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13 March 2014

"Pictiúir à la Ceart" - Screams, Shrieks and Grunts go leor!


+++ Tháinig mo chara dílis Bríd Ní Mhaoileoin de rith isteach ar maidin agus scread sí, "TABHAIR DOM DO BHLAG, NÓ BANG BANG GARDAÍ". Thug mé di mo bhlag.

My good friend Bríd Ní Mhaoileoin ran in this morning yelling, "GIMME YOUR BLOG OR BANG BANG GARDAÍ. So I gave her my blog. Aisling Ní Acamé +++

Normally, naturally, I would write this in my native tongue. But I’m writing it in English. For a reason.

Luckily, I had to drag myself down to the Taibhdhearc Theatre in Galway on Sunday morning last to collect musical instruments I had left there after Lee Delong’s "Night of the Living Clown". Complete with post-production exhaustion. Normally I’d have been complaining. But I wasn’t.

For I stumbled upon rehearsals for “Pictiúir à la Ceart”, a devised piece of theatre based on the Leaving Cert Irish exam. The set, and the snippets I saw, were enough to make me go and see the opening performance early the following morning. Together with 21 girls from the Presentation Secondary School, Galway, and their two múinteoirs.

It is a play which was produced by An Taibhdhearc, the National Irish Language Theatre, based on the Leaving Cert oral Irish exam. It was written essentially for school students of Leaving Cert Irish. It could just as well be based on the oral German exam. Or the oral French exam. Or the oral Italian exam.

But being based on the Irish exam, it’s especially interesting to this reviewer, as no-one has a thing about French or German or maths, or chemistry or biology or home economics. How many theorems do you remember then? I’ll give you parallel line, cutting off equal segments, on some friggin’ transversal line.

The play has been described as “A sneaky cheeky look behind the pictures of the Oral Irish Leaving Cert Exam”. It has also been described as fast, furious and funny. (Probably by the producers themselves.) It is. And more.

The Taibhdhearc’s recently appointed new Manager and Artistic Director, Anne McCabe, invited director Seán T. Ó Meallaigh to devise a play for schools based on the infamous LC oral exam “Picture Sequences”.

Ó Meallaigh whose understated “some of [the pictures] are quite boring" (my translation) went about the job with gusto. He’s a funny man.

Ó Meallaigh is a prolific Irish language actor, writer and director. He also has acting credits further afield, alongside Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne and Colm Meaney. He devised this play with three actors from the TG4 soap opera “Ros na Rún”.

The director’s main aim here, rather than to create a series of sketches, was to create one story based on a selection, à lá carte, of the exam pictures, with students as the main characters. He spent a week with his team of actors, warming up, playing silly games, brain storming, improvising and trying out different ideas. He then went away and wrote the script, based on those workshops: “Pictiúir à la Ceart”.

“Ceart” means “correct”. Many Irish and Hiberno English speakers pronounce “carte” or “cart” as “cyart” or “ceart”. Think Donegal man saying “the cart before the horse”.

Ó Meallaigh’s characters are students studying for the oral exam. They are also actors in rehearsal for different productions. So what we see are a series of “plays within a play”, using different styles and effects which keep the audience on their toes throughout. And the stage manager.

Having personally taught Leaving Cert German, I was originally attracted by the three huge blown up pictures of the detested, unimagative, and yes, Seán, quite boring “oral picture sequences”. These make up the set design, together with three black boxes of about 20x14 inches, which act as all means of outdoor and indoor furniture/contraptions/vehicles of transportation/whatever you’ll be having yerself. The actors are dressed in black. Everything is black and white, like the drab exam itself.

Only there’s nothing drab in this production.

This play requires split-second timing. It delivers rapid character changes, and well-timed sound and visual effects. Slap stick. Social commentary. Audience participation. It’s all here. Self-effacing Apocolypse-Now-opening-scene evoking puppetry, which might be lost on the teenagers. But they found it hilarious anyway.

The tragicomic elements, for example scenes depicting our youth’s culture of weekly binge-drinking- and junk-food-eating habits, rung especially ironic as the theatre echoed with laughter.

President Higgins was supposed to make an appearance, but well, er, he was nowhere to be seen.

The show I saw was the premiere. There were some technical glitches, for example with the timing of video sequences. The black curtains supposedly there to “mask” backstage, sometimes moved so much that I wondered if someone back there was shooting bows and arrows.

Ironically, there was some not very “ceart” grammar, for the sake of ease comparative to making a feminine noun masculine, like a Frenchman saying “la père”, which would make himself and his country folk go scarlet.

