Dave Duggan fuses English, Irish and invented language Emprish with sci-fi play at the Lyric Theatre
Let me go back a little, to where it all began. Aisling Ghéar, an Irish language theatre company based in Belfast, approached me following the success of the 2007 play I wrote for them called Gruagairí, which was set in a hair dressers – it won a Stewart Parker Trust Award – and asked would I fancy going again.
I said 'yes' and that I wanted to 'solve' a theatrical problem with them: how to make an Irish language play accessible to people with little or no Irish. There are subtitles in the resulting play, Makaronik. And Aisling Ghéar have pioneered the use of simultaneous translation via a headset for audience members. That's what was used with Gruagairí.
I wanted to see was there another technological solution we could explore. And that led me to sci-fi. Ficsean eolaíochta. Science-fiction. So all you Star Wars fans, all you trekkies and beyond, you can gear up. In fact, turn up in costume, if you're so minded. Makaronik is in Irish, English and Empirish...
In a small way I am a science buff, a keen follower of matters interplanetary. I've read all the Carl Sagan exo-biology stuff. And, for Makaronik, I re-read I, Robot by Isaac Asimov and George Orwell's 1984. The Orwell showed me the language Newspeak, which lead me to Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange and thus to the new language I put in the play: Empirish.
Empirish sounds like a degraded English. Béarla bacach. Emotion and personal choice have been removed. But I'm getting ahead of things here...
Theatre is not just a locale for language games and technical pursuits. It is primarily a place of story and character. And, in drama, it offers a site where our deepest challenges and concerns can be addressed in public, as engagement and entertainment. For me, that includes considerations like 'what is freedom?' 'Why and how do I make the choices I make?'
Imagine a degraded data centre, isolated from the world, on the edge of Empire, in Belfast, where the last denizen – a lone woman, termed a 'neutered drone', Makaronik – keeps things ticking over. Until two senior officers, from the Imperial Centre, Diarmuid and Gráinne, arrive to inform Makaronik that, as part of cutbacks, the Empire is closing down outposts and bringing all the data and the personnel back to the Centre for 'Storage'.
Makaronik doesn't trust them. And she has more going on than she lets on. When she learns that the officers themselves have their own doubts about 'duty' and the safety of the Centre, she begins to undermine them with the only weapons she has: language. Things come to a head when Makaronik issues an ultimatum.
The play is aimed at a general audience, many of whom will have Irish, some of whom will have a little Irish and many others who may have little or no Irish. I contend that any and all of them will be able to follow the action and I sincerely hope find it engaging and entertaining.
We look to drama to meet people we can relate to getting into problems and getting out of them. If they survive, it's comedy. If they don't, it's tragedy. Come and see Makaronik and judge for yourself in which camp it falls.
Actually the word 'see' here is crucial. Theatre is so much a visual medium, something the director Bríd Ó Gallachóir is exploring with the designers and the digital artists she has brought on board for Makaronik.Not only will the work of the three cast members tell the story, but the design will bring us into the world of the outpost in 2084.
Digital artists are currently creating images and animations, as noted in my text, to serve a number of visual functions on the stage. These effects are on screens integrated as part of the set. They serve to put beauty on the stage. They show data being returned to the Centre.
And they assist the audience with language cribs in English: short bursts of translation, pointers, summaries, notes; all of which add to the enjoyment of the show. And, as with most of my plays, there are songs. Beautiful macaronic songs, mixing languages, offering colour and entertainment. And driving the plot.
I'm delighted that is it opening in the Lyric Theatre on October 24 as part of the 2014 Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's. I'm just out of hospital, after an eight-week spell, including an amputation of a part of my right foot. Having Makaronik underway is a boon.
I'm grateful to Aisling Ghéar, to the Belfast Festival, to the Lyric and to all the venues taking the play as it tours nationally. Sci-fi as Ghaeilge? Who'd have thought, Spock?
Makaronik runs at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast from October 24 – 26 as part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's, before touring the country. Visit the Aisling Ghéar website for information on subsequent dates.