in relation to an earlier remark you made the play Scenes from an Inquiry an individual came to me from one of the Bloody Sunday families and said that they found the representation in the play which is an art object, doesn’t tell the story of the occurrences, it’s represented in a poeticised form and he said to fact he said it to me since in a slightly different way is that he found them more truthful than the films and two films are terrific, he wasn’t decrying the films, in fact he was praising the films but he found he got closer to a sense of the truth of what occurred in the Saville Inquiry through the play and thus through the events of Bloody Sunday and the family experiences of it. He wasn’t setting one up against another you know, the piece of documentary theatre that was made and films they rely on forms of realism that the play of mine that you’re talking about Scenes from an Inquiry is consciously poetic and non-realistic. Now that doesn’t please everybody. Pleased the family a great deal and others and intuition and experience I’ve had around it is that people might find it difficult to see the thing front on are more likely to be seduced, and I use the word advisedly, to come and see an art piece which is not snottery but is beautiful and engaging and thus can have access to difficult things that they may otherwise fend off or be defensive around. It wouldn’t shy away the plays in the peace process plays, the play Denizen specifically to play Scenes from an Inquiry, you don’t hide away from things and the image I use around it is it’s very difficult to look at the sun but you can look at the moon and that’s a way of looking at the sun.

… different ways of talking … … poetic/realistic … 

Yea I mean all of that’s very true and accurate in your observation Donall. experience of going to the Saville Inquiry...taking a step sideways in a parallel existence I have historically going back a long time a practice in what’s known as group work, conflict resolution through group work practices so I would have worked with support of Bloody Sunday families very privately, very quietly, very off the radar at various times during their own processes particularly as they approached their campaign so in that spirit of association I would have attended the Inquiry on a number of occasions and the events in the Guildhall were ritualised in such a high art, high theatrical fashion that it spoke of theatre to me you know. Here we were the empire had arrived in Londonderry from London, the kit that they had had never been seen in Derry before, the equipment they had, it was extraordinary televisual computer communications equipment, the cabling that went it, it’s the kind of thing that interests me. I walk around and look at the cables going into the room and think that’s fucking money that’s gone in there, big money. One of the head Counsels was referred to as Two Brains Clarke, he’s a very smart 10.51 in the room so the empire has turned up and all the chariots, all the kit has turned up and the citizenry is reeled out in front of them and asked very direct questions about events that happened a long time ago and we’re effectively told answer yes, answer no in the performative manner of a Trial. Now it was not offered as a Trial, it was said to be wasn’t supposed to be adversarial but the actual form, the human dynamic form, the actors, these are of interest to me theatre practitioner, spoke to me and that the voices....sorry the capacities of that ritual weren’t adequate to the event hence I was drawn to the play, I’m suggesting...not suggesting that my play is adequate to the matter but it is another matter and I felt that it required another matter...another address to use that language. To come back to your theme of advocacy, the play is primarily advocating art, beauty and order as an imaginaire as vital forces in the resolution of matters in our society particularly matters of great hurt and historical hurt, people keep saying we need the facts. I’ve always taken a view is that facts can be disputed and fought about, fictions can be enjoyed and shared and if people are going to spend a whole lot of time beating themselves up about the facts, well actually no that gunshot came from the left window, no it was the right window and the window is people get so bogged down into that then what happens my own sense is that power in the world remains unscathed you know. At the minute I’m...I live in the UK, I pay UK taxes, my taxes are paying armament companies to bomb the living shit out of poor people in Yemen. Doesn’t matter whether that bomb comes from the left, comes from the right, it fell on a Tuesday, it fells on a Wednesday, still my money is paying for that and it’s devastating lives but that’s a matter that galvanises me as an artist so when such a matter comes to my city then I’m likely to respond artistically. 

authorship … 

Yea, yea, it is influenced by the matter shall we say or the thing but I think the key point to make Donall is that me as I write the plays, these are solely authored by me, nobody else has any input, responsibility, ownership whatever words you want to use, authorship is solely mine, I didn’t write this with somebody, for somebody, because somebody, I wrote it for me and I tried to make it present in the world.

authorship … … ownership … 

Yea well the rationale for that for me is it’s mine. If it’s a fuck up, it’s my fuck up. It’s not the people on the stage, it’s not the people in the community who assisted, it’s mine. I put two actors on the stage saying what could be in various plays controversial matters, they have responsibility for their performance and their quality of their actions and so on but if somebody starts saying that’s wrong they then say he wrote it and I go let’s go, do you want to chat about that so authorship out of this is solely mine, yea, so I don’t...I don’t go and gather people’s stories, I don’t do research, I live in the world, I listen to the radio, I read the paper, I talk to mates, I hang out and then I go home and make it up. 

