In the Homeric Hymn to Dionysos we hear:
“We, the poets,
beginning and ending, we sing of you.
Anyone who forgets you
cannot remember sacred song.”
All song is contained within that sacred space.
Sitting here to day you should be very excited: very excited for two reasons.
Firstly, because you are about to witness a rather extraordinary piece of new Irish writing. When I read Lorna Shaughnessy’s new collection of poems, “Anchored”, in particular the nine poems called Aulis Monologues, and suggested to Max Hafler that he might discuss with our dear friend Lorna the possibility of some kind of theatrical presentation, I hardly thought that anything as exciting as you are about to witness would come about. In addition to those original poems we now have totally new work as yet unpublished; that’s exciting! And as a result of this collaboration between Lorna and Max and three talented actors (Catherine Denning, Michael Irwin and Orla Tubridy) you are to be thrilled by something I find hard to describe. It is not a conventional play, nor a poetry reading; it is not (though Lorna has some skill in this area) a translation of a Greek play. You might argue it’s a philosophical look at “now” through the lens of our Greek inheritance in a poetic genre of striking originality; I say philosophical, for poetry, said Wordsworth, is the most philosophical of all writing. But I tend to think of it as a re-visioning. That is worth repeating it is a kind of re-visioning.
Lorna told me she could not have written this poetry had she not come from Belfast and lived through the sectarian and political conflict there. So yes it is about war and very much from the perspective of women in a family, in this case, the family of Agamemnon and The House of Atreus as we have it from the Greek playwright Euripides around 406 BCE.
It is also I think about the creative artist’s dilemma, and about our values as a civilisation at a time, such as we are experiencing, of huge crisis.
The second reason to be very excited is because you are sitting in a new Irish theatre space. And if we were Irish Greeks, 2400 years or so ago, this space would be sacred; in fact it would be dedicated to the god Dionysus. We are the inheritors of that cultural idea; i.e. that theatre should be sacred to our national identity and to the wider civilised tradition that we inherit. It seems appropriate that one of the ways we are inaugurating this place, albeit unofficially to day, is with a piece of such imaginative authenticity.
May I ask you to do something?
In the time it takes for me to resume my seat please remain totally silent; no customary applause. But recall that this island is full of groves, hilltops, circles of megalithic stone, places our ancestors thought it important to make sacred. In the few seconds of silence that follow and in that tradition let us invite into this building something of the Dionysian archetype. In that deep breath of silence and with our collective imagination, at this time when so many of our values are being called into question, let us sanctify an dedicate this space. I have talked about what you are about to witness; in a wonderful book called “The Presence of the Actor”, Joseph Chaikin says:
“Everything we do changes us a little…And what we witness, we also do.”
How sanctified an auditorium becomes of course depends on what we do in it.
In the silence then we await: “The Sacrificial Wind” by Lorna Shaughnessy, directed by Max Hafler.