Recently we caught up with the creative talents at York Settlement Community Players to talk about their latest production. “The Mai, is a daring, heart-wrenching, funny and bold play, full of women, written by a woman and directed by a woman”, says Beryl Nairn who plays the title role. It is perfectly suited then for its participation in York International Women’s Week Festival. Beryl also told us what makes The Mai such an enticing production, her thoughts on York as a creative centre and her biggest influences.
By Jane Howkins
What can you tell us about The Mai?
The Mai is a fabulous play by award-winning Irish playwright, Marina Carr, which tells the story of the passions, hopes and disappointments of four generations of women through the eyes of The Mai’s eldest daughter, Millie.
What drew you towards such a production?
The Mai is exactly the sort of play which YSCP loves to stage. It’s bold, lyrical, funny and, also, a premiere for York audiences.
Director Jan Kirk’s interest in The Mai began nearly 20 years ago whilst attending a Little Theatre Conference in Ilkley. “I was seated with an Irish contingent and they were discussing a play by Marina Carr called The Mai, which had caused quite a stir in Dublin”, Jan explains.
“I was currently directing The Beauty Queen of Leenane and, having directed a number of Irish plays already, was on the lookout for something new. The group urged me to take a serious look at this one. They sent me a copy of The Mai to read and I knew, at once, that it was a challenge I would enjoy. I immediately set my heart on directing it, but I also realised that I needed to wait for the right time and place and for the right Theatre Company to take The Mai on.”
“Each time I’ve packed up my ‘theatre bookcase’ and moved house over the intervening years, I have re-read The Mai and made the same promise to myself. So, when York Settlement Community Players suggested staging a play in 2016 with a cast of strong women, by a strong female playwright, I offered them The Mai. Finally, I get my chance and, with YSCP’s talented and committed cast and creative team, it will have been well worth the 20 year wait.”
The production is being performed as part of the York International Women’s Festival, can you tell us more about the joint venture? What makes performing in such a festival so important to you?
YSCP’s Spring Production has coincided with York International Women’s Festival for a number of years now and 2016 is no exception (past YSCP plays in the Festival have included, Miss Yesterday by Alan Ayckbourn and The Stepmother by Githa Sowerby). The Mai perfectly fits our mission to bring more plays by female playwrights to the stage. The Mai is written by a woman, has a largely female cast (seven out of the eight actors) and is directed by a woman. We are delighted to be part of the YIWF programming once more. It means that we can use our publicity channels, jointly, to bring attention to the York Festival, which is growing in strength every year, while also sharing production news to a target audience who, we hope, will want to come and see The Mai.
The play also coincides with St. Patrick’s Day. Considering the setting, was that on purpose or coincidental?
Good question! A bit of both really. We always schedule a March production anyway, as I said before, and when Jan mentioned the production dates she’d booked at Upstage Theatre (16 – 19 March) a little bell was ringing in my ear about the 17 March being St. Patrick’s Day. With The Mai being a play firmly set in Ireland, it’s worked out as a lovely piece of serendipity that the production dates take in this famous Saint’s Day. The York Irish Association have been absolutely brilliant supporters of the project from the get go, advertising our production, bringing a group to the show on the opening night, providing us with our only native Irish speaking actor (Damian Fynes, who plays Robert) and helping us with our Irish accents in the shape of their Chair, and our voice coach; Brendan Tannam. At the same time, we are spreading the news about the York Irish Association and their excellent programme of events, including their St. Patrick’s Weekend Festival: 12 – 13 March, St. Sampson’s Square, York.
Do you have any other productions you are looking to put on after The Mai, or are you solely focused on that for now?
We are focused on The Mai for the time being, but will be auditioning soon for our November production which will take place in the Studio, York Theatre Royal. We are staging The Rivals by Sheridan, to celebrate the 18th Century Heritage of the newly refurbished York Theatre Royal. The Rivals was first acted on the York Theatre Royal boards on April 8, 1775. Therefore, York saw Sheridan’s first comedy only three months after its first ever appearance at Covent Garden. This production will be directed by Graham Sanderson.
We’ve heard that in the past you have been involved with the York Mystery Plays. How was that?
YSCP has been proudly performing in the York Waggon Plays for more years than I care to remember. Our most recent production was Christ before Annas and Caiaphas in 2014.
Do you have any plans to get involved with this year’s Mystery Plays in York Minster?
A number of our YSCP members are involved with the 2016 Minster Mystery Plays and we’ll definitely be helping to promote the productions through our publicity channels.
What do you think of the arts scene in York? It seems to be quite a creative area!
I agree. York is positively exploding with fabulous theatre and musical productions. It’s a truly creative place to live! There’s so much going on in all areas of the Arts in York.
Who/what would you say you are most influenced by, and what inspires you to put a certain production on?
As well as classical plays, YSCP is always on the look-out to stage plays which might not be very well-known, or are written by up and coming new playwrights (particularly women) or which we feel deserve to be bought up from London to Yorkshire. We have been called, “The original trendsetters among York’s rising tide of adventurous theatre companies” by Charles Hutchinson of the York Press, and are delighted to have been awarded this label.
If somebody was interested in getting involved with you, how would they go about that?
Our auditions are open to everyone, regardless of experience. We have a website, where interested people can find links to Facebook and Twitter, as well as a contact email:
Why do you think people should come and see one of your performances, and what can people expect to see?
York Settlement Community Players are an amateur company with high professional standards. Our production of Marina Carr’s play, The Mai, is being staged with kind permission from her agents and we are thrilled to be bringing Marina Carr’s powerful, funny, haunting and courageous play to York for the very first time.
Do you have any last words?
We are anticipating a lot of interest in The Mai. The talented Oliver Mills has composed a sublime musical score especially for the production and we have a superb creative team collaborating with the director, Jan Kirk, and the cast. Everyone is totally committed to The Mai and loving the journey towards opening night.
Here are the production and booking details:
THE MAI by MARINA CARR
York Settlement Community Players present:
The Mai by Marina Carr
Directed by Jan Kirk
Composer: Oliver Mills
Wednesday 16 March – Saturday 19 March 2016
Venue: Upstage Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, YO31 7PB
Time: 7.30pm with a 2.30pm Saturday matinee
Tickets: £12 & £10 (Concessions: over 60s, unwaged and those in full time education)
Box Office: York Theatre Royal 01904 623568
The Mai is being performed at Upstage Theatre from Wednesday 16 to Saturday 19 March 2016