For some reason linguistic correctness seems not to be so high on the priority list of many Irish language productions I have seen. As I recently said to a TV script writer, it is such a pity, in view of the level of professionalism of every other aspect of the production, that the script was not proofread by a professional linguist*. This mind boggles.

I also felt disappointed, and surprised, by the tiny audience.

Apart from the linguistic issue, these glitches were minor in the face of the whole, very professional, production. I think even Gerry Motherway** would forgive them.

What a wonderful way to introduce teenagers to the magic of theatre! They won’t have noticed it. It will have happened subconsciously. Because these giggling girls will only be thinking of that handsome actor (“whah, you don’t watch Ros na Rún? He’s in it. Duh!”)

I don’t watch the TG4 soap opera myself either, but I have seen Máire Bheag Bhreathnach’s “Mo” on occasion. An actor with an earthy, and very believable down-played acting style. Together with Eoin Ó Dubhghaill (Ros na Rún’s “Fiach”) and Celtic Media Festival award winner, Neasa Ní Chuanaigh, the quality of acting of all three actors was high and consistent throughout.

A particularly memorable scene was the Wimbildon one, complete with slow motion screams, shrieks and grunts which would make Maria Sharapova the colour of the tennis ball itself. Students possibly reminded by this soundscape of another physical caitheamh aimsire were shrieking too, with laughter.

I went to the toilet when the play was over, hoping to find some of the above-mentioned giggling girls to eavesdrop upon. Sure enough seven giggling girls of different ethnic backgrounds gabbled away in excitement. “It was hilarious”.

“Did you like it?” I asked. Chorus of “Yeah”. “Why?” “It was funny”. “Anything else?” “When yer man came and sat in the audience – it was hilarious”. I thought I heard the word “understood”. “Did you surprise yourselves?” “Yeah”. “Why?” “Cause I think we understood most of it”. “I think you did too.”

They’ll NEVER see those picture sequences in the same light again!

This is not only a play for teenagers. It is a play for everyone in Ireland – whether you love it, hate it, are rusty or fluent, would like to, don’t have the time to, wish you did, wish you had tried to, or simply just had it shoved down your throat. Even if you shit on it*** you'll surprise yourself. The parents of the teenagers will be laughing. Their mammies will be laughing at themselves played by Eoin Ó Dubhghaill.

Think Des Bishop talking about “An Modh Coinníolach”. If you like that you’ll love this too. (RTÉ’s future-new-Irish-language-senior-editor**** take note. Fringe Festivals. Comedy festivals. Theatre festivals. Universities. TheJournal.ie)

It’s for all of you that I wrote this in English. My pleasure.

* For a professional Irish language proofreader, contact Odí Ní Chéilleachair or Máire Ní Chualáin of Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, NUIG, either of whom would be delighted, I’m sure, to put you in touch with a reliable professional proofreader (if they’re too busy to do it themselves that is) http://www.acadamh.ie/faoin_acadamh/foireann/liosta.html
** The mother of all theatre critics.
*** my own coinage. From German “darauf scheißen” – literally “shit on it”, figuratively “not to give a flying f***”
**** As recommended in the recently published Report of the RTÉ Irish-language Working Group

Máire Bhreathnach, Eoin Ó Dubhghaill, agus Neasa Ní Chuanaigh ón dráma "Pictiúir à la Ceart". Grianghraf: Andrew Downes

"Pictiúir à la Ceart" tour dates:

Déardaoin 13 Márta 2014 – An Cultúrlann, Béal Feirste 1.30in

Dé hAoine 14 Márta 2014 – Áras Inis Gluaire, Béal an Mhuirthead, Co. Mhaigh Eo 10.30rn agus 1.30in

Ticéid le fáil ach glaoch ar an Taibhdhearc ar 091-563600

To book tickets or to book the show, phone An Taibhdhearc Theatre on 091-563600

Bríd Ní Mhaoileoin is a musician, a translator, a fledgling radio presenter (FlirtFM, "Rogha Bhríde"), an ex-lecturer of Ger-Eng translation, and an ex-sufferer of trying to teach the, in her own words, gruesome and insulting (to both students and teachers alike) German syllabus, complete with picture sequences, to suffering Leaving Cert students. She doesn’t have the solution to the scourge of this type of exam, but she would blindly trust Coláiste Lurgan, in Indreabhán, Co. Galway, to be able to come up with it. With their eyes closed. (If you don’t know Coláiste Lurgan, youtube them.) ‘Course they should get Seán T. Ó Meallaigh on board too.

+++An dtiocfadh liom mo friggin'' bhlag a fháil arais anois? Maith a bhean! Aisling Ní Acamé+++

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