Friel’s exploration of love in adolescence and love in later life is actually two short plays, ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers.’
Kelleher says that she was moved when she read Lovers. “I have to have an emotional connection with a piece of work, if I’m to really work well with the actors involved,” she says. The original music is scored by Cork-based composer, John O’Brien.
The play, which deals with teenage pregnancy in ‘Winners,’ is 50 years old. “It is dated, in some ways. I’m unapologetic about looking at it as a period play. But the level of craft in the writing makes it seem fresh. The writing is just so brilliant. There’s great joy in getting to work with it. There’s so much musicality and rhythm in it.
“Friel really captures how Irish people speak to each other. The work consists of very simple conversations and then there are places where the language is quite poetic. It’s done in a way that never seems contrived. The writer is almost invisible.”
‘Winners’ follows the story of teenage lovers, Joe and Mag, who are expecting a baby and plan to get married after their exams. “While there are various pressures on the couple, there are no shades of mother-and-baby homes here. Their situation, and how they’re dealing with it, is almost matter of fact.”
‘Losers’ is about two older lovers, Hanna and Andy, who are trying to conduct a relationship, despite being under the watchful eyes of Hanna’s mother and of a neighbour. In the end, the couple are stuck in a loveless marriage. In ‘Winners’, the couple die after taking a boat out on a lake. It’s not clear whether they were victims of an accident or took their own lives.
Kelleher says that she and the cast have been debating the idea that the pair who die are ‘winners.’ “I think Friel is posing a question here. I have my own views. Joe and Mag get out when they can, before their first flush of love becomes corrupted by mundanity and real life.”
O’Brien will be playing his score live, on the piano, at every performance. “John is very much part of the team, working closely with the actors. He has been figuring out the layers in each scene. What we’re trying to avoid is tipping into sentimentality.”
Kelleher is disappointed that the Arts Council has not granted funding to the Everyman to produce an opera next year. For the last few years, O’Brien has been directing large-scale operas for the venue, including Faust, in February. That production received €300,000 from the Arts Council’s opera fund.
“It’s a highly competitive funding round and there are no guarantees. It’s disappointing for the artists, as well as for the Everyman. They thought there would be opera work and they would have factored it into their schedules. Currently, I don’t have a comparative show for 2016, with the year that’s in it.”
But, for the moment, the focus is on ‘Lovers.’ Kelleher says it will be “interesting to see whether we can sustain it over 17 nights. Last year, the programme was a little sparse in July and we struggled to get audiences. I’m hopeful people will be encouraged to come and see ‘Lovers.’