Heroes and villains: the Catalpa, told and told again

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by Rose Rushe

Book on www.limetreetheatre.ie for No. 69 O'Connell Street for February 6
Book on www.limetreetheatre.ie for No. 69 O’Connell Street for February 6

DONAL O’Kelly, Leitrim based playwright/ actor of multiple awards, has toured to Limerick many a time. Most recently, Theatre at the Savoy hosted ‘FIONNUALA’, his biting and surreal exploration of Shell’s treatment of the community opposed to gas extraction off Mayo.

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O’Kelly’s latest work ‘Catalpa’ will stage at No. 69 O’Connell Street as part of his 22-gig circuit on Friday February 6. This is a return journey to the city with this acclaimed 30 year old play. ‘Catalpa’ was named as Scotsman Fringe First Edinburgh and in Oz, took Best Event Award in Melbourne.

Talking to Arts page of his show’s long reach, Donal O’Kelly is his usual mischief. He is drawn to politically animated theatre and packs a hefty punch, thanks to legal immunity afforded by the creative medium.

“I always enjoy coming back to ‘Catalpa’, a very rich story – it’s an enjoyable mind trip with no chemicals!” he chuckles. Describing his take on the break-out of Fenian rebels from the eponymous ship, O’Kelly is clear about its subversive reading, one screened through the mindset of failed film writer, the fictitious Matthew Kid (“a pun on Captain Kid”. More laughs).

In fact, the actor plays a score and ten of roles, some of them women – the Captain’s wife Gretta; Marie Tondut, “a serving girl who becomes embroiled in a romantic liaison with jailbreaker John Breslin”.

“I try to subvert the ‘givens’ handed down by the classic epic format. What goes on in the head of the captain of the ship? What informs the decision he makes? Some things are handed down based on heroism… I see ‘Catalpa’ suggesting non-compliance, against what we are given to understand,” he states of the orthodox historical story of the 1875 Fenian bust from Australian imprisonment, funded by Irish immigrants in the US.

He shares the stage only with musician Trevor Knight who wrote and plays the film score to Kid’s “best movie that Hollywood never made” in a production significant for its pared down set. O’Kelly would like us to ‘work the head’ and stimulate our imagination to meet his alternate world on Friday, February 6, 8pm.