Keeping all the drama in the family

BALLYDEHOB-BASED writer, Carmel Winters, has explored delicate subjects, such as the sexuality of people who have special needs in the play, B for Baby.

Keeping all the drama in the family

Her challenging first feature film, Snap, about the abduction of a toddler by a teenager, won the ‘best Irish film’ and ‘best director’ awards at the Dublin International Film Festival in 2011.

Winter’s latest play, Best Man, which opens at the Everyman Theatre on Jun 21, as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival, promises to lift the lid on money, power and sex in a relationship “and who gets what when a relationship breaks down”.

Directed by the Everyman’s Michael Barker-Caven, the title, Best Man, refers to the unusual job of Alan (played by Peter Gowen), a house husband and would-be novelist who writes ‘best man’ speeches to earn pin money, while his wife, Kay (Derbhle Crotty), earns the serious money, as an estate agent.

“The play is set in the height of the boom and culminates in the bust,” says Winters. “On the surface, theirs is a win-win situation, but when the couple decides to bring a children’s nanny into their home, the cracks begin to appear and, like many of the badly built houses in the boom, their home and family threatens to collapse like a house of cards.”

Winters is interested in what makes people behave and how relationships function, or fail, in response to pressures. “We live in a culture of constant advice about how we should live our lives, but receive very little true reflection of what is going on in the lives of others. I think this can give us a very distorted view of reality and of what’s ‘normal’.”

In Best Man, Winters says audiences will have “a good laugh and possibly gasp at the audacious things this so-called dysfunctional family do. There is plenty to recognise, as well. The play is peopled by characters who, in their various ways, are determined to do things better than the previous generation. And yet, their family histories come back to haunt them and the lives of their children.”

The play asks how much we are in control of our lives and whether we lose sight of what’s most important.

“We live in a country where the family has been enshrined in the Constitution and is entitled to protection, and yet, when a family is at war, there is possibly no place as unsafe for children.

“The play doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence by providing any pre-digested answers, but it does ask questions. And those questions could be experienced as disturbing or liberating — and very likely both,” Winters says.

As well as Crotty and Gowen, the other cast members are Bryan Murray, Kate Stanley Brennan, Una Crawford O’Brien and Roisin O’Neill.

“Bryan Murray’s part, as the crumbling patriarch, is very potent, yet poignant. And Peter Gowen has a terrific opportunity to simultaneously delight and repel audiences, by revealing the hidden virtues and vices of the ‘new man’,” she says.

Asked if the play is controversial, Winters says she doesn’t want to spoil it for audiences, but says that the character of Kay “is likely to do something very rare and special on an Irish stage. Derbhle Crotty is such a monumental talent. I think the character of Kay will allow her to do what she was born to do, which is to enthral and appal an audience with the profoundly pitiable, and yet heroic, contradictions of human nature.”

Designed by Liam Doona, the set is “quite deliciously modern and pristine and very pleasantly calm and beautiful, despite the shenanigans that will go on within it. Liam has worked on the concept that the various houses represented in the set are, despite their differences, strangely mix’n’match, too. Often, in life, we think we are thinking outside the box and it’s just a different box. Or the same one turned upside down.”

Winters’s ambition is to entertain and, at the same time, make people reflect and offer them insights that they can measure against their own experience.

As the Arts Council and Cork County Council-funded writer-in-residence at the Everyman, Winters is overseeing the ‘Dear Cork’ project, by which the public send real-life stories to the theatre.

“I wanted to find a way of engaging meaningfully with the people of Cork, their real stories, and their capacity to respond imaginatively to the stories of others. I didn’t want to run creative-writing classes, because even with the best of intentions, that would exclude more people than it would include. So, I thought a letter is a perfect dramatic monologue and most people have, in their life-time, either written or received one,” she says. Winters is inviting people “to review the letters to, or from, Cork that they have in their keep, either from previous generations or more recently. Is there a letter that tells a story, or hints at a story that hasn’t been told, but should be?”

Winters will read all the letters, and, with the senders’ permission, she will publish a selection of them on the Everyman’s ‘Dear Cork’ webpage,

“The reason for this is to acknowledge, and pay close attention to, true voices and real stories and to then let this authenticity wind its way through the fictions that will follow. We’ll write imaginary letters back, or improvise scenes suggested by the letters. There will be a sharing of the works prompted by the letters. The date for this hasn’t been fixed.”

Winters is also working on a new feature film, Bloodlines, based in the UK and Ireland. “It’s early days yet. The film is being godfathered by director, John Madden (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Shakespeare in Love). I’m in great company for the journey.” Winters enjoys her writing life in West Cork, despite its challenges. “That’s partly because I am utterly energised and enthused about the city when I do visit. Doing what I do is undeniably a struggle, living so far from Cork, Dublin and London, where, unfortunately, most funded artistic activity takes place. But West Cork is awash with writers and arty types creating great opportunities for cultural and artistic exchange.”

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