songs … 

Those are mostly written yea. Well they’ll be a mix of...the play Waiting ends with The Parting Glass, it’s a very famous Scots/Irish kind of song but lots of them are written. The rationale or the you know the authorial reasons for that is I like singing, my mother was a good singer, singing songs in the house would have been a feature, there’s a wedding coming up in daughter’s wedding, I know it will be over in Manchester 3 o’clock in the morning there’ll be a crowd of paddies sitting singing, my sisters will there’s that I think that informs it. Technically in the plays audiences warm to them, it also a place when a song can kind of achieve an emotional depth that straightforward dialogue may not and you need to be careful to set up...for me you need to be careful to set up that this is not realism, but suddenly somebody over there starts singing but the conventions are usually such that anybody watching the plays will know you know this isn’t...we’re not really in a hotel room or we’re not really in a courtroom or we’re not really in a trench or wherever, we’re in a play and hence the notion...sorry the notion of song is viable artistically again yea. 

realistic and expressionistic …

And they may...that’s a very accurate description again and they may or may not work for somebody so they may think that’s cat there, he wouldn’t say that or she wouldn’t sing that or say that and another person might be quite comfortable and engage with that. I think the key thing for me when people say why did you say that Dave, you wouldn’t say that in real life, I say it’s not real life, it’s a play, you know well what’s in a play. Look he’s got makeup on, look there’s lights up there you know, look it’s a black box, that’s not a kitchen, that’s not a courtroom, that’s a theatre and I have a highly... a heightened sense of theatricality you know, now possibly overly so in the sense that you and I are talking here and there’s some people there and there’s some people down there and I’m...I’ve a mind that we’re all in a play so that’s a bit OTT now you know but...but certainly in the work yea so there’s a conscious...and just take a step slightly sideways from the play Scenes from an Inquiry but to the play Denizen, yea the...the setting of that is such that what you might call the entrails of the theatre work around the stage so when you sit down we’re in a courthouse and when you sit down you can see the technicians who are running the lights, they’re all sitting there and they’re in courtroom technician garb and the guards who are guarding the prisoner they’re in the same garb as the technicians so the props manager is in prison guard uniform and so on so I like that idea that not pretending that we’re not in a play you know, let’s show the entrails of the thing

entrails of the thing … … transparency … 

And it’s not’s not a problem you know and it’s not saying it’s better than any other way, it’s just a particular feature yea. I happened to be in Antibes in France last week and I saw a play in a small theatre in Antibes, seven, nine performers on stage all in blacks, put on bits of costume, did work and they moved furniture and props and so on and it was definitely all elegantly performed as part of the event. They spoke to each other off you know, they passed each other bottles of water and step forward you know so the theatricality of the thing is another aspect of authorship I would suggest. How that connected with advocacy you know people might say Dave that’s not beautiful you know and or that’s kind of and for me I kind of think it is. The other thing you might connect it with transparency you know, this is not hidden, this is in front of you, there isn’t somebody upstairs pulling levers you know, you can see they are stripped down, they are bare, they’re in front of you.


Well let’s again take the play Denizen right, that came about during the city of culture. One of the aims of the city of culture 2013 was to address matters that are difficult to address so some of the people involved said Dave a play, I go yea. I want to write about dissident republicans. They kind of went Jesus and I went uh it’s a...aim 3 of the thing you know we want to celebrate, we want to enjoy you know but there was...and I said I’ll do that and to be blunt I said show me the money ‘cause I knew UK city of culture pile of money flying around relative to what’s before and after and certainly what’s come after pretty grim. So to their credit some of their people involved did tackle that and I wrote a poetic play in which the last militant dissident republican breaks the pike and throws it down. Part of that is advocacy saying back to back Picasso kind of line of something can be imagined it can be real so if it can be imagined on a play and can be visually represented, artistically, it might happen. So that’s part of an answer to your question, I would be mindful of opportunities for funding but they would have to be consistent with things that I want to do so for instance there’s been a number of people approached me over the years and said Dave would you write a play about da da da da da because there’s money for it and I say that doesn’t really catch me. I have a number of friends and I have a number of quite striking health challenges so people say Dave you know you could write something about that and I go not really you know. Enjoy plays for children or teenagers, adults, all these plays are for adults I am mindful of the way the world works I’m being wise but I’m...the work is not determined by it yea. 

