An Irish Story - Une histoire irlandaise
Written and Performed by Kelly Rivière.
From 1930s Ireland to 21st century France, Kelly Rivière brings us on a breath-taking investigation of her origins. Rivière’s grandfather was Irish through and through but emigrated to England in 1949, in a bid to escape poverty. He then disappeared mysteriously. This could have been the end of the story but, when her son was born, the actress decided to delve into the family secrets in search of her roots. What better way than the realm of theatre to give life and breath to someone who left very few traces in the real world? Kelly Rivière narrates her story with humour, brilliantly embodying over twenty-five characters. A true one-woman show, An Irish Story evokes our own ghosts as well…
Presented by the Centre Culturel Irlandais (Paris) with the support of the Embassy of France in Ireland.
Artistic collaborators: Jalie Barcilon, David Jungman, Suzanne Marrot, Sarah Siré
Light design: Anne Vaglio
Set Design: Grégoire Faucheux and Anne Vaglio Costume: Elisabeth Cerqueira
Photographies: Benjamin Chauvet and David Jungman
Production and administration: Le Petit Bureau
Production: Cie Innisfree Supported by
Festival IF; Maison Maria Casarès; Château de Monthelon; Studio Thor, (Brussels) ; Samovar; Théâtre de la Girandole; SPEDIDAM; Fonds de soutien AFC (Avignon Off); Leader Intérim Group and the Foundation E.C.Art-Pomaret.
Read on to learn more about this fascinating tale:
In 1949, Peter O'Farrel, aged 19, leaves Knockarron, a tiny village in southern Ireland, to look for work in London. A few months previously, he met Margaret. They fall in love. When Peter leaves Ireland, he does not know that Margaret is expecting a child. They marry in London. And Peter does not know whether he will ever see Ireland again. Neither does he know that he will have five other children with Margaret within the next ten years. At age 26, Margaret has six children. Penniless, without permanent accommodation, Irish people in the England of the 1950s to 1960s, their life is difficult. Peter drowns his sorrow in alcohol. He disappears regularly, without giving news of where he is. Nobody knows what he does during these long absences. One day, he does not come back. Since then, there has been no news of him. Nobody in the family talks about him. Margaret never wished to even mention him. His grand-daughter, Kelly Ruisseau, sets out to try to find him.
It is this quest that we participate in, over time - from the 1930s in Ireland up till the year 2000 in France - as well as over geographic and linguistic borders. It is a voyage into the heart of a family with its secrets and its silences. It is also a trip into a story so intimate as to become universal, that of a family marked for ever by a disappearance.
I have carried this story within me, since the age of 15. It is the story of my Irish grand-father, who disappeared over 30 years ago. It is the story of his grand-daughter who sets out to find him. For a long time, I asked myself what had become of Peter O'Farrel, what made him disappear, whether he was still alive, where he was. When a person disappears, he or she is not dead, but is "like" being dead. This "like" makes all the difference, because it allows for hope. Hope that the person is still alive. I did not know my grand-father, but I was able to see the mark he left on his family. He exists more through his absence than through his presence. How can one bring to life someone who has disappeared? How can one put together the pieces of the puzzle? We have no hero, no achievements to recall, just silence and taboos. Given that in real life my search for him was unsuccessful, the world of theatre offered the only possibility to tell this story, to imagine a life, an existence, about the mysterious Peter O'Farrel. No doubt the desire to create an authentic family background, clear away the fog and free all the ghosts led me to describe this story through the theatre.
An Irish Story describes the quest to find Peter O'Farrel. At the beginning of the story, the heroine is 16 years old and, in order to seduce boys of her age, invents heroic stories about the disappearance of her grand-father. Time goes by and she forgets her obsession. She discovers theatre, and her imagination is full of the plays she sees. She becomes an actress. And a translator. She translates words from one language to another, from English into French. Then she becomes a mother, and is astounded to discover freckles on her son's face and an auburn strange in his hair. Nobody in the family has auburn hair…. This is the starting point of Kelly Ruisseau's obsessional quest : she must find Peter. Nothing stops her - she begins by questioning her mother, to no avail, she consults a private detective, she confronts her grandmother during a visit to London. These various attempts are described by Kelly in An Irish Story through her interpretation of the different characters she portrays: her mother, her father, her brother, her grand-mother, her boyfriends, her aunts, English policemen, a singer in a pub…. In all, 25 characters.
A Story of Exile and Poverty
Ireland is a country of massive emigration. Between the Great Famine of 1845 and the 1960s, its population declined. Many Irish people left Ireland to settle in the United States, England, Australia, distant countries, because there was no work in Ireland. This story describes forced and definitive exile such as Peter knew, who left Ireland to find work in England. He never returned to his birthplace. To be from southern Ireland in the 1950s in England was not easy. The Irish were not welcome. Signposts carried the mention: “No Irish, no blacks, no dogs". Catholics in a protestant, capitalist country, they had a reputation for having many children, drinking, and supporting the independence of Ireland…. And they were poor. A profoundly Catholic country, Ireland suffered from poverty. This is the story I tell - one of exile, marked by poverty.
A Multilingual Story
I grew up in a mix of cultures, with different accents, mistakes in French, a somewhat difficult, distorted language.
When Peter arrived in London he spoke, like everyone, English; however, his rolled 'r' betrayed his origins. He was Irish. In passing from one language to another, from French to English, in portraying characters with different accents, I propose also a trip across languages. What a language says about us, how an accent reveals our origins. Language as a social marker.