My Cultural Life: Emma Jordan

Prime Cut director on her admiration of 'Saint' Seamus Heaney and Stewart Parker and why there's something for everyone in Marina Carr 

Can you remember the moment you realised that theatre was for you?

I can’t isolate one particular experience but my drama education at St Louise's Comprehensive College was definitely a major influence in the development of my love for theatre. 

When I was seventeen a group of us studying A Level Theatre Studies went to London for a field trip and we were taken to see Antony and Cleopatra on the Olivier stage at the National Theatre starring - get this - Anthony Hopkins and Judi Dench! It was stunning, it took my breath away and I remember being really excited at the sheer power of the form, the visceral joy of communion between the players and audience. A year later I was on the same stage with the Marillac Theatre Company performing the Hedgey Road plays as part of the National Connections programme. There was no going back really.

In your career you’ve acted, produced and directed. Do you have a favourite? 

I am a pretty all or nothing kind of a gal and whatever I am doing at the time gets my wholehearted attention. At the minute I really enjoy directing, I love the intellectual and creative challenges it presents and I enjoy problem solving. 

Making theatre is a truly collaborative process and it helps a lot if you like people, and enjoy working in a team, which I do. I feel quite privileged to be working in an environment which relishes exploration and elevates play to the lofty heights of process. It's fun, it’s stimulating and it makes me feel alive.

We haven’t seen Marina Carr’s work on Northern Irish stages too often. Why do you think that is? Why is Carr’s work important? 

I am not sure why we haven’t seen Marina’s work on the Northern stages. Her work tends to get produced on the main stages in London and Dublin so in effect our production of Woman and Scarecrow is an all too rare treat for audiences on both sides of the border. 

I think Marina’s work is stunning - her midland trilogy Portia Coughlan, The Mai and By The Bog of Cats are, to me, some of the most exciting plays to have come out of Ireland in the past decade. Her understanding of the female psyche, her exploration of theatrical form and her wonderful ear for language make her a truly exceptional writer.

Do you have a favourite Northern Irish playwright? 

And now watch as I negotiate a diplomatic tightrope! There are a few playwrights from the North whom I particularly rate. I love Stuart Parker's work and greatly enjoyed the recent Parker project produced by the Lyric and Rough Magic.

Prime Cut have produced three Owen McCafferty plays, and I think that Owen is an exceptionally talented world class playwright. I also really like Daragh Carville’s work and I am looking forward to seeing his latest play, which will be produced by Tinderbox later on in the year.

If you could invite three cultural figures, past or present, to dinner, who would they be and why?

It's all about the combination isn’t it! Bill Hicks for a bit of craic, Phillip Roth for his incisive intelligence and Nuala O’Faolain so she can stir up the waters while I enjoy watching the tsunami unfold.

What’s your favourite play/book/film?

My favourite play is Beckett’s Endgame (could he not come to dinner too?) There are lines in Endgame which I have always imagined will visit me on my deathbed, if I am lucky enough to be given the time for such contemplations. 

Favourite book – I have so many! – Probably top of the list would be Iris Murdoch’s The Sea The Sea, I am a big fan of her work and have revisited this novel several times and it still has a mystery for me that compels every time. Favourite film? Out of sheer nostalgia for my younger more romantic self it has to be the director's cut of Betty Blue. What's not to love?

Which Irish cultural figure to you most admire and why? 

I greatly admire Seamus Heaney – it’s almost a cliché isn’t it, Saint Seamus? It’s the combination of extraordinary talent and profound personal integrity.

What cultural event are you most looking forward to in the coming year? 

I always look forward to the Belfast Festival at Queen's. It's my favourite time of the year when Belfast is at its most picturesque, balanced on the cusp of winter hibernation - it’s the best possible time to be offered the chance to see such a wide range of quality arts programming.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? 

Via Charles Bukowski: ‘We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state and our education system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us.’

If you could write your epitaph in no more than 10 words, what would it be and why?

Much loved daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend. Died aged 103.

Woman and Scarecrow, directed by Emma Jordan, runs at Old Museum Arts Centre, Belfast February 26-28 before going on tour. Check out Culture Live! for full listings.