Following Fishamble’s recent sold out show in Dublin, we talk to producer Eva Scanlan and playwright Colin Murphy about the making of Inside The GPO.
Just after midday on Easter Monday 1916 a contingent of men, led by Patrick Pearse and James Connolly, entered Dublin’s General Post Office and ordered the skeleton staff and customers to leave. The building, chosen by the Irish rebels for its central location in the city, was also the nucleus of communications in Ireland. On its roof, the flag of the Irish Republic was immediately hoisted.
Fishamble’s Inside The GPO tells the true story of what happened in Dublin’s ‘Public Letters Office’ during the five days of the Easter Rising of 1916 when it became the temporary headquarters of the Irish Volunteers. The show, staged during the commemoration weekend, was completely sold out. “Demand for tickets was so high that even with extra performances and added capacity, we still had a massive waiting list from people wishing to see it”, says Eva Scanlan of Fishamble theatre company and producer of the show.
Along with the demanding task of accommodating the audience the production had other challenges: “We presented the show in the main Post Office hall of the GPO which, until 6pm every evening, is a functioning financial institution. So every evening, our crew worked to turn it into a theatre – bringing in seating, rigging lights and masking, setting scenic items – before our first audience of 130 came in for the 7.30pm performance”, says Eva. “That process worked thanks to our brilliant production crew, as well as members of staff from our partnering organisations An Post and Arnotts, who helped with the set-up and take-down every night. It was a very well-oiled machine by the end of the run”.
The documentary-style drama, directed by Jim Culleton, was unique in the fact that the performance took place on the site in question – adding even more pathos and atmosphere to a captivating production.
While most of the action in the play takes place in the main hall, on the ground floor, around the central podium. Up on the first floor balcony, appears a woman named Mary Louisa Hamilton-Norway. Like Pearse and Connolly, Mary Louisa is a real life character, who recorded the turbulent five days in her diary.
“When I decided to do a play about the Easter Rising set inside the GPO I realised that one of the risks, from the off, was losing the most obvious source of conflict”, says Colin Murphy, journalist and writer of Inside The GPO. “The struggle between those on the inside who were fighting for an independent Ireland and those on the outside representing the British Empire.” (Watch our interview with Colin Murphy above).
Murphy introduces this conflict through the character of Hamilton-Norway and, unlike most of the other characters, her words appear verbatim, taken from unsent letters she wrote to a friend in England during her ordeal.
Some of the principals that Murphy brings to his work for the stage are those of the ‘docu-drama’ style and, where possible, using the actual words of people, keeping the story as true to details and chronology.
“They say ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ and the challenge that I find very compelling is to find the dramatic shape in the messiness of truth”, says Murphy, “that’s something you’re trained to do as a journalist and then, as a dramatist, that’s something I try to do too”.
Inside The GPO by Colin Murphy was produced by Fishamble: The New Play Company in partnership with Fáilte Ireland, Dublin City Council, Ireland 2016, An Post, Dublin Town, and Arnotts.
Future productions from Fishamble – The New Play Company include:
Forgotten, Underneath and the Olivier Award winning Silent, all written and performed by Pat Kinevane on tour in Ireland and internationally throughout the year. Upcoming performances include:
- Silent at the White Horse in Ballincollig, Cork on Thursday April 21st
- Underneath and Sile
nt at the Theatre Royal in Waterford on April 22nd – 23rd
- Underneath at An Grianán, Letterkenny on Thursday April 28th
- Forgotten as part of Féile na Bealtaine in Dingle on Sunday May 1st
- Underneath at the White Horse in Ballincollig, Cork on Thursday May 12th
- Silent at Visual Carlow on Saturday May 14th
- Underneath at Droichead Arts Centre on Friday May 20th