Christine Madden

journalist | editor | dramaturg | literary translator

Category: Blog (page 1 of 8)

Playing around on the radio

Recording a drama for the airwaves is exciting – even more so when it’s your own script

Actors Darragh Kelly, Sarah O’Rourke, Ali White and Lloyd Cooney discuss a scene at Near FM recording studio. Photograph: Christine Madden

“WHICH MICS are we using?”

“Em … ” I cast a glance around the cast. There’d be two to three characters in a scene. This one has three. “Blue, green and orange.” 

“Thanks.” Gavin, the sound director, switches the colour-coded mics on from his control room, which we can see through the window, and gives the go-ahead for the recording.

We’re spending Saturday and Sunday at Near FM radio studios in Coolock, north Dublin, recording a radio play. By “we”, I mean Gavin Byrne, responsible for IT and radio drama, as well as production co-ordinator Paul Loughran and actors Lloyd Cooney, Darragh Kelly, Sarah O’Rourke and Ali White. And me, too. I’m there because the play they’re recording is mine. And because I’m directing as well.

Sound technician Gavin Byrne at the sound controls during recording. Photograph: Christine Madden

It’s hugely exciting for me to be part of the production of this, my first play on the radio, or performed anywhere, to be honest. It’s called Buckle, and it was inspired by an article I read about a women who had gone to visit her son’s killer in jail. After repeated visits and conversations, she eventually called for and succeeded in getting him off death row.

What would drive a woman, a mother, to put herself in that situation? How could she face it? And what would they talk about? A series of exercises in imagining that fraught scenario continued to grow and eventually turned into the play that we’re in the process of recording.

It’s quite an ironic day to be doing the recording: Mother’s Day (Ireland and the UK). Depending on what happens in the respective scene we’re doing, the actors stand or sit to deliver their lines – which is why Gavin asks which mics to switch on. After the rehearsal on Saturday, we go through each scene at least twice to make sure it’s going where we want it to, and so Gavin has several takes to work with for the finished mix.

Headphones on so I can listen to what’s being recorded, it’s quite surreal and weirdly discomfiting at first to hear the actors speaking the lines I worked on for months, over years. But over the course of the weekend, it becomes business as usual. I’d been involved in many workshops and productions as literary manager at Rough Magic Theatre Company and new writing co-ordinator the Abbey. But this is the first time – apart from a workshop reading of the play with WillFredd Theatre – that I’m hearing my own work done. It feels very vulnerable, but also immensely, fizzingly exhilarating.

The cast of Buckle (left to right, back to front): Darragh Kelly, Ali White, Sarah O’Rourke and Lloyd Cooney. Photograph: Christine Madden

The cast are amazing – enormous luck to be in the same room with such terrific actors. After half a day’s rehearsal, they totally own the script. Watching, listening to them make it come to life is a magic experience, like watching flowering vines grow in time-lapse photography. I can’t wait to hear the final version!

Buckle will be broadcast at the end of May as part of Near FM’s New Drama Hour, a radio play anthology. The first in the series, These Lights, was broadcast on 8 March at 1pm

Another look at the script: (l-r) Sarah O’Rourke, Darragh Kelly, Ali White, Lloyd Cooney, Christine Madden. Photograph: Gavin Byrne

International Women’s Day Berlin

Berlin’s new bank holiday gives birth to a revealing performance

The Growler, aka artist Dee Mulrooney, appearing on stage in Berlin

It’s not every day you get to watch a giant vulva reveal itself on stage to the lilting tones of Ave Maria sung sean-nós. It was a tonic after a week of running after film clips, dodging the raindrops and asking for views on Berlin’s sparkling new International Women’s Day bank holiday. And where else but Berlin would you get it?

Apart from all the demonstrations, strikes, information days, breakfasts, there were evening parties and club events. This one, however, put together by Nina Hynes and Dee Mulrooney, two of the initiators and organisers of last year’s Craw Festival, nested itself in the intimate back room of the Wein-Salon in Berlin-Friedrichshain. Nina Hynes performed on a variety of instruments and sometimes belted, sometimes whispered out her own tunes about womanhood. For one song, she split the audience down the middle – the fault line cleaved between my husband and me – with one side panting out a rhythmic high E, the other chanting out a low “vul-va, vul-va, vul-va”. For those without a “vul-va”, Hynes suggested, they could share one with someone else – but only by invitation. 

Then she switched styles to the reverential, crooning Ave Maria – the cue for the Growler, aka Deirdre Mulrooney, who shed her Tizian-blue mantle to expose herself in wavy layers of red, complete with a nub of a pink cap. Her performance combined singing and stand-up, infused with a kind of native, feral spirituality. It had us in stitches – until she sang about the babies of Tuam.

Alongside the small stage – about the size of a Eur-palette – stood a candleholder, the accumulation of wax on it reminiscent of a cave encrusterd with stalagmites. In between there was an altar of sorts, decorated with votives of both the Virgin Mary and an embroidered vulva. In appearance they resembled each other to a surprising degree. But I’m sure Mary would have approved. She, too, had a vulva. Nobody really knows how Jesus got in there in the first place, but he almost certainly came out the usual way.

Thank God – or Mary – that you can still find venues and fringe acts like this in the middle of Berlin. In a world in which gentrification is closing down small neighbourhood venues, city-centre Berlin still has corners and back streets where you can stumble on to places like the Wein Salon. Or be initiated into by a friend. Irish artists have leapt into this haven and forged their place in it. The atmosphere is something like Greenwich Village ca. 1961 (I imagine in my fantasies, sadly not having been there to experience it). No better way to conclude Berlin’s first International Women’s Day holiday.

ŸŸŸTo see my video about Berlin’s new International Women’s Day holiday, click here

Political earthquake in Bavaria

Candidates Katharina Schulze (l) and Ludwig Hartmann (r), joined by German Green party leader Robert Habeck, wave at a jubilant crowd at the final Green party rally. Photograph: Christine Madden

THE dust is far from settling over Sunday’s parliamentary election in Bavaria. The CSU, a behemoth of Bavarian – and a frequent irritation in Federal German – politics, lost the absolute majority they’ve more or less held for decades. They are now forced to enter into a coalition to build a new Bavarian government. Possible partners include the Green party – the big winners of this election, doubling their result from five years ago to achieve 17.5%. But a Bavarian populist party, the Free Voters (Freie Wähler), might be a better ideological fit. The SPD are also an option, but given the miserable effect of their grand coalition (Große Koalition, or GroKo) with the Federal German government, they’d probably rather keep their distance. And nobody wants to get into bed with far-right party AfD.

It’s all up for grabs as the CSU conduct exploratory talks with potential coalition partners. Interesting times.

My report on location in Munich: text and – for the first time – VIDEO.

Video: How the Green party is shaking up Bavarian elections in The Local

Bavaria: the word on the street in The Local

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