How to Interpret a Play Like Deepa

County Down artist Deepa Mann-Kler is Martin Lynch's new artist-in-residence - what's that all about?

When Chronicles of Long Kesh took to the stage at the Grand Opera House this month, County Down artist Deepa Mann-Kler was lurking in the wings. Don’t worry, although she describes her role as ‘being like a voyeur’, Mann-Kler was meant to be there.

Over the next year Mann-Kler will be artist-in-residence at Martin Lynch's Green Shoot Productions, chronicling forthcoming productions of the company's much-loved back catalogue, including the George Best musical Dancing Shoes. So, what will Mann-Kler be doing, exactly?

Due to the relatively short time she had to prepare for her role as artist-in-residence on Chronicles of Long Kesh, she kept things simple, producing photographs and sketches of the actors. Initially, however, she had her reservations about taking up the role at all.

After a few judicious meetings to make sure that the principals involved all got on, however, Mann-Kler agreed to come on board, but admits that it has been a ‘challenging and daunting’ experience thus far.

‘Lynch is doing some amazing work,’ she says. ‘Plays like Chronicles of Long Kesh and The History of the Troubles Accordin' to my Da are almost socio-political documentaries in terms of key events in Northern Ireland's history.’

Mann-Kler's brief was simply to provide a visual record of the productions. Perhaps inspired by Lynch's example, she has interpreted her role as being that of a documentarian, not just of the three productions - Chronicles..., Dancing Shoes and The History of the Troubles Accordin' to My Da - but also of the actors themselves. For Mann-Kler it is not so much what is said, but how it is said.

Where Lynch uses music to provide social background to his plays, Mann-Kler will use the actors to put the play in context in a visual sense. ‘The actors, the character, the posture. I’m keen to also engage with the actors and actresses on their home environment. So this is a kind of documentary on the times that we are living in.’

Mann-Kler has been immersing herself in Chronicles of Long Kesh rehearsals. After our interview she makes her way to the Grand Opera House. ‘It will be the first time I see it on stage,’ she explains. ‘It’s going to be interesting because there is that slight separation from the audience. That’s one of the other aspects I really want to capture, the audience. I’m not quite sure how to do that at this stage, but somehow.’

Her plans for the upcoming productions of The History of the Troubles According to my Da and Dancing Shoes, and for the final outcome of the project, are ambitious.

‘I would like to move away from the traditional exhibition, with things going up on the wall, and produce a limited number of books,' she comments. 'I think that would be an interesting outcome, something tangible that people can hold onto for years.’

Mann-Kler is also toying with the idea of a project combining visual arts, music and film, but her final idea is not yet solidified. ‘At the moment getting the right sponsorship is key. If I can get that, it will really free me up to interpret this in a new way and take it into another form. The more I get involved in this process, the more ideas that will come out of it,’ she concludes.

Chronicles of Long Kesh tours Northern Ireland once it finishes its run at the Grand Opera House on February 12. Check out What's On for more information.