New play ’Witness’ takes hard look at life

WRITER and director, Carmel Winters, does not shy away from difficult subjects. 

New play ’Witness’ takes hard look at life

Her play, Witness, deals with the abduction of a young child and with sexual abuse.

This one-woman show, a portrait of a mother and son, is based on Winters’ award-winning feature film, Snap. It stars Kate Stanley Brennan, who plays 29-year old Shannon and her 14-year-old son, Stephen.

Stephen has apparently committed a heinous act that has shocked the nation. Shannon has agreed to give a public account of what happened.

Facts have been distorted in the public domain. The play, which premiered at the West Cork Fit-Up Festival in 2013, is disturbing.

“But it will take you all the way through the experience and out the other side. I have seen men cry behind their caps. I have seen women sobbing. They have been first onto their feet, at the end, to honour not just the play, but their own journey through it,” says Winters.

Winters says it is valid to revisit her film, transposed to the stage.

“There are so many ways to tell a story. You take the same events, examine them through a different lens and arrive at a totally different understanding. If fiction has the same complex architecture as reality, if it’s as rich in mystery as everyday life, then one could spend a lifetime examining the same sequence of events. Of course, that’s how it is with trauma. People who are recovering from trauma revisit it over and over, until they have arrived at a ‘story’ of what happened that they can live with.”

In Witness, Winters has focused on “the magic of transformation, the magic of watching an actor change from one person to another with the most subtle, but profound, adjustments.”

The play also captures the power of transformation “within a relationship and within oneself.”

Winters says she is examining our capacity to love even what seems unlovable, “to move beyond judgement and punishment towards compassion and wisdom. We don’t manage this by avoiding things or averting our gaze, but by seeing deeply, seeing more than the participants in a situation see themselves. I’m interested in experience that is somehow beyond the pale, either ignored or cheapened by ‘fast news’ and cheap scandals.”

Winters says the events in the play can seem strange.

“But I think we should always be able to recognise the same ‘rag and bone shop of the heart’ at work behind it all,” she says.

“With Witness, I am aiming for total lucidity in the performance. The story is complex and rich, but I want the audience to be with it every step of the way. It’s a puzzle, but all the pieces they need to complete a wholly satisfying experience are available to them.”

Snap is more of a private viewing experience, she says.

“It’s more austere and analytical. It’s obsessed with looking, looking being almost a substitute for feeling for one of the main characters. The camera gives you such a window into a human being that transparency is not so much the goal as preserving the irreducible mystery of a person over 90 minutes.”

Winters says star Stanley Brennan brings great tenderness and intelligence to the play.

“You can see right into the hearts of the characters by the end of the play. And audiences truly open their hearts to her. When I see that happening, I feel incredibly humbled. It’s what I make work for, what I struggle to work for.”

  • Witness is at Cork’s Everyman from March 10-14.

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