Articles for November, 2014


Tell It Like It Is

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 by Tricycle


“This place is crazy, babies having babies, teenage mothers who raise a new wave of drug pushers…” Just one of the powerful lyrics heard in director Claire Dix’s faultless feature documentary Broken Song, about three of the leading lights of Ireland’s ever-changing hip-hop scene.

Police brutality, teenage pregnancy, drugs – it was happening in the New York ghettos, but it’s also happening in estates in Ballymun and Finglas. Artists like North Dublin MCs Willa, GI and Costello – the three main characters in Dix’s ‘hip-hop opera’, which won the Michael Dwyer Discovery Award and was named audience favourite at the Jameson’s Dublin International Film Festival last year, are putting their voices to powerfully poetic lyrics about their gritty experiences. Dix has managed to offer up an intimate slice of modern Irish youth culture that those on the outside rarely get a chance to see.

Broken Song touches on the hip-hop evolution in Ireland, but it’s more interested in offering an intimate look at the lives of three young men, isn’t it?

We never set out to create the definitive guide to the Irish hip-hop scene, we just followed the lives of three young guys who are into hip-hop. We never really play any of their beats, we focus very much on their lyricism and the idea of them as modern poets, using their art to rise above difficulties in the past and present.

web1What inspired you to make a whole feature on these guys?

I met two of the main fellahs in the film, GI and Costello, in 2010. I was making a programme for Dublin’s community television and looking at a couple of different areas in the arts. That’s when I met Dean, the boys’ manager and a youth leader in Ballymun. I asked him what projects he had going on and he told me about a few guys doing hip-hop and introduced me to them. We filmed a really quick scene where they rapped a piece called Flawless. I knew nothing about Irish hip-hop at the time, but there was something in their lyrics, and the power with which they delivered them that made me think I could explore this further.

They were putting into words the chaos of their past, things they’d seen; things that don’t make the news because they’re very commonplace but if it happened in a more affluent area it would be all over the front page. There’s a lot of anger there because of it, and rightly so, and they were able to channel that anger into their rapping. There was also a strong ethos there about getting younger kids in the area to follow in their footsteps, and channel negativity into something positive, be it rapping or art or something else. These guys go out of their way to look out for the younger kids they know, which was very inspiring to me. Surprisingly, they’re not a bit interested in commercial success; they want to make a difference in their community.

Some of the guys were uncomfortable freestyling, and what they rap about can be deeply personal, was there any resistance to being followed by cameras?

Gi, Costello and the third main character in the documentary, Willa, were immediately very open to it. If they weren’t, Broken Song wouldn’t have got made – I’m not interested in coercing anyone into anything. We were very open early on about wanting to make something that would be personal. This was going to be a film for cinema, so we wanted to get under their skin and make something really intimate. They understood that and trusted us, so it happened. The candour of the younger kids (most of whom we’d bump into on the street) was mostly because they really looked up to GI and Costello, and were worried that what they were doing wasn’t good enough.

Costello speaks of how rap was borne out of frustration, a need to change – something people can feel anywhere in the world.

That’s right, and they would be real students of hip-hop and its roots. I suppose they feel, as Costello says in the film, that hip-hop can be the voice of the disenfranchised, that’s how it started in New York. It’s definitely serving that purpose here, it’s allowing them to have a voice, giving them a platform. That’s why a lot of it is coming from estates, these disadvantaged areas – because you don’t need anything but your voice, and your own intellect.

There are static shots of run-down housing estates, wasteland interwoven throughout, what was the thinking behind them?

I see these men as poets and I wanted the film to have a poetic feel to it. A lot of poets you think of traditionally writing about landscapes, seas and fields and starry skies and all this, but their landscapes are these estates. These are the vistas they see every day, so I want the audience to look at them like landscapes. These places are their inspiration, so they had to have an impact.

Broken Song‘s opening sequence sees two men floating in an expanse of water – and the rappers enjoy jumping into a chilly Irish sea later on. Is there a theme in there?

