Dick Walsh's new play is a little slice of the cutting edge

In his Newcastlewest play, Kerry writer Dick Walsh is again pushing the ’post-dramatic’ boundaries, writes Padraic Killeen

Daphne Oikonomopoulou and Una McKevitt in a scene from Pan PanTheatre's Newcastlewest.

It’s about a woman at a point of transition in her life. She’s found herself in a situation where she’s left college early and moved back home with her father

HAVING proven himself a bold and provocative theatre-maker with past shows such as Dangerman and Some Baffling Monster, Dick Walsh’s new comedy in the Dublin Theatre Festival is one that fans of theatre with a cutting edge will not want to miss.

Produced by Pan Pan Theatre Company, the country’s leading lights in ‘post-dramatic’ theatre, Newcastlewest centres on the close but debilitating relationship between a young woman and her father.

“The story is about something a lot of people experience,” says Walsh. “It’s about a woman at a point of transition in her life. She’s found herself in a situation where she’s left college early and moved back home with her father. She wants to raise some money and get her life back together but it’s now five months later and she hasn’t really moved on. The father is kind of a narcissist. He’s very self- involved. He really tries to push her and help her and teach her things.”

The father is quite a progressive force. “He’s very much a modern man. At the same time, because he’s so overbearing and quick-tempered, he oppresses her. Meanwhile, because of her patience with him and her forbearance, the daughter sees herself as being the only person who can help him from this spiritual mire that he’s in. So she thinks she’s helping him. He thinks he’s helping her.”

Pan Pan Theatre presents Newcastlewest by Dick Walsh. Pictured L-R: Annabell Rickerby, Grainne Hallagan

The story takes off when a man from Newcastlewest returns from Brussels and the possibility of the young woman moving over there with him suddenly presents itself. Walsh says the play is about child-parent relationships, sexuality, and the question of moving on with your life.

The Kerry native says that with Newcastlewest he really wanted to concentrate on the story itself. However, as a theatremaker influenced by experimental director Richard Maxwell, and by philosophers such as Slavoj Zizek and Simon Critchley, Walsh also subjects the process of storytelling to intense scrutiny. In generating the narrative he employed what he calls “chance operations”.

“I was looking for an objective way of writing, I guess,” he says. “See, I’m not a good writer. That’s what I think. Maybe that’s bullshit, but I don’t think I’m a good writer per se. I don’t think I’ve got beautiful thoughts. I don’t have a good way of phrasing things. And I think that’s okay, because I’m not actually that interested in beautiful writing anyway. So, in the same way that an artist might collage things together or find ‘found objects’ in the street and put them together in a new way, I was trying to write in a similar way.

“I was trying to find different pieces of material, maybe from YouTube, overheard conversations, radio exchanges, and so on, and collage them into this story of a father and a daughter living together.”

Dick Walsh Playwright

What matters most, Walsh suggests, are not words but ideas.

“George Bernard Shaw said you can measure the quality of a work of art by the quality of the ideas within it and I think that the first thing in art, and especially in theatre, are the ideas.”

Having trained as an architect, Walsh became a theatremaker while brushing shoulders with members of the theatre set in NUI Galway while he was studying film there. He became particularly interested in modes of post-dramatic theatre, although he acknowledges that the latter term is “troublesome”.

“The term ‘post-dramatic’ suggests that your primary concern is to destroy drama,” he says. “It’s like: ‘We’re the buzzkills’. To be honest, I’ve no interest in that. It’s an intellectual exercise where you deaden things. It’s more that I find that the best post-dramatic stuff brings you to a new place, to a new way of looking at life.”

Newcastlewest runs at Smock Alley Theatre, from tonight to October 4


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