Thursday, 27 March 2014

Dancing at Lughnasa, Brian Friel

It is 1936 and harvest time in Co. Donegal. In a house just outside the village of Ballybeg live the five Mundy sisters, barely making ends meet. The two male members of the household are brother Jack, a missionary priest, repatriated from Africa by his superiors after twenty-five years, and the seven year old Michael, son of the youngest sister. In depicting two days in the life of this ménage, Friel evokes not simply the interior landscape of a group of human beings trapped in their domestic situation, but the wider landscape, interior and exterior, Christian and pagan, of which they are nonetheless a part!

Performed by Bardic Theatre last night at Derry's Millennium Theatre, Dancing at Lughnasa enthralled all who attended. A memory play, this tells the story of the five Mundy sisters and their chores within the confines of the home. However as Michael, the narrator says 'things (are) changing too quickly'. The security is under threat. Forces of paganism, in the stories of Father Jack and in the rumours of the wild happening in the back hills are threatening. Technology is intervening, first with the interfering of Maconi, the radio, and secondly in the opening of the factory in Donegal Town, which eventually destroys the lives of Rose and Agnes. The young Michael senses this unease as his father appears with hollow promises and then fades into his other life.

Dancing at Lughnasa is about music transcending words, longing, and abandonment. It is also about language and the power of silence. The story speaks clearly about the unity of a family and the various difficulties within this community to maintain this unity and harmony.  Michael  gives us a grim picture of the future of the two sisters Rose and Agnes. The overall vision also shows us how the harmony underlying family life becomes threatened and undermined because of one’s reputation within a community. Community and its power over people is portrayed throughout the story. The girls are ashamed of Jack who clearly has abandoned the practice of orthodox religion. Kate’s reputation as a teacher is endangered because of her brother Jack and she is dismissed from the local school. The need for liberation and self-expression become evident in the many different instances given to us of the characters who each seek self-expression through dance and music.

As Michael says at the end, 'Dancing as if language no longer existed because words were no longer necessary.....' . Words were indeed no longer necessary as we saw the devastating result of 'change' within this community in early C20th Ireland.

Bardic Theatre presented Friel drama at its best.

The Pigeon MEN, Felicity McCall

I met Felicity McCall a number of years ago and became involved with her more closely when her drama 'We Were Brothers' was nominated for a National Lottery Award, and won! I'm delighted to remain friends with her ever since. I was especially honoured to assist in her book launch last week as North West Culture did some photography on the night. Felicity is a very dedicated and passionate writer. Her most recent work serves as yet another exquisite piece and a very honest and insightful view into the world of sexual abuse.

The Pigeon MEN is a heart wrenching and compelling tale of this abuse and the impact it has on the life of a victim. Carrie has her childhood stolen and her sanity and future in need of repair. Secrets that will leave a legacy that, even for a survivor, will last a lifetime! 'The complexity that is the young and adult, public and private Carrie is a chilling metaphor for one of society's last taboos'.

The story is told in the first person narrative and moves to the third person throughout. The present and the past are intertwined as the horror unfolds. When we meet Carrie, now in her early fifties, she appears as a successful professional lady who is drawn to the public gallery of her local Crown Court when alleged sex abuse cases are being heard. She relives her own abuse at the hands of her grandfather when in her early adolescence, and how it has defined her life and her being ever since. The secrecy has permeated her very persona throughout her life.

This is a very brave piece of writing and McCall faces the truth of abuse head on. From the onset the reader is gripped with the tale and is left shocked throughout the book. McCall treats Carrie with sensitivity and sincerity throughout. We are never in any doubt of the intelligence and understanding of the writer. She is honest and true in the telling of Carries experience. We are appalled, horrified, yet intrigued as a reader. But we never lose sight of the importance of remembering this challenging subject matter.

At the launch last Thursday night Dr. Liam Campbell said that 'this a very courageous and compelling piece of writing which you can read in one sitting'. He says that the book is 'tragic in theme, courageous and rich in expression, but always grounded in the confrontation of stark realism. The Pigeon MEN is quite simply a triumph'.

This has been described as 'McCalls best work to date'. That may well be so. But whether or not this is the case, McCall has established herself as an honest, and challenging writer. She has left no stone unturned with The Pigeon MEN. She tells the true horror of sexual abuse. And she reminds us as Carrie says, 'it is still the dead who kill the living'.

Published by Eve (an imprint of Guildhall Press) The Pigeon MEN is currently on sale, priced at £5.95 from local bookshops.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Guildhall Press book launch; The Pigeon Men, by Felicity McCall

This evening saw the launch of the most recent publication by Guildhall Press, The Pigeon Men written by Felicity McCall, at Derry's Central Library. Guest speaker at the launch was author and academic Dr. Liam Campbell.

