(Gemma Tipton’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 7/27.)

Company reflects on decades of casting spells and pushing the envelope with its productions

It’s fascinating how the same set of words can have so many different meanings. I’m sitting in on rehearsals for Rough Magic’s forthcoming production of Much Ado About Nothing. Clare BarrettMaeve Fitzgerald and Venetia Bowe are trying out a scene; drawing nuances of emphasis and feelings from Shakespeare’s comedy of love and misunderstanding. When I arrived, Fitzgerald and Barrett were playing swingball on a set that may or may not feature in the final production.

“It helps us learn our lines,” says Barrett, possibly only half joking. Either way, it’s a good metaphor for the quick-witted banter that makes Shakespeare’s lighter writing so sparkling. In the sports hall that’s doubling up as a rehearsal room, sketches for costumes are tacked to the wall and there’s a chocolate cake, gently melting on a table. This latter isn’t a prop, it’s Fitzgerald’s birthday and there have been some tasty celebrations.

They settle down to work. “Let’s not feel any obligation to make things easy for people,” says director Ronan Phelan, as he nudges the action away from the possibly obvious, and into the rich humanity that is why Shakespeare’s plays have endured. He’s not talking about over-complicating, just digging a little deeper. For someone who had the playwright’s infinite variety sucked out in school, it’s a revelation.

Like Shakespeare, although not quite so long-lived, Rough Magic have also endured. Celebrating 35 years this year, and with two productions in preparation for the Kilkenny Arts Festival, as well as the premiere of Marina Carr’s new work, Hecuba, there are few signs of a desire to rest on laurels, or otherwise take it easy. But what does it take to survive through a generation of upheaval, boom and recession? What has changed in the world of Irish theatre, and how do you stay fresh, and relevant, year after year?

(Read more)

Photo: Irish Times

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