Holding down the fort with Corcadora

As Corcadorca puts on Patrick McCabe’s play at Elizabeth Fort, Colette Sheridan goes behind the scenes to see the logistics of mounting a production at such a venue

Holding down the fort with Corcadora

CORCADORCA’S latest play, Sacrifice at Easter, by Pat McCabe, is a collaborative effort involving the artistic director of the theatre company, Pat Kiernan, and composer, Mel Mercier.

The production at Elizabeth Fort, Cork, will be the company’s largest site-specific show since 2008.

The company has experience of theatre at Elizabeth Fort, originally built in 1601 and used at various times as an army base for the protection of Cork city, a British military barracks and a garda station. It also hosted a Corcadorca project during Cork’s tenure as European Capital of Culture in 2005.

Sacrifice at Easter is Corcadorca’s response to the 1916 commemorations but the company says it is not an attempt to rehash the history of the past 100 years. It features seven professional actors working as an ensemble and a community cast of 20. And there’s also a real life cow.


Production manager Joe McNicholas first started working with Corcadorca when the company staged MedEia in the Vertigo Suite at County Hall in 2009. He says he is excited about the possibilities of the Elizabeth Fort site.

There are 16 scenes. “The fort holds Mel’s soundscape really well. Cast members will be singing and there’s also recorded material.”


“This location is fantastic,” says McNicholas. “It’s about 90 metres by 70 metres so it’s a really big stage. There are always limitations, no matter what size you’re working in. But that brings a freedom that you don’t get with an actual theatre.

“The main limitation here is that we can’t screw anything into the wall as it’s protected. We can’t dig into the ground either, for archaeological reasons. But once you know that, you can work around it. You just have to come up with solutions that are safe and that work aesthetically.

“The L-shaped stage is two metres high and is made up of 450 pallets. The truck wouldn’t fit in the entrance of the fort so the pallets had to be walked in and we asked the coal yard next door for the use of their forklift. You have to be creative around problems. We’re using ten stages altogether including what we call the gantry.”

This is a raised pathway with railing surrounding it. Its base is at least five metres from the ground and will be used as one of the stages and as a lit-up promenade area, affording views not just of the action below but also, on the far side, a magnificent view of the city.


“There will be a maximum of 250 in the audience per night. We’re limited because there’s only one entrance and exit. Pat Kiernan is second-to-none about the mentality of audiences. He’ll come back to me and say that ‘if this happens, the audience will stop.’

We don’t always want them to stop. Every audience is different but the majority will follow the action. When I go to a Corcadorca show, I will move around to get a better view.”


Corcadorca is flouting the old showbiz adage about never working with animals, whatever about children. In this production, following a call-out in an online agricultural newspaper, a docile Friesian, Naomi Cowbell, from north Cork, has been enlisted to star in the play. It’s a reference point for Ireland’s agricultural roots and in the play, the cow is for sale, in an auction.

Think Mart and Market on RTE TV a few decades ago. All regulations dealing with animals are being adhered to and Naomi Cowbell, who’ll be on site for the duration of the run, will see her waste being given to UCC gardens. She is being trained to be led by a rope.


“We’re hardly focusing on 1916 at all,” explains director Pat Kiernan. “The play is made up of moments, some that are particularly of interest to Pat McCabe. Without an actual re-enactment, the 1970s and the Troubles are looked at. That’s been airbrushed out of the commemorations. There’s the idea of the border (literal and metaphorical). It’s really observations.

“It came out of the three of us brainstorming, starting in March 2015. Even that far back, we had reached our threshold of 1916 stuff. We were trying to imagine what it would be like in the summer of 2016.”


“There’s a lot of found sound, be they speeches, music or songs. There’s Mel’s original track as well which binds it all together. We spoke about the idea of it being more like a concert than a play. But there is an underlying idea. It’s about things we remember and some things we prefer to forget. We were very clear that we didn’t want it to be anything like Reeling in The Years. It’s far more stylised than that. The performers don’t play characters as such. They’re free to play in different ways.”


“There’s the idea that Elizabeth Fort is a walled-in place that’s like a village with the houses that are herem” says Kiernan. “It’s like a community space. It’s the performers’ world, sealed in. There’s theatre in it and there’s the history of it. Picking it was a kind of instinctual thing. It just feels right,”


This is the second time that Corcadorca has worked with McCabe, having staged his dark comedic play, The Big Yum Yum at the Half Moon Theatre in 2013.

The author of The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto, is one of Kiernan’s favourite writers and the duo enjoy working together with McCabe saying that the collaborative process is a welcome antidote to the solitary nature of writing novels.

“Pat lets me off to work on his texts,” explains Kiernan. “The texts were very loose and Pat allowed us to shape them. There would have been many different rewrites of different scenes. Pat was here for week one of rehearsals. That led to more rewrites. It’s a matter of selecting, editing and shaping the texts.”

  • Sacrifice at Easter is at Elizabeth Fort, as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival. It previews on June 17, 18 and 20. It runs from June 21 to July 2 starting at 10pm

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