funding 2… 

Well I...the bulk...well let’s put it this way, the main streams of funding that I have found available to work for me has been the Arts Council so the aims of the Arts Council are to make art, right, now it’s written in a more complex way than but I say I’m going to make art, look, why wouldn’t you fund it, it’s art and I’ve had the good fortune over the past 20, 25, 30 years to make successful, to use that language, art. So I have avoided funding such as Peace 1, Peace 2, Peace 3. I’ve avoided those, one reason is there are huge administrative burdens and they want to employ people in jobs, I don’t want a job, I want to make work so that would be it so the opportunity lies within in the main the Arts Council but also the City Council has been very supportive under its arts umbrella funding as it were and you know that has varied over the years so yea and also the work has tended to be in scale, Denizen was a fairly big thing but in the main it’s tended to be what would be known as small to medium work so not huge amounts of money. For instance, I made in the UK City of Culture here 2013 a piece that the UK City of Culture people didn’t fund and I got money from the Arts Council in association with Bogside Brandywell Community Association. I made a piece of theatre in McLaughlin’s hardware shop, in the Yea, yea just the 100 anni...I was shocked to hear that nobody was marking the 100th anniversary of this magnificent local business in the UK’s City of Culture.

Yea, in any other city it would be held up would be on the front of tourist brochures so now they’re very humble and modest people, three brothers currently in it. Anyway so I made a piece there and Arts Council supported that. 

Well I think it’s an actuality for me. Go back to your other remark about funding just to take a point is my first play in The Shopper and the Boy, I wrote that, got some money from the City Council, Pat Byrne joined it as an actor and we toured locally. The joke I make is we went to the states, Shantallow Estate, New Buildings Estate, Nelson Drive Estate you know so we toured... we toured the states and then off the back of that we founded the company. Now go back to your note about funding and limiting and opportunity, at that time I had young kids, I needed steady work. Steady work, not just play and then another play and another so forming the company served two functions, one was it was a vehicle to write those seven plays and also once we got into being core funded by the Arts Council I had a monthly wage. We’d enough in partnership with my wife to raise two kids. Now when they’re reared, I was able to step away from that so there’s a kind of a mix of people say you know artists are flaky and waffly and...artists working are very good business people you know. 

making a living … 

Yea again an anecdote I quote, I don’t name the incident but I was at a meeting one time where shall we say in a period of my life when my public profile was very high in a small C celebrity kind of way, a budget was passed around, I was to be the writer for this thing that was emerging and a budget was passed around everything was scanned and the budget money for the director, money for actors, money for trucks, money for vans, money for blah blah blah, I couldn’t see a budget heading, right any questions and I put my hand up and said I just...I’m just looking at the budget here it looks great. I just don’t see a line for writer. There was an embarrassed silence in the room and...and the person chairing the meeting said aw ha I’m sure...I’m sure we’ll find something Dave, poor people involved were embarrassed but I’m sure we’ll find something Dave. I stood up and gently said see when you do, give me a shout, my kids need shoes this week and I walked out and the thing didn’t happen, not because I walked out but because they hadn’t really figured out what they were doing that’s kind of part of authorship for me you know, I’m writing these things, if it suits you great if it doesn’t suit you fine. To go back to Denizen, at the time when Denizen mightn’t have happened it eventually the book...the text came out, Arts Council supported that, UK City of Culture supported a public reading, a rehearsed reading with the text and then various other people who did a full production in 2015 so I remember saying at various stages I said look if this doesn’t all come off don’t you worry, I’ll stand on the steps of the Guildhall and read it, don’t you know don’t sweat, don’t sweat this. Aw Dave we can’t get the money, no bother, just have another go, let’s have another go and if you don’t I’ll announce it, put it in the Journal, I’ll stand at the Guildhall and I’ll read it so there’s a kind of a, I don’t know what it is about but I just want to get assertion that we’re going to make it and if it doesn’t get made it’s alright.

