Unsung hospice heroes to be depicted in new play

Marie Ruane and John Doran in Care at the Everyman.

It took a long time for the theatre company involved in CARE to create their tale of life in a place that’s synonymous with death, writes Colette Sheridan

THE unsung heroes of a hospice are the subject of Dublin-based Willfredd Theatre Company’s latest play, CARE. The company specialises in plays about communities of interest says its designer and co-director, Sarah Jane Shiels.

“We don’t really have an agenda to make a specific type of work but what we always end up doing is having a story that people might not have heard before. We usually work with every day communities and every day people that we find really interesting and worth telling. Companies like Theatre Club and Anú do similar work.”

Willfredd Theatre Company is all about communities that don’t have a voice, she adds.

“It’s just astonishing that stories that people have.” Very often, they are puzzled that a theatre company finds them interesting.

In searching for new subject matter, Shiels and the director of CARE, Sophie Motley, reflected that they both had experience of family members dying in palliative care.

“But we didn’t want to make a show about a patient or our family members. What we were asking was what is it about people that allows them to do palliative care work?”

They approached St Francis’s Hospice in Raheny in Dublin. “The head of medicine there, Dr Regina McQuillan, loves theatre. She replied to us and through engagement with the hospice over 18 months, we made the show.”

It is supported by Bealtaine, the age and opportunity initiative.

Shiels says the nature of her company’s work means that it takes a long time to build up trust with the communities that Willfredd Theatre Company is engaging with.

“Obviously, the board of St Francis was very cautious about allowing a new group into the hospice setting. When we got the go ahead, we spent a year popping in and having cups of tea with the staff and familiarising ourselves with the working of the hospice. We chatted with the staff about holidays and hairdressers and marathons.

“Then, we were allowed into some meetings at the hospice. After about a year, staff members started to say that they had twenty minutes free if we wanted to come and chat to them about their job.We got intimate one-on-one meetings which we recorded. Some of these original stories have ended up in our show. We use verbatim text rather than the actual recordings.”

The nature of Willfredd Theatre Company’s work involves collaborating with musicians and choreographers. “We never end up with a piece of text that’s just performed as text.

“We take a piece of text and work out how we can make a unique piece of theatre for the audience. We ask whether we can turn a character into a light or turn a piece of text into a movement. In this play, we’re working with performers who are dancers as well. ”

Did Shiels find working on a play about palliative care depressing?

“I found it uplifting. My mum was a patient in St Francis Hospice ten years ago. She died from cancer. So I had experience of a hospice but I didn’t understand what was going on at the time.

“Going back in and seeing the support that the staff give to each individual patient was amazing from my personal point of view. To see a room of 20 professional consultants, nurses and doctors speaking passionately about what they do for one patient and for that to happen every day is amazing.”

  • CARE is at Cork’s Everyman from April 27-29 followed by a tour


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