'In the dim confines of his pigeon loft, Carrie's granda shares with her secrets more intimate and closely guarded than his formula for nurturing a champion bird. Secrets that, for a slong as they remain untold and not believed, will steal her childhood, her future and almost her sanity. Secrets that will leave a legacy that, even for a survivor, will last a lifetime.
Told in the first- and third- person narrative as the past interweaves with the present, the complexity that is the young and adult, public and private Carrie is a chilling metaphor for one of society's last taboos.'

Dr. Campbell said tonight that he read the book in 'one sitting'.  He emphasised that it is a very 'courageous' and 'compelling' piece of writing. Campbell has known Felicity McCall for many years and respects her work tremendously. This came across very clearly in his praise for this work tonight.

The Pigeon Men explores a very taboo subject and most especially in modern day Ireland. As Dr. Campbell said, it is 'a compelling and powerful work...from one of Ireland's most accomplished writers; tragic in theme, courageous and rich in expression, but always grounded in the confrontation of start realism. The Pigeon Men is quite simply a triumph - moreover, it is a tale that had to be told.'

A large number of people were present tonight to hear Dr. Liam Campbell speak of McCall's work and hear the author herself read from the book. McCall was surrounded tonight by friends and family, writers, and readers from all walks of life. Her ability for putting into words and gripping an audience is outstanding. This is yet another successful piece of writing from the journalist, turned full-time writer and occasional arts facilitator, theatre producer, actor and director of three theatre companies, that will grip its readers!

I'm very fortunate to know Felicity for a number of years and I admire and respect her both as a person and as a writer. I look forward to reading this, her most recent work. I don't doubt I will be impressed once more with her gripping tale. An excellent writer with grave attention to detail, I'm sure this will, like her previous works, impress from the outset!

The Pigeon Men is available to buy tomorrow from Little Acorns Bookstore, and from all local bookstores from Monday.

(book review will be available here on North West Culture very soon!)

Sunday, 16 March 2014

You know you're Irish when......

For the weekend that’s in it!!
You know you’re Irish when….
1. You don’t need to study for exams ‘cos your Granny lit a candle!
2. You thank bus drivers!
3. You do the four claps in the song ‘the Wild Rover’ without fail every time!
4. You show your love for friends and family by insulting them!
5. You can call someone ‘mad’ and mean it as a compliment!
6. You touch the electric fence for the craic!
7. The best reason to do something is for the craic!
8. You’re not drinking? Are you on antibiotics?
9. Flat Coke or 7UP heals all illnesses!
10. When all your phonecalls end in ‘Right, bye, bye, bye, bye, bye’!
So whatever you do tonight and tomorrow just enjoy being Irish. It’s a blessing in every way. Happy St. Patrick’s Day one and all :)

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Storytelling Garden at Ebrington

This is definitely worth taking the kids and family to over the forthcoming weekend. It will be magical!

Ebrington will be transformed into a storytelling world of Music, Myth and Magic. Amid amazing technicolour plants and flowers an enchanted environment welcomes you to explore a wonderful storytelling world. Navigate your way through the garden listening to lilting music, you will encounter some magical characters, be invited to enter our storytelling world to hear tales of magic and myth and will also have the opportunity to engage your own magical possibilities!!!"
Come visit our dancing faeries, try your hand at mural painting, have a go at basket weaving and various other arts & crafts… Why not come dressed as a faerie, pixie or even an elf and join our magical world…

On St Patrick’s Day itself, the carnival atmosphere will begin as you arrive in Ebrington with traditional musicians, face painters, and friendly characters all waiting to meet and entertain you. This event forms part of the wider St Patrick’s Day Spring Carnival which will see fun throughout the weekend with a Trad Triangle around the City, a LegenDerry Food Festival at Guildhall Square and a fantastical carnival parade. 
For more information visit

Friday, 7 March 2014

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (No Frontiers Book Club)

No Frontiers Book club met this evening to discuss the Louise Doughty novel Apple Tree Yard. Described by the Richard and Judy Book Club as a 'psychological thriller', the local group had much to say and an interesting discussion followed!

Apple Tree Yard has been described as 'brilliant and bruising', 'terrific' and even 'taut and psychologically persuasive'. However No Frontiers Book Club had their own opinions!

Yvonne Carmichael has a high-flying career, a beautiful home and a good marriage. But when she meets a stranger she is drawn into a passionate affair. Keeping the two halves of her life separate seems easy at first. But she can't control what happens next!

