Tiny plays make a big impact

Mary Murray tells Pádraic Killeen about Fishamble’s latest short form project

WHEN Fishamble – The New Theatre Company made a public call for submissions of “tiny plays” in 2011 they were surprised at the volume of response.

With over 1,700 submissions the Dublin-based company resolved to stage two shows featuring the best 50 shorts, including a number the company had commissioned by established writers such as Joseph O’Connor, Dermot Bolger, Maeve Binchy, and Colum McCann.

The first production, Tiny Plays for Ireland, ran to acclaim in the Project Arts Centre a year ago. The second, Tiny Plays II, is currently underway at the same venue.

Significantly, the show has retained virtually the same cast with Mary Murray, Don Wycherley and Peter Daly all returning for a second bite of the cherry. With 25 four-minute-long plays to perform each night, this magnificent ensemble race through costume changes, time periods and settings. It’s a huge thrill for the audience merely to watch them morph from one character to another.

“It’s great fun,” says Murray. “For actors it’s a great opportunity to play and there are an awful lot of actors out there that would just love to do what we’re getting to do.”

Murray is one of the country’s most versatile actresses and the variety aspect of Tiny Plays is wonderfully suited to her skills. In the current production she’s been particularly relishing her turns in The Cost of Your Forgetting, where she plays a supernatural nightclub vamp, and Hearts, where she’s decked out as a granny with electric blue hair and vivid knitwear.

“It’s all about the wigs and the costumes,” laughs Murray. “Whenever you get to dress up that’s the most fun.”

In fact, costume is a vital element of Tiny Plays II, the multitude of wigs and dress-designs allowing each play to make its own distinct claim on the audience’s imagination. Niamh Lunny’s array costumes and Val Sherlock’s hair and make-up are secret stars of the show, suggests Murray.

“As an actor, once the costumes and the wigs come on, you get to see stuff in the character that you haven’t seen before,” she says. “So it’s not just down to you. A character really is a collaboration with the likes of Val and Niamh and Jim Culleton [the director]. And it’s fantastic when you see it all come together.”

Though Murray gets to play a few enjoyably larger-than-life figures in Tiny Plays II, she is also cast in more low-key, affecting parts too. In Thorny Island by Sarah Binchy, she plays a young woman catching a ship to the UK while desperately unsure about the abortion she’s sailing there to have. In Justine Mitchell’s The Night Feed, meanwhile, she plays a homeless young drug addict visited by her estranged father on the Dublin streets.

“There are some beautiful plays in there,” she says. “And it’s just lovely to have that variation. You play something that’s so real and then immediately afterwards you’re turning into something crazy and off-the-wall.”

Murray is a frequent collaborator with Fishamble and has a good insight into what the company is all about. The company’s literary director Gavin Kostick conceived Tiny Plays as a means of addressing issues relevant to contemporary Ireland, but without providing one large overarching note. Murray believes that in that regard it’s been successful, the patchwork format itself reflecting the multiplicity of perspectives that make up today’s Ireland.

“Tiny Plays highlights the different ways that people in Ireland think about things,” she says. “We’ve got so much variation in the show, from writers of different ages and genders to writers from Ireland who live abroad. And everybody’s views come together. It’s wonderful. It’s an opportunity to show that we don’t all think the same way. There are so many different forms at work.

“In Tiny Plays there are so many angles that people have taken, and sometimes you don’t see that in full-length plays because a particular writer has one style and you’re just looking out for that.”

Murray’s next big gig is season four of RTÉ’s hit series Love/Hate, but one wonders if Fishamble have made any whispers to her about a Tiny Plays III. “They haven’t mentioned it but I know they’re always looking for new ways of doing things. So if it’s not this, then they’ll come up with something else that’s very clever.”

*Tiny Plays for Ireland II runs until Mar 30

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