… persistence … … business … 

Yea but it’ll happen in some way is the thing you know and the other thing is when I get into something like this and it gets tight as it does in rehearse for I’m a director, there’s actors, things get tight. I would...without being bolshy about it but I would make it clear I won’t leave...I won’t be leaving the room you know, I’ll be here, you can leave the room, you can whatever but I won’t be leaving the room, we’re doing this thing you know and if you leave the room that’s fine, no hard feelings or if you go we’ll go again you know so there’s a kind of a...I think I’m trying to deal fairly with people clearly. That goes back to something which is an area of complexity, may be relevant to you but it’s certainly to me around the advocacy aspect. I would be advocating – go back to your funding stuff - again at all times putting money in people’s hands so if we do something everybody gets paid. Professional actors get paid equity plus, non-professional actors would get if possible equity money, everybody’s who’s in it will get money put in their hand, cover for days off work whatever subject to budget so you know I don’t have a practice of going to people and say tell me your story and I’ll write a play, I say I’ll make it up is that any good to you? 

directors … 

Yea I think that’s a good question and there would be limitations to me doing it. I mean for instance the plays in the peace process, you referred to Denizen, I would not have welcomed anybody else directing any of them. It’s back to the thing I said earlier about I stand over it, somebody’s going to write a play about dissident militants, yea me, next. I wouldn’t ask anybody else and I’d also be naïvely immaturely fearful and I’d be blunt that they would fuck it up you know and so there’s lines in there which you don’t say that line then that line there doesn’t work so a director says I need to cut that for good reasons but those lines on page 3 are there so they...they salvage the lines on page 43 you know so those particular plays...other plays of mine I mean delighted to had other people direct so I would be open to that, somebody says write a play but Joe Bloggs or Mary Bloggs is going to direct it, fine, I’m open to that on the assumption that he or she’s good.

With the permission of Dónall Mac Cathmhaoill, July 2020.

Plays in a Peace Process, Dave Duggan, book, Guildhall Press, Derry, 2008
McLaughins’ 100, Dave Duggan, book, Guildhall Press, Derry, 2013 
Denizen, Dave Duggan, book, Guildhall Press, 2014

Sunday, 26 July 2020

BUANTONN EDITH monalóg/monologue

A new piece of on-line, lock-down theatre, featuring Mary Ryan.
Produced and directed, for Aisling Ghéar, by Bríd Ó Gallachóir.
Written by Dave Duggan
In Irish, with subtitles in English 

Thursday, 23 July 2020


Spike Lee does Netflix as did Martin Scorsese (The Irishman, 2019), with a very long film, this time set in contemporary Vietnam, on the legacy of the colonial wars.
The focus is on a squad of African American ex-soldiers, who return to search for their charismatic squad leader, Storming Norman (played by Chadwick Boseman), an inspirational amalgam of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and a human war machine. There is also a cache of CIA-gold the squad buried and now plan to retrieve for their own benefit.
Echoing reactions to Martin Scorsese's film, the viewer wonders if this fine and fascinating film, at 2 hours and 34 minutes, is an hour too long. What happened to the Hollywood tradition of the gripping and sufficient 90 minute feature? With the shift of US film distribution to Netflix and to other digital platformsare film-makers stuffing in too much? 
Da 5 Bloods is three films, perhaps: two quest films – firstly, searching for the remains of an old comrade-in-arms, secondly lusting for gold (See The Treasure of Sierra Madre, 1948) - and it’s also an exploration of brotherhood and race in America today. 
The primary plot-driver is a crusade. A group of older men, linked by combat experiences and a mixed set of purposes and plans, embark on a mission to retrieve the remains of their near-sainted leader and to bring them home. This is a theme that resonates with many US war dramas. See Saving Private Ryan (1998).
The film presents chilling statistics such as that 33% of the US military forces in the American War in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were African Americans, despite being only 17% of the US population. This underpinthe exploration of racism in America today. The racism and lived experience of African Americans rest not only on the legacy of the slave trade, but on many other legacies, including the state’s reliance on African Americans in its military endeavours. This continues to the present day.
Paul (Delroy Lindo) wears a cap with the logo Make America Great Again. Delroy Lindo is great. This is his film. He gives a powerful performance of hurt, anger, intelligence, lyricism and mania that soars over the other performances. All the principal performers are terrific, presenting well-developed and well-written characters. 
(See Delroy Lindo in David Mamet’s 2001 double-cross film Heist, where, as Bobby Blane, he delivers many wonderful Mamet-esque lines with terrific style and menace, including 
You know why the chicken crossed the road? Because the road crossed the chicken.)
Da 5 Bloods gives a nod to the war of liberation against the French with a role for an old colonial, Desrochesas financial fixer and gangster. He is played adroitly by Jean Reno, laying on the Gallic arrogance and insouciance. 
Paul’s son Davi(Jonathan Majors) joins the quest in a surprise turn, to bring father-son, inter-generational themes to the story. 
The locals in Da 5 Bloods are not given very much to do. A number of them are cannon fodder for the African Americans who mow down a large troop of Viet Cong during the flash-back war scenes. The aged Bloods remain surprisingly adept ex-soldiers, seeing off a sizeable gang in a climactic fire-fight over the gold.
Not unlike other US war films, a small group of American fighters, regardless of their ethnicity, readily defeat larger numbers of native fighters. Greater firepower and better training, no doubt, but also greater financial and cultural clout for American film-makers make heroic war actions by Americans the dominant narrative. See the Indian Wars’ films, involving US cavalry, produced by Hollywood.
The film doesn’t stray far from the notion of American exceptionalism as an international power. The principals hold to Mark Twain’s aphorism:
loyalty to country always, loyalty to government when it deserves it.
That the final shakedown occurs amidst the ruins of a forest-engulfed temple is a telling illustration of the overwhelming capture Time achieves on all human activity, imperial wars included.
The Vietnamese people continue their history, incorporating new cultures into their ways of being, as the contemporary scenes in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) show. Legacy matters are ever present, nonetheless. Ordinary people challenge the ex-soldiers for killing their parents and families. 
DA 5 Bloods is a timely film, focussing on African American history and how it impacts on lives today. The film is intercut with telling archive news and documentary footage to bring that history to bear on the film. As ever in war, the men who gave the orders rarely face the consequences. Even President Barack Obama validated the Stars and Stripes and sent fellow African Americans to secure that banner at military bases all over the globe, while advancing international wars of conquest, supported by an arms trade that is a cornerstone of the American economic system.
Da 5 Bloods is recommended.Though it is very long, it tells an untold story with panache and verve. It has a lush, sometimes epic, orchestral score of original music by the great Terence Blanchard and uses the workof Marvin Gaye (What’s going on? With the line: war is not the answerto terrific effect. 
Delroy Lindo’s exceptional solo in the jungle is a highlight. It is elegiac and poignant, powerfully delivered in the fallen-hero tradition.
Might Spike Lee make a film telling the heroic story of Muhammed Ali’s challenge to the military draft?
Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam, while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end.

