Bringing the Bard back to centre stage in Cork

King Lear will help write the latest chapter in the storied history of The Loft, writes Colette Sheridan

THE Cork Shakespearean Company (CSC) is undergoing something of a revival with a production of King Lear at the Cork Unitarian Church on Princes Street.

It is co-directed by Sinead Dunphy, manager of the Cork Choral Festival, and Declan Wolfe who runs a stage school. A community cast will be led by professional actor, Michael Grenell as Lear.

The production, which will be performed in candlelight, will have a Gothic style. As chairman of the CSC, Kieran O’Leary says, it’s important to boost the status of the company with an injection of new blood.

The CSC, which aims to stage two productions annually, was founded by Fr James Christopher O’Flynn in 1924. Initially, acting classes took place in the presbytery of the North Chapel before moving to the loft of Linehan’s sweet factory on John Redmond Street for 75 years.

The company, run on a voluntary basis, now meets in the community hall on Eason’s Hill. Included among the roll call of actors that have passed through the doors of ‘The Loft’ (as the CSC is also called) are Michael Twomey, Kevin Flood, Joe Lynch and Paschal Scott.

Dunphy remembers moving from Waterford to Cork 14 years ago and knowing about the Cork Shakespearean Company and wanting to get involved. “I succeeded and played Lady Olivia in Twelfth Night,” she remembers.

Dunphy and Wolfe, who have been working in the arts sector in Cork for years, say they both want to give something back and are funding the non-profit making production of Lear themselves. The company has a small reserve of money but Dunphy doesn’t want to touch it.

“Every company needs revivals and new vision. We want to show the timelessness of Shakespeare’s writing. People say the language is old fashioned but once you break down that barrier, you’re watching something that is still relevant today.

“Although Lear was written 400 or 500 years ago, it still has resonance. Families being torn apart by greed, lust and anger happen every day. We all know broken families. We see people going down the route of mental illness. This is what Lear is about. People connect with it on so many levels.”

The film version of Macbeth with Michael Fassbender is something that Dunphy welcomes.

Shakespeare on the big screen gets more people interested. “When Baz Luhrmann directed the Romeo and Juliet film, there was a surge of people saying that Shakespeare isn’t fuddy duddy. There’s a lot of interest in Shakespeare from students.

“We need younger people to read and see Shakespeare. They have their Twilight series and Game of Thrones. This is the same stuff but far more interesting and more in-depth.”

After Lear, Dunphy hopes to remain involved with the CSC. But her free time is limited.

“As well as organising the Cork Choral Festival, she stages two productions a year with her acting class. Wolfe is also very busy with his company.

“The main thing is that we’re putting the Cork Shakespearean Company on the right footing. What we would like to see happening is different directors being invited to guest direct. It’s the kind of company that would really benefit from that sort of input. Let’s get back to what was being done by Fr O’Flynn. He reached out to the community.”

Both the Bard and the priest would be proud.

King Lear will be performed at the Cork Unitarian Church from Oct 24-31


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