The (hypothetical) Alternative

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Rory Nolan, Arthur Riordan and Karen Ardiff brave the buffeting tonight, October 3, 8pm at Belltable. Photo: Patrick Redmond

WITH many awards to their stable of writing, an Olivier included, Fishamble: The New Play Company made a call out for a new play contingent to ‘the state of the nation’ and who we are today. “This was a two year  process which encouraged writers to create ambitious plays that burst with humanity,” observes the company’s artistic director, Jim Culleton.

Well, no scuds or duds ever issued from Fishamble’s canon and an interview to throw light on winning candidate ‘The Alternative’ was secured. ‘The Alternative’ stages this Thursday October 3 at Belltable, 8pm, whilst touring.

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Actor Karen Ardiff is known to Limerick audiences from theatre work such as  ‘Angela’s Ashes The Musical’ in 2017, when she played vile landlady Mrs Finucane, and the part of Mrs Purcell, the blind lady. “Loved it,” chuckles Ardiff.

Her screen time is comprehensive, including weighty television drama ‘Acceptable Risk’, Bob Geldof’s ‘A Terrible Beauty…’ and the Oscar nominated film ‘Brooklyn’ as well as IFTA rated ‘Noble’.

Peter Keogh, First Minister of Ireland (Arthur Riordan) challenging Ursula Lysaght, Prime Minister of Britain and Ireland (Karen Ardiff).
Photo: Patrick Redmond

In ‘The Alternative’ she plays a remarkable Irish woman, Ursula Lysaght who is Prime Minister to Britain and an Ireland still governed by the British.

What, when? queried Arts Page, fatigued by Westminster swordplay.

“You have never seen anything like this play,” the actor says emphatically. “It is set in an alternative 2019 in which we are within the British Isles. The scene is BBC Dublin when we are on the eve of a Brexit referendum – are we set to leave Great Britain and Ireland behind or vote to remain?

“In that TV studio, the Prime Minister has met with Ireland’s First Minister Peter Keogh, played by Arthur Riordan, for a big debate. The debate is a fantastic one, centred around ‘who are we, the Irish, today?”

Dramatic events behind the scenes begin to resonate from the producer’s hub. Reader, picture a split stage scenario and consider Ireland/ Britain’s fevered politics.

Karen Ardiff brings us with her: “A lot rests on what is happening backstage. This really drives the action forward. A character throws things into chaos. She is the producer’s daughter Gráinne (actor Maeve Fitzgerald) who herself can see alternative realities.

“For you the theatre audience, you can see off camera and on camera, as with the Tom Stoppard play ‘Noises Off’ if you know it. Everything spirals out of control and this is relayed outside the BBC and beyond by news coverage.”

Her own role as Prime Minister and acting principal is an exciting one for Ardiff. She muses juicily on the characterisation. “She has absolute temporal power and I’ve never played that character before, in all my works, someone who has absolute power in the world. And I decide to play her as myself – what would it be like to be me with that power?”

An intoxicating feeling? She laughs. “I’m a bit more coherent than that. Ursula Lysaght wants Ireland to remain, absolutely. If Ireland did not, her position would be altered.

“The argument is absolutely fascinating. Then because of the father/ daughter dynamic back stage, ‘The Alternative’ packs an emotional punch as well.”

She promises more political surprises and other stories “rolling out like Easter eggs for the audience.” The cast includes some of our most respected actors such as Rory Nolan (Ross O’Carroll-Kelly), Lorcan Cranitch, Rachel O’Byrne and Fionntan Larney. Veteran thrill Jim Culleton of Fishamble directs this high-voltage piece from Oisín Kearney and Michael Patrick.

Book venue manager www.limetreetheatre.ie for tonight, October 3 at 8pm.