DA 5 BLOODS, film, Spike Lee, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, 2020
Delroy Lido, as Paul, in a solo scene

Related reading/viewing:
The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh, (book, 1987) 
The Quiet American by Graham Greene, (book, 1955 and film, 2002) 
Indochine,(film, 1992)

Monday, 13 July 2020


Algorithms are as old as computation. They appear in mathematical systems across all cultures, both informally and formally. They are step-by-step procedures, designed to perform calculations or solve problems. 
The word, as used in English, gained traction in wider culture with the advent of Turing Machines in the mid-twentieth century. These machines, and the computer science to which they gave rise, are the precursors of the contemporary information technologies which dominate social, economic, media and public life globally.
Common usage understands algorithms as veiled processes used by over-whelming social media platforms to select and focus our choices and our behaviour. If you use a machine search engine to check out holidays by the sea, you will find advertisements for seaside resorts cluttering your email account, confusing your social media browsing and intruding on future machine searches.
A basic definition of an algorithm says it is a well-defined sequence of steps, explained clearly enough that even a computer could do them.
The following notes discuss how humans use one to solve one of the most intractable human problems: how to make an apology when you don’t mean it and when it isn’t meant to have any consequences.
The classic steps in the apology algorithm are similar in all human languages. More arcane versions are being developed in computer languages, as part of Artificial Intelligence advances to equip robots with this vital piece of software.
In English, a classic apology goes as follows:

I am sorry for … 
I will … 

By way of illustration, consider an incident involving two footballers, in a heated game in a women’s tournament.
Player 1 says 

I am sorry for breaking your leg.
I will not do it again.

She may go further.

I will visit you in hospital and bring grapes.

Player 2 may accept the apology. She may not consider it sincere. She may not consider it sufficient.
A variation on this classic formula is widely found in contemporary public life.

I am sorry that you were... 

The notable changes from for to that and from to you clearly demonstrate the shift of agency from the apologiser to the person receiving the apology. A further significant change is from action to emotion.
This form of the algorithm is commonly used in cases where the apologiser is under pressure not to give way.
Player 1 says

I am sorry that your leg was broken.
I am sorry for the hurt this has caused.

Player 2 may accept this apology. She may doubt Player 1’s trustworthiness.

Elaborations on this variation occur widely in public life. It is known informally as The Half-Apology and, more formally, as The Politic Apology.