The theatre in NUI Galway has always been a real treat, be it the GUMS musical productions or the various plays and projects produced by the students, particularly the annual Theatre Week. One person who has been involved in pretty much every part of theatre in NUI Galway that you could name is Performing Arts student Cathal Ryan, writer and director of Dead Set, which ran for Theatre Week in the university last month.
Tell me about Dead Set.
Dead Set is a site-specific show, so I wrote it about and set it around the BOI Theatre, and it makes references to Dramsoc and it makes references to theatre in Galway in general, so it was perfect for NUI Galway theatre week. The story of it is about an amateur dramatic group who have a tradition every year that after the show they take down the set and they bring it out and they have a few drinks on stage. The premise of the show is that that tradition means a lot more to some people than it does to others.
You usually take the main stage, has this been an entirely new experience or have you dabbled in writing before?
I wrote last year’s fresher play Swipe with Shane McCormack but when we were writing that it was more just two of us having the craic and trying to come up with jokes whereas this show is kind of a darker comedy and so the process had a lot more thinking behind it. But yes, it is my first time directing.
How did you find the experience?
It’s good, even opening night there, I don’t know what it was, it’s a completely different type of nervousness, I suppose. When you’re acting you’re worried about giving the performance and remembering lines and just not regretting any decisions. Whereas being a writer and putting on a show you’re kind of presenting it with a degree of confidence, like “this is good, that’s why I’m putting it on”. When you’re an actor you’re only a small part of the production whereas as writer and director I was putting a lot of myself into it. Like even last night the actors were walking around before the show like shaking their hands, getting warmed up, and I found myself naturally joining in, it was like going back to the status quo.
Will writing be something you pursue or will acting always be your go–to?
I enjoy writing but l was saying to somebody last night, when I wrote Swipe it was an idea I had in my head and I put pen to paper and then the concept of Dead Set like having a site-specific show in a theatre with no set and just the actors it was an idea I had. So I’ll never go out of my way to write or sit down and try to come up with an idea, because acting is my thing and that’s what I want to follow but when I get an idea, I write, and I love writing but as I say I don’t think I’ll ever go out of my way to come up with an idea.
The other interesting thing about Dead Set is the cast, I went for all mature students for this one. From day one of writing I always wanted to go for mature students, when I came up with such a specific concept I knew that was exactly what I wanted. The play itself is so simple and genuine, it’s just four people having a chat, there is quite a nostalgic element to it. Instead of putting grey in people’s hair and drawing on wrinkles I thought I’d actually just get people to suit it better and I felt it gave something that was new.
By Michael Glynn