National Anthem Rehearsals
Watch a video of proceedings ahead of opening night, featuring Colin Bateman, director Rachel O'Riordan and actor Alan McKee
Last month Rachel O’Riordan announced that she would be leaving Ransom Theatre Productions - which she formed in 2002 with her actor/writer husband Richard Dormer - to work as artistic director for Scotland’s Perth Theatre. But Colin Bateman's National Anthem, which she is currently directing, is unlikely to be the last Ransom production to have her stamp on it.
‘Not necessarily, no,’ O’Riordan tells CultureNorthernIreland during a break in rehearsals in St Pat's Hall, Belfast. ‘I am moving on to another job,’ she adds, ‘but I’m going to be staying with Ransom as an artistic associate. I’m hoping very much to stay involved in an advisory capacity.’
With Bateman himself sat behind her – nodding his head to the beat of the scene, silently mouthing his own words along with the actors – O’Riordan brings a directness and energy to proceedings, springing into action when a pause is too long, an inflection too weak, encouraging and congratulating the actors mid-scene when her direction bears fruit.
The first scene to be directed this morning involves actors Miche Doherty and Stuart Graham in the lead roles of O’Hare and Miller, two characters employed by Stormont to write a national anthem for Northern Ireland. The juxtaposition between the characters is obvious - musician Miller does yoga and boasts of a forthcoming world tour whilst lyricist O'Hare bemoans a long car journey from the south and looks to wrap up the session with a bottle of wine or two.
The dialogue packs a punch: classic Bateman. National Anthem is his first foray into the world of theatre writing, and clearly he enjoys the collaborative process. (At one point, when O'Hare cites 'Azkaban' as an Eastern European country, I chuckle and catch Bateman's eye. He nods his approval appreciatively.)
Having written several screen plays - including the ITV adaptation of his novel Murphy's Law, starring James Nesbitt - Bateman is the master of many mediums. Theatre, however, he views as a new challenge.
‘Writing for the stage is hugely different to writing novels or for the television,' Bateman admits, 'because there’s nowhere to hide - you can’t escape.
'With television you can change location instantly, but with theatre you’ve got the stage, three or four actors and no break in the action. So you’ve got to keep the words flowing and it’s got to be entertaining. You can get away with lulls in the action in books. Sometimes in a TV script you can look at the pretty scenery. But with the stage it’s all got to work, every single bit of it, all of the time.’
It's character that Bateman predicts will win over audiences when National Anthem goes live at the Baby Grand later this month - although there will be no lack of satire to get our teeth into. 'The idea is that a national anthem is sponsored by the government, so they probably want something quite bland, quite Tourist Board-y. But if you take the two characters who are involved in it, you just know that what they produce isn't going to be like that.'
And what of the anthem itself? 'It all builds towards the unveiling of the anthem, but we're still writing it,' says Bateman, 'so we don't actually know how it sounds.'
All will be revealed when National Anthem opens at the Baby Grand on October 20. Book tickets via the Belfast Festival at Queen's website.