THE premiere of a documentary on the making of Michael Collins: The Musical takes place tonight at Cork Opera House, marking the 90th anniversary of the death of the divisive political icon.
The 75-minute Michael Collins: A Rebel’s Song was filmed by Cork-based photographer, Miki Barlok and produced by Theatrix Productions. Theatrix is run by director, Bryan Flynn, who conceived the musical, which was commissioned in 2005 by the former director of the Cork Opera House, Gerry Barnes. Flynn says Collins’s short but eventful life was like a Shakespearean tragedy.
Flynn’s CV includes Jesus Christ Superstar for the Cork Opera House, Don Giovanni for Opera 2005, The All Star Wars, and, most recently, The Sound of Music at the Cork Opera House. With musical director, David Hayes, and orchestrator, David Wray, Michael Collins: The Musical has been staged a number of times since 2007, at the Theatre Royal in Waterford, the Cork Opera House and the Olympia Theatre in Dublin.
Mr Flynn was afraid the project wouldn’t be taken seriously. “I had the opposite reaction. People went in to see the show wondering what it would be like, and came out enthralled by it. It wins over audiences because it’s a very moving story. The kind of people that would have raised eyebrows about a musical on Michael Collins didn’t come to see it. But the general-theatre and musical-theatre audiences loved it.”
Researching the years 1916-1922, Flynn decided upon Collins. “In the beginning, I wasn’t looking at doing the Michael Collins story at all. I was looking at a tumultuous time in Ireland. I knew very little about Michael Collins. But the more I read about him, the more I realised that he was perfect for a musical. There’s the personal side of his story as well as the political side,” he says.
The musical emphasises the love story between Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan. Collins’s right-hand man, Harry Boland (who was on the opposite side to Collins in the Civil War) was also in love with Kiernan. This love triangle, and the falling out of two old friends, is conducive to a dramatic tale.
“Nobody wants to sit in a theatre for two hours being fed information on dates and statistics. Politics can be boring. And real life can be mundane. We took a lot of license and pulled things together from different sources to make the story as theatrical as we could. I immersed myself in the story for months and months, all the time trying to find blocks of information that would work theatrically,” he says.
There are hopes of bringing the production to the US. “We’re looking at an East Coast tour. I’ve been talking to promoters and I’m going to America, in January, to meet them, with a view to a 2013 tour. There’s a lot of interest but trying to make it happen, from the idea of a US tour, to actual plane tickets, is a big journey. We’re in contact with promoters that have links to regional theatres in America. It would be fantastic if we could put an American tour together. I think it could do really well over there, because the Irish diaspora would love it,” he says.
Mr Flynn wrote 24 songs. “We’ve never attempted to release any of them — individually, they’ve never had a life outside of the show — but it’s something we would definitely look at if we were going to America.”
Since the first workshop in 2006 to develop the show, Mr Flynn has had the process filmed, interviewing the cast members and the creative team, as well as filming the various productions in Cork, Waterford and Dublin.
“I thought it would be a good idea to put it all together,” Mr Flynn says. “Miki has done all the production shots for all my work at the Cork Opera House. He has captured some amazing images over the years. In a conversation with him, he said he’d be interested in working on a movie of some sort. He felt a documentary would be a good way of commencing that process.”
Mr Flynn says that he always films his shows while they’re being developed. “We do some behind-the-scenes stuff, but never to the extent that we did with this show. The creation of the show runs parallel to the life of Michael Collins. For anyone who doesn’t know much about him, they’ll know all about him after seeing the documentary. It’s almost like another story.
“It’s not just excerpts from the show. It’s the whole story about someone starting with a blank page and looking at how the musical was developed and how it came together. That, in itself, was a journey. We’re hoping we’ll have an audience willing to come on that journey with us by viewing the documentary.”
Mr Flynn says if there is sufficient interest in the documentary, it will be screened again. He is also hoping that it will be broadcast. “We’ve been on to RTÉ, trying to sell it to them. Trying to get in the door is difficult. But we’re working on it.”
Mr Barlok, a Slovakian, has been living in Cork for six years. He wasn’t aware of Michael Collins until he came to Ireland. In his native country, he has made documentaries on the craft industry and on the restoration of old churches.
“I was interested in making a documentary on Micheal Collins. I’ve seen the show and really like it. I have made a fly-on-the-wall type of documentary. I loved going backstage and seeing what was happening there. I tried to capture all the important moments, from the first rehearsal to the final show. I was with the guys all the time, looking out for interesting material,” he says.
Theatrix’s footage is edited into Barlok’s film of the most recent production of the musical.
“Rehearsals started in Cork and then moved to the Theatre Royal in Waterford. The documentary almost seems like a story within a story. The obvious story is the making of the musical. At the same time, there’s the story of Michael Collins. It’s not a simple behind-the-scenes documentary,” Mr Barlok says.
Over the years, different actors have played Michael Collins, including Killian Donnelly. In the documentary, Eoin Cannon takes the role. “He has the look of Michael Collins in a way.”
Mr Barlok admires Mr Flynn’s way of working. “He’s a perfectionist. We are similar-minded. I like to go into great detail.”
Mr Flynn, a native of Waterford, grew up “hanging out at the Theatre Royal. I was a musical child, playing the piano, percussion and other instruments. So music is the thing I bring to theatre.” He says the documentary is a must-see for all film and theatre fans and will be of huge interest to those with an interest in the life of Michael Collins. A reception to ‘meet and greet’ the cast and crew will be held at 7pm tonight, followed by the screening of the documentary at 8pm.