Dark play keeps it in the family

A darkly comic tale of abandoned psychiatric patients will be a visceral experience for audiences, says Enter Juliet writer Ronan Fitzgibbon of Broken Crow Theatre Company.

Fitzgibbon says he was inspired by a war story he read about. “I think it was the Yugoslav war. There was an asylum on a lake between two disputed areas of territory. All the staff had left the asylum and the inmates were on their own, with bombs flying overhead. I was trying to imagine what kind of bedlam that would result in, so I latched onto that story.”

Enter Juliet has a play within the play, which, says Fitzgibbon, is a bit like a mongrel version of Shakespeare. “One of the characters has found bits of Shakespeare text. He has cobbled the bits into a Shakespeare-type play, weaving them into a narrative. This play has various Shakespeare characters in it, such as Caliban, Iago and Juliet.”

The abandoned people perform the drama and are rewarded with food from a hatch. However, though they continue to perform, the food stops coming. The players become so weak they forget their real names. The play within the play was largely written by Fitzgibbon’s father, Ger, retired head of drama and theatre studies at UCC.

“I felt Ger would be much better-qualified to write the play within the play, as he has vast knowledge of Shakespeare. While he was working on it, he knew nothing about the play that his piece was going into. The process was good fun. He’d send me something and I’d rip it apart and then send it back to him. Occasionally, I’d say to him that I needed a particular dynamic, something to facilitate the wider play. He would send something to me and it would either work or not work.”

Enter Juliet is about group power dynamics. “It’s really about power and madness. It’s quite surreal and is demanding of the audience. I’m hoping that what we will create will be very intense. There are eight characters that are on stage all the time. Once I can get audiences on board with the humour in the play, they’ll go with the darkness.”

For the first time, Broken Crow, which was founded by Fitzgibbon in 2011, has received Arts Council funding: €30,000 to stage Enter Juliet. The company has previously staged four plays: Mantle, Bug, Hang-up and Life/Death. “When you’re used to getting no funding, €30,000 from the Arts Council is great. There are so many people helping us, for free, with photography and graphic design. It will be good to be able to pay people something.”

Fitzgibbon is the only permanent member of Broken Crow. “It is an unusual model. Every year, people are invited to create theatre for a 12-month period. At the moment, there is an ensemble of 11 people. People decide if they want to stay on for another year. It’s about harvesting people’s enthusiasm and seeing how their ambitions can be realised.”

Despite Ronan growing up in a theatrical family (his mother Emelie is artistic director of Graffiti Theatre Company), he studied fine art at Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design. “I fell into theatre, working with Barabbas in Dublin as a stage hand. Then, I went into stage design and set design at Graffiti. I then got involved in writing and theatre-making and came up with the idea of a model for a theatre company,” says Fitzgibbon.

Enter Juliet is at Everyman, Cork, June 30-July 5.

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