We did a lot of filming during the summer and the lads would very often go swimming in the sea, so it was something that ended up very naturally in the film. Dean would swim every day and would regularly bring some of the guys out with him, so we knew that would feature. Then the visual sequences we shot underwater became a metaphor for a path that GI and Costello had left behind. We had a visual theme of light and dark. They’ve come from a dark place, but they’ve gone into the light, but that past is still a part of you. It’s under the surface.

web2Willa (William Lee) who ‘used to sing on the block for drugs’ but now has a burgeoning singing career (he was asked by Damien Dempsey to support him) is one of the main characters. He’s the real star of this film, isn’t he?

Definitely. A big part of Costello and GI’s story was troubles they’d gone through in the past, so we wanted to mirror that with a younger kid they were helping in the present. Dean put us in touch with Willa, and we knew from the word go he was a special person. He has an amazing voice and so much charisma. He’s a lovely guy, but he’s had a very complicated past; he goes to court in the film. But he stood out immediately. He is magnetic. Hopefully he gets to do something with his amazing talent. He could go far, but you need drive and to believe in yourself. Willa has the talent, but lacks the confidence. I hope the film helps boost his profile.

What elements of the rappers’ lives surprised you the most?

They have a maturity that surprised me, and such a positive outlook despite some of the crappy things that have happened to them. Costello says ‘Darkness is just where the light hasn’t gone yet. And the light will shine there.’ For all their tough, damaged upbringings, these boys have consciously chosen a positive path. They’re very realistic about what they’ve chosen to do. They know it’s never going to buy them a big house or whatever, but they’re fiercely committed to it. That’s very refreshing.

Might people with certain preconceptions about young men on housing estates get their eyes opened by Broken Song?

Hopefully. Not everyone walking around with a hoody is a thug, you know? These guys spend all their time meticulously crafting their art, performing and working within their communities. Broken Song is supposed to be a positive film, with dark subjects within it, but the message is a positive one. And that’s not ours, it’s their message.

You must be delighted about the rave reviews the film got…

Very much so, especially as it was my first feature documentary. You’re learning all the time, and especially with something like this where it was all observational and you were having to shoot an awful lot, it’s kind of making it as you go along. These are real people and you don’t know what’s going to happen from one minute to the next.

How do you feel about the Irish Film Festival London – is it an important platform?

It’s wonderful. It’s getting my film out to a wider audience, one that’s perhaps familiar with the areas and the inner-city Dublin accents! Hopefully it’ll offer a different Irish theme, and a fresh way of looking at the city on screen. It’s a real honour to be included in the festival programme.

Broken Song will be screened as part of the Irish Film Festival London at The Tricycle on November 21 at 8.30pm, followed by a Q&A with director Claire Dix. Book tickets here.


Who Was Henriette DeLille?

Friday, November 7th, 2014 by Tricycle

Actress Danusia Samal playing Maude Lynn in The House That Will Not Stand

Marcus Gardley’s The House That Will Not Stand features a cast of seven women and one mysterious man. Throughout the play, audiences see the individual characters develop to tell us a story of desire, jealousy, murder and voodoo. Gardley based his female characters, who are all very different from one another, both on women from his own life and on famous female figures from historical time periods.

One of Gardley’s characters, Maude Lynn (portrayed at the Tricycle by Danusia Samal), who is one of the daughters of the matriarchal Creole Beartrice and her white partner Lazare, is inspired by famous Louisiana nun, Henriette DeLille.

DeLille was born in 1813 and lived until 1862, right through the time period in which The House That Will Not Stand is set. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, DeLille was brought up, like Gardley’s Albans family, as a Creole ‘free woman of color’, with French, Spanish, Italian and African ancestry. Her mother was a Placée, meaning that she, as a ‘free woman of color’, was contracted into a common law union with a white European man, in which she was his legal mistress and therefore obtained social, legal and financial status within the community. The Plaçage system was incredibly popular within New Orleans Culture during this time and a young Henriette DeLille was groomed to take her own place within the system.

