Corn Mill Theatre present ‘On Broken Wings’ by Dermot Healy

Setting

Synopsis

The play takes its title from a popular song of the 1930s, a period in which some of the scenes are set. It opens in contemporary Ireland with an old masked figure – Timothy Lavell – seated by the hearth of a cottage on the Mullet peninsula. We follow in Act I scenes from Timothy’s childhood, including his trip by boat and train to Scotland, and his time there potato-picking, before return home again. In Act II we follow Timothy’s life in America. He finds work as an elevator man, and encounters many races and creeds. His experiences, his failed love affair, his hallucinations, and his fears are explored. Eventually he returns to Ireland to sit by the hearth like his father and mother before him. Timothy Lavell is a stubborn survivor of another age.

Cast

Timothy (Old Man) Killian McGuinness
Timothy (Man) Phil Gilbride
Timothy (Boy) Luke Patterson
Mother Taragh Donohoe
Father Brian O’Reilly
Woman Elaine Birkett
Man Niall Lynch
Mangan Larry O’Halloran
Big Woman Taragh Donohoe
Rosie Julie Ann McKiernan
Barwoman Róisín Kenny
Tessie Eileen Ward
Bernie Sean McIntyre
Waltzers / Potato, American & Fifties Heads Orla Brady
Alice Smyth Lynch
Sharon O’Neill
Derek O’Reilly
Joe McManus
Mark Connolly

Crew

Director Ronan Ward
Lighting Philip McIntyre
Neville Patterson
Seamus Farrell
Sound Effects Ronan Ward
Philip McIntyre
Seamus Farrell
Sound Daniel Mimna
Ray Belverstone
Set Design and Construction Loui Finnegan
Neville Patterson
Ronan Ward
Stage Manager Loui Finnegan
Masks and Costumes Ronan Ward
Taragh Donohoe
Cast members
Make Up Una Ward

About The Group

The tradition of drama in Carrigallen goes back to the late 1800’s. The present group was founded in 1963 as The Community Players and there has been no break in activity since that time. The group has competed on the festival circuit since 1970 and has reached the All-Ireland Open Finals in Athlone on twenty three occasions. In 1989 the group opened their own theatre – The Corn Mill Theatre and Arts Centre. The group has won the All-Ireland Open Drama Finals in Athlone on three occasions – in 1998 with ‘Belfr’y by Billy Roche, in 2005 with ‘Stolen Child’ by Yvonne Quinn and Bairbre Ni Chaoimh and in 2014 with ‘The Devil’s Ceili’ by Philip Doherty &
Kevin McGahern. The group also won the Abbey Theatre Award in 2014.

Summary of Adjudicator’s Comments

In her introduction, Adjudicator Imelda McDonagh stated that Dermot Healy (author of ‘On Broken Wings’) was “fascinated by Ireland’s cultural memory”. A talented theatre director in his own right, he directed the winning play in the 1980 All-Ireland Drama Festival with a production of ‘Waiting For Godot’.

Healy was “eclectic in his influences” and drew on the work of playwrights such as John Millington Synge and Samuel Beckett, while Seamus Heaney described the prolific writer and poet as the heir to Patrick Kavanagh.

‘On Broken Wings’ is a play which features the “theatre of the absurd” and it demands “bold visuals”, “inventive staging” and “precise choreography”, Ms McDonagh noted.

The play must take the audience on a “visionary journey” from the west of Ireland to potato fields in Scotland and to the bright lights of the USA. A production of the play must capture what Dermot Healy wanted: “humour, pathos and a sense of fatalism”.

Turning to the Corn Mill group’s stage design, Ms McDonagh described the projected landscapes as “powerful”. The sailing boat which brought young Timothy to Scotland was “well-constructed” and visually strong. The building of the wall scene received favourable comment and the appearance of the Statue of Liberty when Timothy reached the US was a “nice surprise”. And one of the adjudicator’s favourite props was the needle used to inoculate Timothy!

The costumes had a “lovely, earthy palette” though the adjudicator felt that perhaps better use of colour was needed to differentiate the characters in the first part of the play. On the positive side, however, was the “richness” of the colours when the action reached the US. There was “lovely visual variety” but the adjudicator did wonder about the choice of the black feather masks for the dancers.

The lighting was described as “very well judged, imaginative and slick”. The singing of the theme music On Broken Wings was “lyrical and poignant”, and the accordion music for the dancing scene was in keeping with the Irish landscape.

Turning to the work of the Director (Ronan Ward), the adjudicator said it was a “brave and imaginative choice of play” that gave the group “the opportunity to explore different elements of theatre”.

The bedroom scene between Rosie and Timothy (played by Phil Gilbride at this juncture), the removal of the corpse from the potato field, and Timothy taking off his trousers in order to be inoculated were highlighted favourably. The use of the potato heads, the knitting scene and the train and elevator scenes were also praised.

A slight quibble was that “vocal clarity suffered a bit” at the start of the play. Non-verbal communication was very effective, though the requirement of the main characters to wear masks did present some challenges.

In this play we see Timothy making the journey from a small boy to an old man. When we saw him as an old man (Killian McGuinness) at the beginning, he was a “very strange, misshapen figure”.

Timothy as a boy, played by Luke Patterson, had a “lovely innocence” and he worked extremely well as part of a trio with his father and mother. The character of Mother (Taragh Donohoe) showed some “lovely comic timing” and demonstrated physical ecstasy with “great abandon” in one scene, while Father came across as a robust and powerful figure.

The Woman (Elaine Birkett), the boss in the Scottish potato fields, was “a force to be reckoned with” and had a “strong vocal delivery”. Mangan (Larry O’Halloran) was a “threatening presence” in his cameo role, while Man conveyed the loneliness of an emigrant abroad.

Rosie (Julie Ann McKiernan) was “seductive and alluring” and this “femme fatale” had a major impact on Timothy. Big Woman (played by Taragh Donohoe) was a “sweet and jolly characterisation”, while Tessie (Eileen Ward) was a “lovely, genial presence”

In summing up, the adjudicator contended that this was an “imaginative and inventive interpretation” of Healy’s work and the “dedicated ensemble” brought the audience to “wild and wonderful” places in the course of the production.