Saturday, May 16, 2015

Theatre for all ... Interview with Martin Lynch ahead of CRAZY opening in the MAC (26 May-14 June)

Crazy is a new play from the pen of Brenda Murphy that’s coming to the MAC’s stage at the end of May. I spoke to director Martin Lynch on Thursday and he explained the premise of the play:
It’s about three people who live in a house together and the central character is a woman called Ruby who is unlucky in love and is in search of a man. She’s also obsessed with the 1950’s singer Patsy Cline …

There are two other eccentric characters in the house: Gary is the owner and “is secretly in love with her” though she doesn’t recognise it; and Eddie, a “ducker and diver” who is “always making a mess of things and getting in the way of Gary and Ruby getting together … he’s like a magpie who comes in from the street and messes things up”.

Ruby’s search for love takes her on internet dating sites and a series of dates with “crazy nutcases”. Martin Lynch describes it as an “intriguing storyline of a triangle of people who have a very dysfunctional relationship set up between them”.
“It’s a comedy. It’s about fun and a good night out with the whole Patsy Cline music thing thrown in.”

Like much new theatre in Belfast, Crazy has a very small cast, though they all have the comic timing the director wanted: Caroline Curran (The Holy, Holy Bus; 50 Shades of Red White and Blue), Ciaran Nolan (Mistletoe and Crime; Man In The Moon) and Marty Maguire (Shoot the Crow; BBC’s Number 2s).
[Small plays are an] economic necessity these days. I remember when there was an interest in my work from different theatres and they would say to me 'Martin ... no more than a four hander ... we can’t pay any more than a four-hander'. And now that I produce plays I end up saying that to people like Brenda Murphy and other people who write for me. If you give me a six hander or a seven hander I won’t be able to do it.

Looking at the website for Lynch’s company that is producing Crazy, it’s populist stuff, raucous and in your face.
There’s probably two or three types of different theatre. I run two companies. I run Green Shoot Productions which is a not-for-profit and that’s where I do the plays that have strong social and political comment or content. My last play was My English Tongue, My Irish Heart which I wrote and directed, a very strong play about emigration themes. GBL Productions is the other company I run and that’s purely for entertainment, for people to have a good night out at the theatre. So this play Crazy is a comedy about a women who’s looking for love and obsessed with Patsy Cline and it’s right in that whole good night out category.

At a Stormont committee inquiry, Martin Lynch was very outspoken about the MAC theatre last May: “I do not accept that the MAC has a wide enough approach to the arts.  I think that it is elitist.  I think that an elitist smell comes off the building.  There is a middle-class ethos about the place that does not make it particularly comfortable or a warm house, if you want to use those political terms, for working people.” [The MAC strongly defended their practice and approach to the arts in their oral submission to the Culture, Arts and Leisure committee.]

So was it an uncomfortable conversation to talk to the MAC about performing Crazy on their stage when he had criticised them?
It’s been incredibly uncomfortable with the MAC from the very start because I would like to think that a new theatre that opens up in Belfast city centre should be a theatre that straight away should have programming that attracts the widest possible … The Belfast Telegraph in their editorial one time said I wanted a working class theatre. Let me clear this up straight away. I do not want a working class theatre. I want a theatre that is accessible to all. All. A. L. L. And that means the working classes as well.

Unfortunately I thought the MAC’s programme initially was aimed at excluding those communities, particularly the communities that are adjacent geographically to the MAC: York Road, New Lodge Road, Lower Shankill, Lower Falls.

If I was running that theatre I’d be directly making contact with those communities to see what they wanted, getting theatre work from them, putting playwrights in there, actors, writers. None of that has happened or did happen.

Since that initial row with the MAC I have had two or three productions on there. It’s an uncomfortable relationship which I would rather not have. I would like to have a theatre that welcomes me and the work that I bring, both the Green Shoot social and political work and the GBL more entertainment factor. And in fairness they have had those shows in the last couple of years and I’m delighted about that. But I feel that we’ve foisted that on them rather than their programming allowing for that or reaching out for that at the start …

I want all people to like a good night out at the theatre.

Martin Lynch sees big improvements in the local theatre industry.
I think Northern Ireland punches well above its weight. We have a very, very good generation of theatre makers … There’s a really good set of actors, directors ... I remember 20-25 years ago there were no theatre directors in Belfast. You had to go searching for a theatre director. Now there’s loads of them ... I’ve noticed the difference in working with actors 30 years ago till today and the level of skills there are today that weren’t there before.

Crazy is not the only show the director and playwright is working on at the moment.
Between Green Shoot Productions and GBL we do seven or eight productions of theatre a year. That’s a high turnout. At the minute we’ve just finished My English Tongue My Irish Heart for Green Shoot … straight into rehearsals for Crazy for GBL … I’m also working on a new draft of a play that Brenda Murphy’s doing called My Two Sore Legs which is going to the Edinburgh Festival … on top of that GBL’s putting out a regional tour of Fifty Shades of Red, White and Blue … also working with Grimes and McKee to develop a follow-up to The History of the Troubles Accordin’ to my Da … and we have the franchise for the Waterfront pantomime … it’s non-stop.

Martin Lynch agrees that some local humour is lost in translation whenever Northern Ireland plays transfer to other countries. But his focus is on reaching local audiences.
Every play is different. Some plays transfer easier than others. In my own work I very specifically tend to try and connect into a specific Northern Ireland audience. It’s what I do. I’m not excited by an audience in Belgium* watching one of my plays. I couldn’t give two tosses if one of my plays goes on in Belgium ... it just doesn’t float my boat.

What matters to Martin Lynch is connecting with people and communities he knows.
If I think we write a play about a community or are involved in a community project that makes an impact there I like all that. It’s a big flaw and fault in my character as a playwright that I don’t aim for universal playwriting but it’s not what I’m interested in.

[* Brassneck Theatre seemed very happy that Man In The Moon went down so well with Belgium audiences in March!]

Despite this ‘flaw’, Martin’s had success with his own play Chronicles of the Long Kesh which sold out at the Edinburgh Festival, and toured as far as Tasmania. And given the “universal family theme” in Brenda Murphy’s play My Two Sore Legs, he’s planning to take it to Edinburgh Festival later this year and further afield afterwards.

Does Northern Ireland need to try to get our playwrights, actors and plays out there, exporting them to the rest of the world?
Very much so. I’ve been to the Edinburgh Festival, the New York First Irish Festival, the Brighton Festival and so on. Culture Ireland … has been sensational. The amount of money they’ve had to bring Republic of Ireland product all around the work is amazing. And they’ve also helped out northern companies: they helped us to go to Australia. But when you go to the Edinburgh Festival they have a big launch of their own, a big lavish reception where all their works are put out there and promoted. And coming from Belfast we were left standing with our arms both the one length feeling a wee bit the poor man’s son …

The City Council, the British Council and the Arts Council should get together and really start to promote Northern Irish work abroad because I do think Northern Irish theatre punches well above its weight. There’s lots of really good product that comes out of Belfast. It’s just a pity that at the moment we don’t have the focus and the resources to give it that springboard onto an international platform.

If you've got a lot of rhythm in your soul, check our Crazy in the MAC between 26 May and 14 June. All are welcome!

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