Noelle Brown’s 89-year-old mother helped to inspire ‘CREAKING’, a play that will feature volunteer cast members at every venue, writes Margaret Jennings.
AN Irish play going on tour next month which tackles the stereotypical assumptions we make about older people, took its title CREAKING, from the writer’s response to a phrase her 89-year-old Cork mother, Iris, used.
“I had been thinking about writing a play with movement, around the theme of ageing and older bodies, for quite a while,” says Noelle Brown.
“When I asked my 89-year-old mother how she felt in her body at the age she was, she said ‘I’m creaking girl, creaking’.
“She is the same woman who asked me at 86 whether I thought she was too old to wear jeans any more. Her generation of women and men are extraordinary and possess a spirit and determined approach to life that I hope I have when I’m in my 80s.”
Noelle co-created the “funny and moving documentary drama” with director Oonagh Murphy. It centres around a day in the life of 79-year-old Rita, played by Geraldine Plunkett, well known for her roles in TV soaps Fair City and Glenroe.
What also makes it a stand-out event is that 16 real-life older volunteers are invited from the locality of the venue where it is staged for one night, to take part in the theatrical experience.
“It’s a performance that has the life of one-woman at the heart of it. So it’s like a play in that there’s a story and drama to that story. But it’s unlike a play in that there are real people onstage playing themselves, not characters,” explains Oonagh.
Sound and movement elements are used to reflect older bodies and the discrepancies between the age people feel in their heads —usually around 16, seemingly — and the age their bodies may be dictating.
It is presented as a staged reading and is followed by a post-show discussion with Noelle, Oonagh, and members of the cast, so the audience can expect a thought-provoking and intimate night at the theatre.
“Rita addresses the volunteer performers and the audience,” says Noelle.
“I suppose we really want the audience to connect with her character and the older volunteer performers; to think about how they feel in their own heads and bodies, whatever age they are.”
CREAKING was also inspired by the research they gathered from engaging with community groups and listening to the testimonies of older volunteers in a workshop environment.
“We eventually ended up working with a core group of volunteer performers who were extraordinary in their openness and engagement with the process and what we were trying to achieve,” says Noelle.
That discrepancy between how older people feel in their heads and how their bodies feel was a constant in the responses from the volunteer workshop participants.
“They tended to focus not so much on how they looked but how they felt in their limbs, muscles and bones, which was key to the piece we were trying to create,” says Noelle.
“The ageing body was the starting point for how they feel now and how that has changed from when they were younger.”
CREAKING looks at assumptions made about older people, for example, the fact they are often viewed as all having similar needs; that for instance, if you are older you may not want to zipline, or travel the world.
While Noelle is aged 51 and had given some thought to growing older, Oonagh, who is younger, admits to initially falling into the ageist trap: “When we first started talking about the age of people we would work with, I had a certain idea in my head about how people would seem at 72 or 77, for example.
"So on the first day when all these people started arriving, in trendy clothes, chatting about travelling on their own or how they’re on Twitter, I couldn’t believe these were ‘older people’.
“My own assumptions about how we age have been laid bare and the truism that you are only as old as you feel is absolutely true,” she says.
The tone of the performance is nicely balanced too.
“Noelle is a very funny writer and brings a lot of pathos and originality to the voice of Rita, the protagonist. She is brilliant at finding the inner monologue of people and CREAKING is full of laugh-out- loud moments,” says Oonagh.
In addition, the contribution of the volunteer participants — reflecting their own unique experiences — presumably adds a different dimension each time CREAKING is performed.
The seven-venue tour is in association with NB Theatre and is part of Bealtaine, the Age & Opportunity festival next month, which celebrates arts and creativity as we age.
It’s being staged at Glór, Ennis, May 5; The Everyman, Cork, May 10; Garter Lane, Waterford, May 11; Draiocht, Dublin, May 18; Axis, Dublin, May 19; Linenhall, Castlebar, May 22; and Hawkswell, Sligo, May 26.
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