“Hopeful. Authentic. Moving”
I met Siobhán Donnellan, the writer and performer of Going Spare, to talk about her passion for writing and acting, and the success of her latests play. Going Spare is running at Theatre Upstairs until October 24th, tickets can be booked here.
Siobhán tells me that as long as she can remember herself, she always wanted to act. Amongst the people who hugely inspired her, she names Mikel Murfi and Pan Kinevane. After finishing school, Siobhán decided to study Film and Television. But after six years working in the industry, she realised that the acting bug was still there well planted inside her. So she decided to do a Master’s Degree in Drama and Theatre in NUI Galway.
That year in Galway ended up in Siobhán with two other companions from the same course starting a theatre company – Dragonfly Theatre Company. As the result of this collaboration, a new Irish play immerged “Married to the sea”, in which Siobhán took upon her first lead role. The play proved to be a real success and the company toured with it to Dublin, Edinburgh and New York Fringe Festivals.
Such success also gave Siobhán that extra bit of confidence and determination to do what what she really felt passionate about. More to herself than to anyone else, she proved that she could do it.
In between acting jobs, Siobhán also found the beauty and pleasure in writing. Playwrighting gave her the liberty to be able to write the kind of roles that she could play herself rather than just sit at home and wait for the phone to ring. She started with short one act plays. That’s when the years of experience in production came in handy, as well.
A few years ago, Siobhnán was watching Medea Redux in a theatre in Galway and absolutely loved the way it was directed. The unusual authentic approach to the play and the bold strong choices the director made, made Siobhán realise that this was the kind of a directing she would want for her own plays. The director’s name was Aoife Connolly.
Siobhán was happy to realise that apart from being a very talented director, Aoife was also a person enjoyable and easy to work with. Bit by bit, the creative team for Going Spare started to build up.
Out of interest in the debate itself of whether there is or there is not such a thing as psychics, Going Spare was born. Siobhán reveals to me that she has always been intrigued by the possibility that there is an afterlife. And it doesn’t really matter whether the after-life exists or not, as long as people might be able to find a certain consolidation in it and it will bring them peace.
“It’s small things in life you need to grab on to stay alright”, Siobhán says.
Siobhán also liked playing with the idea that everybody has to face death. “Especially when you are a child and you have to sit down and have this conversation with somebody that we are not immortal; we all are going to die at some point”, she says. But, as children, we normally associate death with old people. In Maisie’s case it was different. She saw somebody of her own age die tragically.
Siobhán also tells me that she has her own approach to writing. She would write paragraphs and little scenes and, only at the end, they will all connect to each other in one or another way. “It’s like a jigsaw”, she says, where you have to find the right space for every single piece.
Going Spare evidently has a very unusual and challenging structure. The plays is set in the present with a couple of scenes that bring us back to Maisie’s past. Apparantly, these flashbacks weren’t in the play from the very beginning. And it was quite difficult for Siobhán herself to figure out how to compose the narrative so it’ll help the structure of the story instead of completely confusing it.
Siobhán also adds that the structure of Going Spare is a bit like human memory. We do tend to remember bits and pieces of what had happened. Each memory is highlighted by an emotion.
Aisling Quinn was the third woman who came on board of Going Spare. She composed all the music used in the production by herself. According to Shiobhán, “Aisling is the kind of person for whom less is more; she is about subtleness”, which works brilliantly for the play.
Sharon Bagnall, who is responsible for lighting and Katie Devonport, who designed the set, closed up the circle of 5 women making Going Spare the play we all can deeply enjoy.
Not being a very visual person herself, Siobhán was glad indeed when Katie came up with the simple but smart idea of the set design. The feather cloud floating above the stage (which, honestly, was the first thing that caught my attention as I walked into the auditorium) beautifully represented the eagle and Declan. In addition to the symbolism, it was a great help for Sharon, when it came to lighting. The material the cloud was made of could easily let the light shine through. Siobhán also revealed to me that for her, personally, the cloud is almost personified. Having it there always makes her feel that she is not alone.
I couldn’t help asking Siobhán if the fact that the production was brought by a team of five women was done on purpose. Interestingly enough, it was accidental. They had either worked with each other before on different productions or were recommended by somebody else. And “it couldn’t have worked out better”, says Siobhán with a smile. And I couldn’t agree more.
I ask Siobhán about the energy she brought in Maisie and what helped her develop such an interesting character. And her answer absolutely opens my eyes on a fascinating approach to acting she has: Siobhán works against the text. If the text is sad or angry she would try to read it with a completely different emotion and see what will it do to it. There is always more than one way of saying things. And, in real life, that’s often what gives away our true feelings. And I understand that that’s exactly what made Maisie such an amazing colourful character.
For somebody who had never done a one woman show before, Siobhán says that indeed it was very challenging for her to play all the characters. Not necessarily in a professional way, but also because being in a room with other actors can be very rewarding. You can feed from their energy; you can compensate for each other. Siobhán also didn’t want to fall into the trap of stereotyping her characters, that’s where the research and directing helped enormously.
As for the most enjoyable thing about the play, it was seeing the show finally coming together. Siobhán says that she had a sense of achievement. The audience’s reaction was quite rewarding, as well.
Going Spare is, certainly, a deeply moving, full of hope play. Siobhán says that to her Maisie is very real. She exists and she is still somewhere out there walking under the sky where an eagle flies, and he watches over Maisie in his own little way.
Don’t go spare, go and see Going Spare in Theatre Upstairs! For there is a Maisie living in all of us.