THEATRE / After movies, a breath of fresh Eire: Jim Sheridan, director of the Oscar-winning My Left Foot, on returning to the theatre

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The Independent Culture
My father started up this drama group after my younger brother died of a brain tumour. I suppose it was to try to keep the family together. I would act or direct with my brother, Peter, and my father. It was a good place to start because the theatre does have religious origins, and my brother dying made me think about God and all that stuff that adolescents do. At university, I did a huge production, which The Risen People really reminds me of. It was a kind of psychedelic version of Oedipus Rex, but we made it about Northern Ireland. It was wild. Beyond wild. Neil Jordan played Tiresias. He was brilliant; not the greatest actor in the world, but a great presence. Later I worked at the Project Arts Theatre in Dublin. There were a few of us, sort of lefties, committed to the cause, who worked like mad. I did that until there were huge rows and the fun went out of it. Then I was away for a couple of days, and when I came back the theatre had been knocked down. I think I grew up then, and realised that you have to be very tough with executive structures, on films or whatever. Which is probably why I have rows with people at executive level, and never below that. I spent many years in very small spaces, working with actors. By the time I got to do My Left Foot, I had had 20 years working with actors, directing every single day - most film directors probably only work with actors maybe 10 times in their lives. These days theatre only interests me on a large scale, because cinema does small-scale things much more effectively.

I'm doing The Risen People essentially because my brother wanted to do a play, and wanted me to invest in it. I got to talking to him about it, and I said that an agit-prop play just wouldn't work in 1994. Then I read that Brecht said, 'I want to eliminate Puccini sentimentalism from the stage.' I thought that it would be a great idea to bring together Puccini-type sentimentalism and Brechtian-type theatre, because anything that he hated obviously had some powerful effect. The first time I directed The Risen People it was very politically direct. This time I was trying to look through the story to the underlying bones. I compared this story to Aida, and the way Verdi used Aida and the slaves to define Italian nationalism. The Risen People is about the last time that Irish nationalism came into conflict with the whole workers thing, before it was taken over by the lawyers and the poets and the whole middle class. This time the project is very expensive. It's quite interesting when your neck is on the line. Once you're successful in films, you get into a world made of cotton wool, where you are limo'd away from reality and you lose the edge. Realising that you only have X amount of money for something is a healthy process. I was thinking of making a film of The Risen People, but now I'm not so sure. In a film, you are stuck with the fact that Jim Larkin is the main character. It's a pity he didn't smoke or drink or go around with women. He was a bit insane, though. I don't think any of the present leadership of the Republican movement would be a good subject for a film, either, because they're grey figures in a way. I mean, peace doesn't make a very good film. War makes a good film.

'The Risen People' is at The Gaiety Theatre, Dublin (010-3531-6771717)

(Photograph omitted)

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