No Frontiers had varied opinions on the work, but all agreed that is was certainly NO 'psychological thriller'! At first it had the impression of a 'chick flick' but eventually more depth and structure set in. Yvonne had few sympathies from us and was even described as being mentally unstable. Some of the group felt she was not a fully developed character. Told in the first person narrative we are never given another perspective except that of Yvonne. So we must decide for ourselves if she's believable or not. Her affair is very much unbelievable. She embarks on it in such a callous manner that even a mid life crisis does not justify it. Her new love Mark is not a rounded character and fails to gain empathy from any of the group. Yvonne is clearly very alone in her life and resorts to her computer as her only comfort. Her heart talks to the computer with her letters and even her best friend cannot be confided in. Some felt sorry for her husband but many of us blamed his affair with a younger woman for Yvonnes eventual bad decisions. However her affair showed that 'two wrongs really don't make a right'!

Yvonne narrates the entire story from the dock and we are anxiously waiting to get to the end. It is slow in places but in others it can be compelling. The story is addressed to her lover and much is through an inner monologue. She is not a rational human being and eventually becomes detached from any objective reality.

The rape scene is the book awoke many emotions in everyone. It showed the true horror of the crime and instilled a real feeling among each individual within the group. However her failure to tell her husband and confide instead in the unlovable Mark, leads to the rapists eventual murder. We all agreed that the murder was unnecessary and appeared to have happened just to help the storyline develop.

One cannot deny that this book is exceptionally well written. Doughty is certainly an excellent storyteller but she fails in creating a 'psychological thriller'. This book has many positive attributes but these do not outweigh the failings. A number of us admitted to skim/speed reading many parts to get to the eventual outcome.

This admission lead to even more discussion. Others could not understand the ability to skim/speed read and found the idea impossible and unbelievable. But that is how the book gets you. It certainly allowed for much discussion, debate and definite entertainment among the group. The final outcome was that it was readable but not one we'd highly recommend. It even a few comparisons to '50 Shades of Grey'!

If any of us ladies were contemplating an affair to spice up our lives, it was certainly knocked on the head tonight. Back alleyways, disabled toilets etc will not be featuring on our list of places to explore any time soon.

Here's to reading Niamh Boyce's 'The Herbalist' for next months meeting!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

A Streetcar Named Desire at Derry's Playhouse!

I must admit that I have yet to read Tennessee Williams 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. Perhaps this added to my overall feeling after the play last night at Derry's Playhouse!

Set in the French Quarter of New Orleans during the restless years after WWII, the play tells the story of Blanche Dubois, a fragile and neurotic woman on a desperate prowl for someplace in the world to call her own. Having been exiled from her hometown for seducing a seventeen year old schoolboy, she appears on her sister Stella's doorstep with a series of financial calamities which have claimed the family plantation. The experience defines Stella's relationship with her husband Stanley!. As rumours of Blanche's past begin to catch up on her, her situation and circumstances become unbearable.

Last night's show was produced and directed entirely by the senior class of Carmel McCafferty School of Drama. Credit must certainly go out to this young cast. In particular to the leading role played by Aideen Porter. She excelled at her portrayal of the emotionally challenged Blanche. Her accent remained intact throughout as did her fantastic acting.

However, I was a little disillusioned with the ending being staged at the very beginning. It immediately had me questioning various areas of the production. A number of the students failed in clear dialect with their accents. It was difficult at times to hear and understand the dialogue. At other times, there were actors sitting on stage not really playing a part!

I spoke to a number of students at the play last night and they enjoyed the show but were again disappointed with the ending being cast at the beginning. A good production was certainly staged, but a little more work would have enhanced it a lot.

I can say I enjoyed the night irrespective of the little criticisms. It has instilled in me the need to read the play and to possibly watch the  movie starring Brando and Taylor!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Dirty Dancing for the Playtrail!

Nobody puts ladies in a corner! And there were NO corners in the Nerve Centre cinema last night as 60 ladies came together to help raise some money for Derry's Playtrail. The meeting place was the Nerve Centre's cinema; the film was Dirty Dancing! The night spoke for itself!

'I carried a watermelon', 'no body puts baby in a corner' and 'come here loverboy' all had the audience cheering, laughing and wanting more. Everyone sang to the music and hushed at the punchlines.

And it was all in aid of the Playtrail. The evening was organised by Gerry Delaney and friends. The hard work certainly paid off on the night. The food was delicious, and we all ate too much, the wine was divine and it went down rather fine! And the popcorn was simply the icing on the cake!

Goodie bags were given to everyone at the end of the night. These contained gifts such as, vouchers galore, skin creams, cakes, and so very much more. A large selection of prizes were raffled off after the movie, sponsored by Debenhams, Bedlam, Guildhall Press, The Playtrail and a selection of other businesses.

As 'I've had the time of my life' began in the movie, no one was in their seats. Dancing (dirty and other) was in full swing in the Nerve Centre cinema. Never before has a cinema seen such! Hips were a swaying, mouths were a singing, and everyone was having a ball. Patrick Swayze had his Derry ladies hanging on his every move!

 An amazing £1000 was raised for the Playtrail last night. And it was fun being a part of it!