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14 January 2010 Edition

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Major stage musical based on Easter Rising planned for 2011

What if the dream come true?


I WAS OUT with a few mates in the pub the first time I heard about a proposed musical based on the 1916 Rising. There was strong reaction amongst the company, I can tell you, and none of it good. One fella nearly choked on his pint.
There was sniggering, grunting and a barely-concealed snarl from one quarter. A musical based on the Rising?!! An abomination – it has to be the Brits!
It was to be called ‘Relive the Nightmare; Believe the Dream: This is ‘1916’.’
The very thought of it could give you nightmares.
Though you had to admit it was imaginative and maybe the producers were some of those creative types someone once described as “the makers of music and the dreamers of dreams”. Or maybe they were just naïve fools. But then, as Pearse’s poem ‘The Fool’ asks: “What if the dream come true?” It was at least worth checking out these fools or dreamers.
My mates in the pub were right – the producers were English, but the sceptics were wrong about the rest. The idea of putting music to the story of the 1916 Rising first came to creative producer Sean Ferris 17 years ago, although the musical is not due to be premiered until October 2011.
Of Irish descent and raised in England, Sean is transparently attached to this country and feels a strong sense of belonging here. He readily admits that he initially knew relatively little about the Rising and had to do a lot of research on the subject.
“My mother grew up Derry and we have family in Galway and Cork. I started to do some research and realised that the story of the Rising would translate wonderfully to stage and that there was an amazing historical tale to tell – effectively a struggle of a nation, 900 years of oppression and in terms of emotion – getting all that on stage.
“As I read into the history of Thomas Clarke, Pádraig Pearse and the others, they absolutely fascinated me.”
There is, of course, the love strand.
“We’ve set a love triangle against the arena of the Rising and we’re putting those factional characters in with the real historical characters,” Sean tells me.
“Who’s to say that such people weren’t there at the time, just that they may not be recorded in history?
“It’s also about the everyday people who were caught up in the arena at the time.” The love story emerges when Harry, “a naïve young soldier conscripted into the Army in England and then sent over to Ireland”, meets a young woman called Bridie and falls in love. She, of course, has a young brother, Ciarán, a staunch member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
The narrative travels through the lead up to the Rising and on to the executions, so it requires very highly-charged musical pieces, as assistant producer Michael Persad explains.
“It’s taking a style like that of Hans Florian Zimmer, a German film screen composer of a number of very successful films like ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’.  It will have philharmonic music, mixed with very strong Irish contemporary raw authentic sound, with a slight sprinkling element of folk.” 
Michael and Sean didn’t want a folk musical.
“We needed something that spoke to a global audience,” Sean explains.
“It’s all original stuff specially written for the show. We’ve assembled a 24-piece orchestra, five of which are authentic Irish, including the uileann pipes and the bodhrán, and we’ve mixed all that together.
“There’s a big anthem in it too – it’s very rousing – which we’ve written specifically for the production.
“We’re making up a concept CD which is for internal use aimed at investors to raise funding for the musical but we will be releasing a recording into the charts to get the music known. We hope to do that by this summer.
“We’ve been writing this music for two-and-a-half years, so by the time we hit the stage it’ll be five years in the making.
“It’s such a controversial subject that I need to take my time and get it right. There will have to be meticulous attention to detail in the research. We’ve already spoken to survivors of the Rising.  We’re trying to get as much first-hand knowledge as we can.”
The graphic on the two producers’ business card is highly symbolic. It also tries to say a lot – perhaps too much for a graphic, and my main fear is that the musical itself might try to do too much also. The emblem is, nevertheless, eye-catching, strong, even passionate, and if the musical can do even that much it could be powerful enough.  “The graphic illustrates,” Sean says, “a heart representing love and passion for one’s country and the love story in the musical. It also aims to show the Irish people rising up and the British Empire crumbling via a depiction of the English rose wilting.”
I utter a soft moan.
“I can’t see it wilting at all,” I suggest.
“It will wilt, it will wilt,” Sean reassures me. “You can’t see it on this small card, check it on the web.” I go home and check the website and, yeah, the rose does look a bit wilted and, sure, by the time 2011 comes round it’ll be well withered.
The story of the Rising is indeed epic and if the two men pull off even half of the challenge they’ve set themselves it will be a musical well worth going to see. If they pull the whole project off as they envisage, it will be monumental.
Mind you, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet, if there even is one in the cast, and I’ll be keeping my powder dry until I get to see the end result. But short of some terrible obstacle coming my way, I’ll certainly be going to see this show and I’ve a strong hunch that it is going to be something very, very special.
Dreamers or fools, these two young men have set themselves a magnificent task. Again to quote Pearse’s ‘The Fool’:
“I have squandered the splendid years that the Lord God gave to my youth in attempting impossible things, deeming them alone worth the toil.”
Good luck to all involved.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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