Ar ais arís with a new body of arts features

Imeall on TG4 kicks off its new season with a revealing interview with playwright Tom Murphy, says Richard Fitzpatrick

Ar ais arís with a new body of arts features

IMEALL, TG4’s arts and culture show, kicks off with its fifth season tomorrow. Producer Maggie Breathnach and her team at Red Shoe Productions bagged a joint interview with playwright Tom Murphy and Druid’s artistic director Garry Hynes for the first episode. The pair, of course, has collaborated on an acclaimed DruidMurphy cycle of plays which finishes a two-week run at Cork’s Everyman Palace Theatre on Friday.

“I’m afraid they affect me emotionally very much,” says Murphy of the impact of his works on him personally. “There are no happy bunnies in my plays. They’re neglected and abused people, and I think there’s some switch in me that goes back to the original arrival at the feeling of a particular character. They become real for me.”

Murphy adds that his life was heavily marked by emigration. “Out of a family of 12, including my mother and father, there was only myself and my mother eventually left sharing this fairly large house. My greatest moments of anticipation and despair were spent on the Tuam railway station. I used to think that the search for home, perhaps because of that, was to do with a geographical place, but in the last 25 years I think the search for home is to do with peace — a search for peace, harmony, God, it could be death,” he says, rising a little from his seat with a smile.

Breathnach says she was greatly moved by Murphy’s honesty and humility, and admits it was a coup getting him before a TV camera for interview. “We just persevered, kind of gently knocking, and eventually somebody opened the door,” she says. “It comes from a passion and a love — certainly for me and Pascal Cassidy who runs the company with me, as a cameraman/director — for everything we do.”

As well as singing from indie musician Puzzle Muteson in the Mitchelstown Caves, tomorrow’s episode also includes a segment on Cill Rialaig, the artist’s retreat in south-west Kerry. Residents, thanks to founder Noelle Campbell Sharpe’s vision, don’t pay for their stay. “It’s a powerful place to be,” says Breathnach. “We stayed there one of the nights. It is a collection of old famine cottages that are renovated. You wouldn’t want to be too superstitious.”

Imeall has covered stories in all 32 Irish counties, including a piece filmed in Mountjoy Prison. They’ve also ventured overseas to locations such as Shanghai, and one at Ground Zero in New York in 2009 with Colum McCann, fortuitously just as news broke that he had won the National Book Award for his novel Let the Great World Spin. The production decision to film on the road makes for revealing interviews. for example, an interview with Colm Tóibín in his home. “It lets the public in,” she says.

Egged on by Cassidy, her business partner, Breathnach cooked up the format for Imeall while bunkered in Spain for two weeks. One of the cornerstone elements of the show is the roster of artists she uses to report, including Rossa Ó Snodaigh, Theo Dorgan and this season’s new recruit, Fiachna Ó Braonáin.

“I hate the idea of a television presenter that’s only interested in being a television presenter,” she says. “There are certain programmes where that works but it wasn’t part of the vision that myself or Pascal had. I thought, why don’t I get artists to interview artists? They’d know what they’re talking about. They would see it from a different point. A writer will react better to another writer or a musician to a musician. They’ve something in common. They’re not asking, say, ‘Do you feel nervous before a show?’.

“I remember during the Colum McCann interview, when Theo asked him, ‘Do you believe you’re a writer yet?’ And Colum kind of looked and went, ‘Wow, I guess I am’. That was pretty cool. Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh, our visual artist, interviewed the sculptor Corban Walker and she asked him if he found that his work would leave people quite cold sometimes. I remember at the time going, ‘Oooh!’. I don’t think a regular reporter would have gotten away with asking that kind of a question.”

All will be revealed in a later episode this season on the attempt in Cork during the summer to break the world body paint record. Imeall presenter Tristan Rosenstock and 316 others had their bodies fully painted. Breathnach, however, stayed behind the cameras for that particular shoot.

“I’m very good at directing stuff like that,” she laughs.

* The first episode from the new season of Imeall is at 10.30pm on TG4 tomorrow

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