2015 is drawing to its end and in order to close the season Theatre Upstairs together with Fast Intent Theatre Company present Way Beyond The Blue, an original play written and performed by Nessa Matthews.
Way Beyond the Blue is Fast Intent’s final, in a series of three, play as the Company in Residence 2015 that is being staged in the cosy intimate place above The Lanigan’s Pub on Eden Quay.
In the middle of summer, I had already had a chance to sit down with Gerard, Sarah and Nessa to talk about their newly written and freshly staged play Bob&Judy. And now, only few days before Christmas, I am back in Theatre Upstairs; Nessa, Sarah and myself sit down to talk about end of year, being a company in residence, creating and staging three brand new productions and, of course, what was the inspiration and drive behind Way Beyond The Blue.
The idea of writing her own piece came to Nessa when she was still a drama student at LAMDA. An image of a woman listening to The Flamingos (a popular rock – an’ – roll band from the 50s) alone in the room, suddenly a male figure approaching her and engaging in a dance, that was the first image that struck the beginning of a long process that will eventually end up in a piece called Way Beyond The Blue.
Nessa tells me that her creative mind works visually and imagery is of a crucial importance to her. So, after having that very first image, the next step she took was to have a look at the work one of Hollywood all-time classics – Douglas Sirk and his timeless melodramas.
After the first stage of “the sit-down” research, Nessa proceeded to a more hands-on approach. With a dictaphone on, she interviewed Ste Murray, who, being a photographer, could really provide some insight on what happens on the other side of the lens; along with him, Nessa interviewed a number of women, including her own mother and sisters, about their feelings when being captured on camera; thus the main character – a young female photographer – was born. Nessa saw that her yet unwritten play was already turning into a “quest story, where the heroine is looking for an image of either her mother or herself”.
Being the kind of person who rather stands on her feet and “does” the theatre, sitting down to write it was somewhat of a challenge for Nessa. But it didn’t stop her.
Interestingly enough, the idea of making the heroine of the story somebody who is interested in photography was there from the very beginning, but it was not definite. Nessa tells me that she was quite open to other options and suggestions.
“She does want to engage”, says Nessa. She wanted to create a character who is really willing to engage with other people but there is something inside her that would not let her do it. And this metaphorical barrier was shown through a very physical object – a camera. A camera, just like a mask, is there to protect the introvert girl from the outside world.
Sarah Finlay, who has directed the play, says that even though she had seen the script during its different stages, seeing the actual performance for the first time was incredibly rewarding. “From scraps of moment to images, to scenes and to monologues”, Sarah expected the play to be a very abstract piece. “Language is the easiest part”, Sarah says “people are great at writing beautiful language, wonderful monologues and interesting characters. But what’s really difficult is putting it into a context, a plot or a narrative that is really engaging, coherent and makes sense.” So, a lot of work, until the very last days and minutes, went into creating the setting of the story.
“A journey from innocence to experience, from morning to night, from springtime to winter, from flowers to snow and from youth to an old age… Creating arches and clearly defining the character’s journey is what made this play so special and easy to engage with”, says Sarah and I absolutely agree. Beautifully constructed, easy and interesting to follow and hugely enjoyable to watch, Way Beyond the Blue is a real gem.
One of the things that was new to Sarah before starting to work on this production was that she had never directed a one-person show before, which would have been written and performed by that same person. Being a “Nessa’s show”, as Sarah describes it, she agrees that there is a part of her in it, as well. Nessa, in her turn, says that it was very much of a collective work. The play wouldn’t have been the same without every single person who was involved in bringing it on stage. With the creative team, being inspired by the same things that Sarah and Nessa were and working to perfection in unison with their ideas, it was a team-work that made this production the way we, the audience, are lucky to witness it on stage.
Apart from having written and performed in the play, Nessa Matthews has also co-designed the sound for the piece. Being a person who starts creating a character by making a list of songs that she would associate with that character, Nessa wanted the music to be a very important part of Way Beyond The Blue. It starts with quite traditional 50s songs, slowly progressing to broken off jazz and finally to silence. That very beautifully and organically represents what the character on stage is going through inside.
Nessa admits that she is a very physical actress; in this production mime is a just another layer that plays its part. The camera, one of the main objects of the show, never actually makes an appearance. Everything is being very subtely and beautifully mimed. “It was very important to break down the gesture”, explains Sarah. Once the gesture has been done and repeated, the audience doesn’t need to see it again. One of the most memorable moments of the play: when the heroine is looking at the sky and takes a picture of it – the representation of the camera isn’t there anymore. She just says “Click. Roll On.” and we already know what’s happened.
Having produced three full productions that are very dear to the hearts of all members of Fast Intent, it is, of course, very difficult to say goodbye to a such a long and fruitful year in Theatre Upstairs. The absolutely lovely space, the opportunity to work with some of the best theatre makers in Ireland – being a Company in Residence is truly a once in a lifetime experience.
“Theater Upstairs gives you a great opportunity to create new work, show it to the audience and be able to see it for what it is; not see if it works; not see how successful it can be, but see what it is, what the idea is, what the play is, what it means”, says Sarah.
Always with the help and encouragement of Karl Shiels and Laura Honan, as well as the new creative team behind every production, who do not only do their job but also shares Fast Intent’s passion and love for theatre, this year has been tough but also extremely rewarding and enjoyable for the company. Three brand new plays written, performed and directed within the company have been of a very valuable experience for Fast Intent. They could have made it easier for themselves, but it’s the strong belief in what they wanted to do, how they wanted to do it and the eternal love for art that kept driving them forward all this year.
With 8 shows under their belt now, Fast Intent is ready to move on and impress its audience with both new plays and a possible return of the old ones.
Way Beyond the Blue is running in Theatre Upstairs until December 19th. Do not miss this little beauty that is way beyond incredible and fascinating! A real treat for theatre lovers of all genders and ages. For more info and to book tickets, please, visit: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/way-beyond-the-blue