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News 19/11/2012 | Project Arts Centre | Dublin

Tender Napalm at Project Arts Centre

My_Project blogger Nicole meets Marc Atkinson of Sugarglass Theatre, director of Tender Napalm

Sugarglass Theatre at Project Arts Centre:
My_Project blogger Nicole meets Marc Atkinson

It is the moment when director Marc Atkinson is telling me that his theatre company is, in many ways, remarkably similar to the sun that I become troubled. This seems like a highly suspicious metaphor. In what way is it similar to the sun? Is it a big blazing ball of energy? Does it give light and sustenance to millions of people? If so, this is hugely impressive for a company in which the members are barely out of college. I marvel at the length of their CVs; I imagine they all have a very detailed drawing of a great, yellow sun listed under their work experience. Marc’s explanation is actually much more straight-forward and far less grandiose. “You know, if you stare directly at the sun you eventually become blinded by it? I think it is always better to approach something from a side-view, not necessarily straight on.” It is this ethos that led Sugarglass Theatre to be nominated for the much lusted after Spirit of the Fringe award in this year’s ABSOLUT Fringe.

Their highly original and immersive production of All Hell Lay Beneath was roundly praised by critics and audiences alike and was considered to be a Fringe highlight for those lucky enough to catch their take on the Steppenwolf classic. They are now returning, after a brief hiatus, with Tender Napalm at Project Arts Centre. Maybe that ball of energy analogy isn’t too off the mark after all.     

Being blinded by theatre is one thing; being bored is another. If asked to choose audiences would undeniably rather the former. In theatre, boredom is the one unforgivable sin and Marc has firmly guarded it against by investing his faith in controversial writer Philip Ridley. “Really, what I like about him is his ability to tell a story. It is contemporary writing but it is engaged on a deeper level. It makes you work for it and that is the pleasure of theatre; it should not be didactic.”

After already directing Ridley’s play Mercury Fur to huge ISDA success whilst studying at Trinity College, what made him return to the writer? “I guess I was taken with the ideas behind Tender Napalm. It is this time-less and space-less play set somewhere between the past and future with just two characters: Man (Aaron Heffernan) and Woman (Erica Murray). It is very ambitious, very politically motivated and has this amazingly warped world vision yet, at its heart, lies a love story.” It is indeed a love story but not of the simplistic variety. Man and Woman do not spend most of their time on stage smiling at each other. Nor is it of the bog-standard set-up where two vaguely attractive people scream at each other for a few minutes, throw in the odd swear word and then deliver awed monologues in which they state absolutely no-one has ever been in love before. Tender Napalm takes the clever concept that the end of relationships can always be found in the origins, that even the hopeful blossoming is essentially ruinous, and teases it out. It is strangely subterranean; sad yet optimistic. The ethereal and magical is combined with the banality of the everyday to startling effect, a conceit that appealed to Marc. “I love the epicness of the language and how it is used to illustrate the ordinary. I think when you are young and in an incredibly intense relationship, life becomes extraordinary. You are forever trying to see the world through your partner’s eyes and, in a sense, you become conjoined. And what happens when that is lost? How do you find your place again? You are bereft, really.”

Interestingly, the play contains no stage directions and relies heavily on fantasy. How did he approach this challenge? “It is set in this liminal space which allows you to be incredibly free so I guess it’s closer to an installation than a set. When I am deciding on these things, I tend to take director Robert Wilson’s advice and ask ‘What can I put in this world that will allow the audience to hear it better?” In Ireland, the companies that inform and inspire him are those who deliver consistent work that is driven by more than a desire to entertain. These include Corn Exchange and, of course, Pan-Pan. “I really think Pan-Pan are exceptionally good at encouraging unique audience experiences, stretching out time and really exploring a concept. I hope Tender Napalm does something similar.” 
Nicole Flattery, My_Project Blogger

Tender Napalm runs from Nov 28 - Dec 8 in the Space Upstairs



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