Mire and mystique
on the Watergate stage

It’s all a bit mysterious.

It’s all a bit mysterious.

Colette Byrne is a prophetic but blind Catwoman, and Brendan Corcoran can travel through time.

And, no, it isn’t another staging of a Watergate pantomime – it’s Watergate Productions’ performance of Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats from January 31 to February 4.

The play is set in a “bleak, ghostly landscape” in the Midlands in the recent past, the play’s title taken from the place where the main character, Hester Swaine, was born.

“It has huge significance,” Colette says of the bog – which, appropriately, preserves elements of the past, unchanged. “It holds childhood memories and very important memories for people, and it keeps drawing them back to the era when times were good. It is a huge pull back for people that can’t let go.”

The play’s story, Brendan notes, is loosely based on Euripedes’ ancient Greek tragedy Medea.

“It’s described as the ‘prophetic tale of Hester Swaine, an Irish Traveller, who attempts to come to terms with a lifetime of abandonment in a world where all whom she has loved have discarded her’. It is ‘one woman’s courageous attempt to lay claim to that which is hers’.”

“That which is hers” includes her family, her homeland ...

“Her everything, really,” Colette says. “Her man is going and her house is going. Her land is going. They want her out of the area, they want to take her daughter from her, and the man with whom she has a relationship has moved on. So she really is out on her own and everybody wants her out of the area, away from the Bog of Cats – which she loves and which she is drawn to.”

Directed by Gerry Cody, the cast also includes Michelle O’Flanagan, Rachel Leydon, Sean Gaffney, Mary Cradock, Anne O’Keeffe, Paddy Behan, Gemma Grant, Fergal Miller, Donal O’Brien, David Thompson and Sean Hackett.

Colette is playing the role of Catwoman, and she says: “I am delighted to be playing her. She is a wonderful character.”

“I see her as being a type of Biddy Early type of character,” she continues. “Biddy Early early lived in County Clare and could see into the future with her glass bottle. Now, this woman can’t do that, but the Catwoman is blind but she sees things that are going to happen.”

She also continually sends out her warning: “See what happens if you don’t heed what the Catwoman said.”

“She is a great woman and she feels that she is the owner and the keeper of the bog – that’s her significance,” Colette says. “She would know every area of the bog, and the bog is hers.”

Brendan, meanwhile, plays the more minor role of “a mystical figure who wanders through time, collecting lost souls.”

“He opens the play, and then drifts...,” Brendan says, although “in the first three minutes that he performs, the audience pick up on who and what he is. And while he is offstage his character’s presence remains in the background overshadowing the goings-on.”

“He is there for a purpose,” Brendan says. “It’s just that he got the time wrong.”

Wild humour

What they are enjoying about the play, Colette says, is that “it has everything in it – you have comedy and you have tragedy...”

“Marina Carr has established herself as probably the best female Irish playwright for many years. ... And while her works are dark to a certain extent, they are ‘shot through with wild humour’,” Brendan adds, quoting a 2004 Guardian interview with the playwright. “There is wild humour throughout the play. It’s dark and it’s humorous.”

“It’s very interesting because it’s not your average play, in that it deals with things that are out of this world, things that are not of this world,” Colette says, and Brendan feels it’s the most challenging play that Watergate Productions has staged since its start in 1993.

“You’re not in any comfort zone with this play; you’re not going down a tried and tested road,” he says. “Where most plays have a start, middle and end and you achieve it, with this play you’re working at it all the time.”

It’s also, Colette notes, a great play for women.

“The main character, Hester, is a very strong woman. You have the Catwoman, who is a very strong woman. You have Mrs Kilbride, played by Mary Cradock, and she is a very strong character, and the young girl in it, Rachel Leyden,” she says.

“The women are very strong, and they are all very different characters.”

This strength applies to the play as a whole, in fact, says Brendan.

“It is a very strong play,” he says. “I describe it as a theatrical feast.”

Watergate Productions’ ‘By the Bog of Cats’ is in the Watergate Theatre from January 31 to February 4 at 8pm. Tickets cost €15/€12 (€10 on opening night) and are available from 056 7761674 and www.watergatetheatre.com.