Absolut Fringe: Do You Read Me?
Interview by: Lauren O'Toole
Director and founding member of Talking Shop Ensemble, Oonagh Murphy, refers to the work they create as "theatre for the type of person with eight tabs open at once". Having worked with Shaun Dunne earlier this year on I am a Homebird (It's very hard), the successful collaboration has been reformed for their contribution to this year's fringe Do you Read Me?
The programme for the Absolut Fringe is fairly dense – why should punters come and see Do You Read Me?
Oonagh Murphy: Ours is the type of show that is very "fringey" – we take a particular interesting topic and put it in the context of where we are right now: corruption in the government and the collapse of all the institutions we held dear and believed in. So we're taking psychic mediumship and looking at how that relates to the revelations of the Ryan Report and the general political situation.
Shaun Dunne: We’re exploring psychic culture and looking at it as an alternative to the usual Irish go-to for comfort and guidance because, as Oonagh says, we can’t go to the Church, we don’t trust politicians and we don’t have faith in the banks. We're tapping into a particular mode of spirituality that exists in Ireland but doesn't get a lot of airtime. Our show takes a new angle on a very common situation.
Oonagh: And that's why Do You Read Me? Is such an ideal Fringe show because this is a time when people who really believe in the ability of theatre and performance as a platform come together in a very esoteric way to revere theatre as a type of spirituality in itself.
Aisling Byrne: And a crucial reason to come see our show is because it truly has been a summer of revelations. Shaun didn't just go to mediums as part of research, he was told some remarkable stuff. There's a cliff-hanger at the end of the show that is worth coming for!
So how far have you all gone in your research into alternative belief systems?
Shaun: Well the show originated with my own personal experience – I had three visits with a medium and Lisa (Walsh) has also been to see a psychic in the past. As well as incorporating these encounters into the piece, we talked with lots of other people who have delved into the world of mediums. We've also explored other elements of spirituality – yoga and chakras and that sort of thing. So it's been a lot of very active research – not just sitting down and reading books.
Lisa Walsh: One of the biggest surprises we came across through our research process is that as soon as you mention the theme everybody has a story of their own encounters with the topic of mediums and psychics. It's been great material for us.
Has it changed your outlook on the world of spirituality?
Oonagh: Well the funny thing is that since we started work on the show people feel free to share their own beliefs and tales of near death experiences and visits from dead grannies. People feel really intensely about the subject and talk to us about it because when they hear that we're giving it a platform they assume that we are completely non-cynical and open.
Aisling: I would have been the sceptic of the group and this process has really changed that. Not only have my eyes been opened to the culture of mediumship and the world of spirits and energies but it has also made me question what it is I believe in and the importance of having something to believe in. I think that's what's really special about this show.
Talking Shop Ensemble really seem to make the recession work for them as theatre fodder – first with the topic of emigration as dealt with in I am a Homebird earlier this year and now with this show:
Shaun: Well I remember when things started to fall apart and you'd watch the news and feel really bogged down by the state of the country and you'd just think "God, I just don't want to see or hear anything to do with the recession" but I think we have to realise that it is something that you do need to talk about. However, there are subtle ways of doing it and that's what we're interested in rather than just "this is our show about how Ireland fell apart and now this is our other show about how Ireland fell apart again but this time we’re going to talk about ghosts".
Oonagh: And it's not just a case of "Oh no, we have no money, let's talk about that". I think if the recession wasn't a monetary thing we'd still be talking about Ireland's soul because even long before the collapse of the banks we were still very much broken and this show looks at how we’re trying to recuperate from the country being sick. How do we come back from that and what are our new ways of coping? What do we believe in now that everything else is gone?
You're performing I am a Homebird at Electric Picnic next weekend – how do you expect it will be received in the somewhat alternative environment?
Lisa: Oh we love doing it – it doesn't matter where it is! We're going to have a blast!
Oonagh: We don't want Homebird to be stuck in a theatre, we want it to be like a roadshow. We want to feel like it has legs and that was always the idea: that it would travel all over the country. Hopefully at Electric Picnic it will reach the demographic that it was always intended for.
Aisling: We’re excited about the idea of someone stumbling in unexpectedly and still taking something from the show. And there’s something about Homebird that is a rally cry, it’s a real call to action and in a sense Electric Picnic is the perfect venue for that.
So you say that you don't believe in politicians and yet they believe in you: Minister Jimmy Deenihan singled you out at the launch of the Fringe as a go-see. Is he coming to see the show?
Lisa: Well, please God, we invited him today.
Oonagh: I was actually really excited by that mention because the minister is a very straight talking person and if it stood out to him then hopefully it's a sign that the show has mass appeal!
Venue: Smock Alley Theatre
Date/Time: Thursday 8th September - Friday 16th September at 8:45 pm
Duration: 60 mins
Tickets: €10.00 - €14.00
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Monday 29th August 2011 | Theatre
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