And Then Again Begin

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Venue: Salle Gad Elmaleh, Avenue Jean Jaurès, Paris 19

Writers: Hannah Coyle with Jane Coyle

Date: 26 & 27 June 2018

A  girl on the cusp of adulthood unexpectedly finds herself trapped between two faiths and two mothers.  Must she make a choice?

A gifted young herbalist, alone and homeless, is given safe refuge by a mysterious woman who will call upon her to fulfil an ultimate act of friendship.

An innocent teenager hitches herself to a ruthless con man, who messes with her mind only to be confronted with the consequences of the situation he has created.

A brief encounter between two young people on a beautiful summer evening leaves behind lasting memories and living proof of love and desire.

A girl trapped in a living death; a girl dying in the worst of circumstances; a third girl still alive in a dark period of history. A universal tale of survival.

Barefoot, hair loosed, faces scrubbed, simply dressed in shimmering white, Arabella (Cassia Jurčević from Australia), Temperance (Camille Genhart from Antigua), Alice  (Héloïse Ancellet from France), Grace (Hannah Coyle from Ireland) and Susannah  (Jessica Elsie from England) are compelled to make their voices heard before moving into the next phase of their lives.

One by one, they step forward and formally offer a story, which must be accepted by the collective. There is integrity and purpose to the storytelling; there are unwritten rules that cannot be broken – but one of the women dares to break those rules, to potentially devastating effect.

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One by one, the lead narrator stamps her ownership on each story, while other characters intervene at pinpoint moments, adding grist to the central thread.

This tight-knit group of young women, going about their domestic routines, carry faint echoes of the five Mundy sisters of Brian Friel’s masterpiece Dancing at Lughnasa.  And there is an even stronger resonance to the same play in  Love’s Memories, a lyrical, bittersweet imagining of jolly, over-protective Maggie’s back story.

During a short, intense period of time, the five-strong cast have worked wonders in developing, crafting and performing this cohesive ensemble piece.  The narrative unfolds in the space of a single day, the subtle lighting moving the action from sunny mid-morning to soft twilight.  We encounter the women as they go about their everyday tasks, knitting, peeling vegetables, folding laundry,  tending the tree which will bear their stories.  Then they break off to embark on the ritual which will seal their progress through life.

A powerful chorus of contrasting voices from across the world ensues, creating the sense of a diverse female community.  Their witness accounts are punctuated by a quick-fire, tense repartee whose tone and content bounce between playful, provocative, poignant and punitive. Music and dance are cleverly integrated into this intriguing production. The choreography brims with tongue-in-cheek, knowing humour, while the soundscape combines close harmony singing with traditional instrumental segments and modern pop classics, all performed with real brio.

In the final moments, the women proclaim their full names, their voices strengthening as they stand to declare in unison:  “We are the daughters of the witches you did not burn.”  So who are they? What are they?  What is the nature of their transition?  How many more such stories remain to be told?  How many other women are lining up to share their personal experiences?  The possibilities are tantalising and unending.

As the final production of their three year intensive course at Cours Florent in Paris, these five young performers have constructed an ambitious, well rounded and thoroughly enjoyable piece of theatre which should serve as an effective springboard into their respective acting careers.

I must declare a passing interest in the outcome.  The original idea emanated from an amalgam of the quote about the daughters of the witches in the MeToo campaign, some lines from Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach and William John Leech’s beautiful painting A Convent Garden, Brittany, which hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland.  But since my brief contribution to the script left my screen, I have played no further part.  The transition from page to stage is entirely down to the imaginative vision of the cast and production team.  I am proud of and impressed by their efforts in bringing the concept to life.

 

 

 

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