Kenny stars in tale of puppetry, politics and greed

MAG MELL, a play that encompasses traditional Irish music, dance and puppetry, stars Jon Kenny as politician/property developer PJ Foley.

Kenny stars in tale of puppetry, politics and greed

It is at the Everyman on May 30 as part of a five-venue tour. Other characters include four musicians who have lost their way and are preoccupied with material things. The musicians are flute player, Conal Ó Gráda, and accordionist, Benny McCarthy (who both composed the show), as well as bodhrán player Colm Murphy and fiddler Ciaran Ó Maonaigh.

Actor and singer Katie Holly plays a wise woman who strives to save the island of Mag Mell from destruction. Dancer Caitlín Nic Gabhann (Riverdance) completes the line-up in this redemptive tale, with design by artist and puppeteer, Des Dillon.

Ó Gráda, who sings with the Raw Bar Collective, says he and the cast members first spoke two years ago about putting on a show for Halloween. “But as we spoke about it, it became clear that we should do something much more significant. We decided to tell a relatively modern story, using adaptations of old-fashioned ghost stories and folklore. We brought in an array of talent that wouldn’t normally mix. So you have comedy and traditional music, and a set that makes audiences feel like they’re walking into an art exhibition.”

Caught up with making money, Foley doesn’t remember that he played traditional instruments when he was a child.

“His father was a politician before him. We take a swipe at that whole business of passing on political seats. The father told his son to keep away from traditional music, referring to it as ‘that old stuff’,” Ó Gráda says.

Foley flies out to the island with plans to build hotels and condominiums. But this is not a play that harks back to the Celtic Tiger era. “It’s really about what can happen when you forget your roots and fail to focus on what’s important in life. It’s easy to get caught up in that, moving onto new friends, worrying about your house and keeping up with the Joneses,” Ó Gráda says.

In Irish folklore, Mag Mell is located “out beyond Tír na Nóg, off the west coast of Ireland, and was always associated with happiness.”

However, the fabled place is about to be rocked by the greed and materialism of the 21st century. The wise woman is a mother-Earth type who unleashes her fury and compassion to save the island from destruction.

She has the musicians kidnapped from the real world, where it’s all about fame and wealth.

“She brings them to their senses. How the musicians are brought to the island is interesting. It’s quite magical.”

As well as traditional Irish music, the show has percussion from a mixture of drumming, hard-shoe dancing and modern dance.

Ó Gráda makes no apologies for imparting a message in the show. “The characters start off as being unattractive. But when they have their eyes opened, they realise that there’s more to life than self-promotion and being caught up in the ego,” he says.

The 75-minute show, which premiered at Limerick’s Millennium Hall earlier this month, has tested the waters with this tour.

“We’re hoping to do a few longer runs in the autumn. We want to put it out there, and create a buzz, to see if we can do more substantial tours of it. It’s quite carnival-like,” says Ó Gráda.

* Mag Mell is at the Everyman, Cork, Friday

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