“Slice The Thief.”
“Raw. Emotion. Energy.”
“Quick. Funny. Heart-Breaking.”
It’s a little over a week before Bitter Like a Lemon Theatre Company presents its new play Slice, The Thief, a dark comedy by Lee Coffey, that will open in the atmospheric The Boy’s School, at Smock Alley Theatre on April 4th.
The rehearsals are already in full swing and not even the Easter weekend going to stop the amazing hard-working team from making the text jump off the page. I got a wonderful opportunity to sit down for a chat with Lee Coffey, the writer of the play, Jeda De Bri, the director, and Wesley Doyle, who plays Slice, the thief.
What would you do if standing on one of Dublin’s streets you’d see somebody stealing a bike? Call the guards? Maybe, try to stop them? Well, Lee Coffey found a somewhat more creative way of dealing with the situation: he decided to write a play about it.
On a sunny March afternoon in one of Rough Magic’s offices, Lee, mostly known by his smash hit of a play Leper and Chip, starts the conversation by telling me about how he came up with the idea of writing Slice, The Thief, the third and final play in Coffey’s Dublin Trilogy.
Even though enjoyable, the process of writing this story wasn’t an easy one. Having had a rush of ideas and plots that he wanted to incorporate into the play, Lee didn’t quite have the right ending for the piece. He reveals to me that he was playing a computer game, when he got the idea of creating a whole set of disasters, each one worse than the previous one, that is simply accumulating to an already quite bad situation.
Coffey acknowledges the fact that Slice, The thief is a very male piece of theatre. “Man.Man.Man. It’s written from a male point of view”, says he. And having a female director just gives it a totally different perspective. Apart from directing the play, Jeda de Brí (the founding member of Sickle Moon Productions) has already directed snippets from Slice, the Thief for the Rehearsed Readings at Theatre Upstairs earlier last year and for the Night in Two Halves in the Smock Alley Theatre last August. Jeda reveals to us that she loved the play from the moment she read it for the first time and was very happy to be on board when the time and opportunity came to stage the full production.
Wesley Doyle, who plays the part of Slice, has also been very excited ever since he got the script. Having been engaged mostly in TV productions in the last couple of years, he already started to feel that yearn for the bright lights and dark spaces of rehearsal rooms; having worked with Amilia Stewart on Fair City, who, apart from being a producer on this production, is also a founding member of BLAL, he went to see Leper and Chip when it premiered in Theatre Upstairs. Later, it was Amilia herself who introduced Wesley to Lee and, relying on his fellow company member’s opinion, without audition Wesley was cast as Slice.
Dublin-born, Tallaght native Lee Coffey, has a great passion for his town and its people; and this love has reflected on and greatly influenced every play he has written. The city itself becomes a sort of a character on its own. On the analogy of O’Casey’s works, Coffey has created his own Dublin and therefore a modern day Dublin Trilogy. Lee adds that you don’t have to be from Dublin to understand the plays, but the actors in the plays have to be from Dublin in order to bring the authenticity to the pieces.
Slice, The Thief. Or shall I say, Slice The Thief? Being a dark comedy about a thief of bikes, the play still touches on a number of important and serious, I would even say ground breaking, topics. I’ve already mentioned before that this is a very mannish play; and through this mannish perspective it shows how some matters are being treated with a completely different reaction when they happen to a man as opposed to a woman. In a world where gender equality is being supported and demanded more than ever, there still exist stereotypes and prejudices, where the society still looks at you and judges you and have certain expectations of you purely because you are of a certain gender. A man, in this case.
Written in a style that Coffey calls “skinny list”, the script has almost no paragraphs or long sentences. It’s almost like a poem or a free-style verse that goes in and out of rhyme from time to time. “A lot of violence, swearing; it’s quite quick, one of the quickest plays”, says Lee.”It’s raw energy on multiple levels”, adds Wesley. Almost animalistic-like, during the heightened moments of the play the words synchronize with Slice and his inner rhythm, his heartbeat.
“It’s easy to write a monologue”, says Lee, who did have mixed feeling about writing a one-person piece due to the amount of such already existing in the market, “everybody has a monologue in them. But people like Mark O’Rowe or Conor McPherson have set the bar so high that writing a really good monologue has become a real challenge”.
Three plays after, it’s quite safe to say that Lee Coffey has a very unique and easily recognizable style of his own. His fast paced plays hold your guts tight for an hour and then let it go without apologising, leaving you just to sit there realising that something great has just happened. It broke your heart, it exhausted your feelings, it played with your mind, but hell… it was great. Tough for the audience, sure it is. But it is even tougher for the actors on stage. Not everyone has the emotional ability and the strength go through such a crazy rollercoaster on a daily basis that Slice, the Thief, Leper and Chip or Peruvian Voodoo require.
When it comes to the most enjoyable thing about working on this production, for Jeda, as the director, it is the ability to be creative within given parameters. Due to the specific nature of the structure of the play, she aims to “find the flare within that stringent rhythmic parameter that she had been given”.
Wesley, for whom this play is going to be his first one-man show, says that rehearsing for Slice, The Thief really pushes him to think outside the box, as well as being open to new ideas and suggestions and simply trying things out.
From the very beginning, for Lee it was crucial to cast an actor with an authentic Dublin accent. And Wesley, being originally from Ballymun, turned out to be the perfect fit. Lee strongly believes in the authenticity, and even though there is a good variety of actors in and out of Ireland who can do a perfect Dublin accent, for such a fast-paced energetic piece like Slice, The Thief, they wanted somebody who could speak not only from the put on accent, but from the heart and the bones of his own body.
Jeda, Lee and Wesley all agree that the play is quite harsh and grim. But, at the same time, they want the story to have an impact on the audience and change them even a little bit. “We want the audience to go through every single emotion possible”, says Jeda, “we want the audience to go through the journey with Slice. I would like to break hearts. I hope I can just make people love and hate him [Slice] at the same time.”
“I want to lull the audience. I want to show people what funny can be.”, says Lee “I want them to laugh and to think, at the same time, I shouldn’t be laughing at this. I like to write dark stuff that puts the audience in a very uncomfortable place. I want to assault the audience. In a very non-threatening, non-physical way. I’m going to paint this picture. You make whatever you want from it. And then you can leave.”
“I want people to know me, to know Slice, on a very person level. I want them to love me and to know what they love about me; I want them to hate me and to know exactly what they hate about me”, says Wesley.
With Katie Davenport designing the set and Dara Hoban doing the lighting, in addition to the wonderful ensemble of Bitter Like A Lemon, Jeda De Bri and Wesley Doyle, this production has brought together some of the most talented and creative professionals in the business. For one week only, running from April 4th till April 9th in The Boy’s School at The Smock Alley Theatre. Come and slice yourself a piece of this cake. Fore more info or to book tickets: http://smockalley.com/slice-thief/