With training from her mother in French Literature, Music, Dancing and Nursing, DeLille’s path into the Plaçage system, typical of girls of a similar upbringing, looked set. However, at the age of fourteen, a well educated and devoutly Catholic Henriette began teaching at a local Catholic school. Her experience of teaching allowed her to develop a devotion to caring for and educating children and the poor. Young DeLille developed a differing opinion on the Plaçage system that proved to be a great source of conflict between her and her mother. Despite the great wealth that DeLille had seen her mother live in, and that she herself had grown up in thanks to the union between her parents, her views on the system were that these extra-marital relationships violated the Catholic sacrament of marriage.

The House That Will Not Stand at The Tricycle Theatre. Photograph by Mark Douet  I80A3478

When Henriette’s mother passed away in 1835, Henriette was granted control of her assets. After providing for her mother’s care, DeLille used the remaining money from the sale of her mother’s property to start up a small, unrecognised congregation of nuns in her local community. What started as a congregation of seven young Creole women and one young French woman, eventually developed into the Catholic Order of the Sisters of the Holy Family. At its height, the congregation was served by four hundred members and still has over two hundred today. DeLille’s work with and devotion for the Creole community and slaves in New Orleans lead to an estrangement between her and her brother, who’s usually successful attempts to pass as a white European man were damaged by his sisters local fame. Henriette became a frequent sponsor and Godmother to many mixed race babies at New Orleans Baptisms and Christenings, many of which were held at St. Augustine’s church. This church features in Gardley’s play and still stands today.

DeLille was the first native-born Creole whose cause for Sainthood has been officially agreed by the church. ‘Mother Henriette DeLille’ was declared venerable in 2010. At the time of her death, friends of Henriette attributed her end to a lifetime of service, hard work and the poverty that she had lived in due to her sacrificing her own inherited wealth in order to care for others.

Gardley’s Maude Lynn takes inspiration from DeLille in her devotion to Catholicism and to the caring of others and in her scepticism of the Plaçage system.


The Circus is Coming to Town

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 by Tricycle

Lionboy Company Photocredit MARK DOUET copy

Last year Marcelo Dos Santos adapted the Lionboy trilogy for the stage. This winter the production will be revived at the Tricycle, and Marcelo is here to tell us about what first attracted him to the books and how he brought them to life.

Tell us what Lionboy is about – in two sentences!

Lionboy is the story of Charlie Ashanti, a boy who can talk to cats (and lions) and whose parents are kidnapped by sinister forces. With the help of his cat friends Charlie sets about rescuing them, facing all manner of danger and excitement along the way.

What made you want to adapt the books for the stage? Were there any challenges involved?

Zizou Corder’s Lionboy books are part ‘adventure yarn’, part ‘political fable’. They span continents, and are populated by a huge cast of characters both human and animal. The stories are almost boundless in their ambition. All of which makes them fantastic reads but present challenges in terms of adaptation. Which episodes do you follow? How do you structure it? Where do we finish the story? Oh and what does ‘cat’ sound like?!

How did you solve these challenges?

Rather than showing every moment of Zizou Corder’s novels acted out, I worked with the company to develop a language of storytelling that relies on our audience’s imaginations. When you watch Lionboy, you are being told a story – using just a few props and some circus skills, our ensemble of actors ask you to imagine a circus ship, a futuristic London, a Moroccan forest and more. Having the audience engaged in this way makes the show a truly theatrical experience, like Complicite’s previous award-winning work.

What most attracted you to adapting the books?

Although Lionboy is definitely an adventure story, the issues and themes are very resonant to what is happening in the world now. The books describe the depletion of natural resources and tackle the powerful forces of corporate self-interest. They ask where our responsibilities lie. For me, the real interest and excitement was in Charlie negotiating this dangerous moral labyrinth and learning about the difficulties of the adult world but also realising his own power to effect change.

Complicite has always been about collaboration and the play was partly developed with the company through a combination of improvisation and devising work. So it was also really exciting for me to work with such intelligent and talented actors and directors!

It’s been an adventure in itself getting Lionboy here, I hope you enjoy the ride.

Marcelo Dos Santos

Lionboy is on stage from 17 Dec – 10 Jan. Click here for more information about Lionboy, to watch the trailer and to book.