Feature in Issue 7-3 | Autumn 1995

Irish based writer, poet and painter Anne Le Marquand Hartigan discusses how she makes a theatre piece from the first visual image and provides an excerpt of text from one of her mime scripts.

Making work for the theatre I always start from the visual image, whatever its form and content, and can carry an image around in my mind for months, even years.

In Beds, a theatre work of mime, song, dance, ritual and dramatic pieces, I had the image of three women in three double beds lying as I describe in an excerpt from the text below. I was haunted by the question, ‘Why did they lie so?’ and was reminded of a poem which eventually became the theme song for Beds.

In bed we laugh / In bed we cry / Born in bed / In bed we die / The near approach / A bed will show? Of human bliss / And human woe.1

To express my ideas I needed non-naturalistic theatre with visual and verbal simplicity of shape, honed down, spare. A sculptural quality, created through the bodies of the actors themselves. Simplicity is powerful.

I organised a workshop at the Tyrone Gutherie Centre, Co. Monaghan. There, three writers, five actors, one musician and director Robert Gordon,2 who shared my interests, worked experimentally and freely for ten days. Following this, the first draft of Beds was written. We met again six months later for ten more days to work, joined by Eibhlis Farrell, who composed the music and performed it live when Beds was premiered later in the year at the Dublin Theatre Festival.

Beds

A cast of seven, playing multiple parts.

Action Nine
(From thirteen actions of a two-act piece)
Three women alone. Mime piece.

Set: Three double beds.
Cast: Three women.

STAGE PLAN OF THREE BEDS
BED 3 BED 1 BED 2

Woman A: Bed 1. Lies to the centre of bed.
Woman B: Bed 2. Lies to right hand side of bed.
Woman C: Bed 3. Lies to left hand side of bed.
THEY ALL LIE STILL. SILENCE.
The following mime moves like a wave from one bed to the next.
Woman A: Selects a magazine from a pile on the bed to one side of her and reads contentedly.
Woman B: Turns to the right and picks up the phone on the side of her bed and dials. The phone is heard ringing. There is no answer. She waits. She replaces the phone.
Woman C: Slowly turns her head to the left. She lies otherwise dead still, arms stiff to her sides.
Woman A: Takes a box of chocolates from beside her on the bed. Takes great pleasure in selecting one. Eats with relish. Chocolate papers crackle. Reads and eats.
Woman B: Tosses and turns. Fidgets. Gets up to look out. Returns to the phone. Stares at it. Hand goes out towards the phone. Hesitates. Pulls away. Gets back to bed. Looks at the phone. Remains still.
Woman C: Her arm begins to travel up the empty space beside her. She moves her arm slowly her fingers exploring, quivering. Her body does not move.
Woman A: Picks up and turns on a radio. It plays pop music. A love song. She munches, listens and reads contentedly.
Woman B: Picks up the phone and dials. Ringing is heard. There is no answer. Ringing continues (and under the following actions…)
Woman C: Hand and arm continues to travel up the empty bed. Her eyes move slowly.
Woman A: The programme becomes a joke programme. Pre-recorded on tape. Bad jokes about love, sex and marriage. Woman munches, laughs at the jokes, turns pages of the magazine.
Woman B: Replaces receiver. Ringing tone stops. Stares at phone.
Woman C: Lies still. Hand travelling slowly upwards.
Woman A: Turns off joke programme. Continues to read and eat. Silence.
Woman B: Phone rings. Jumps back with shock. Picks up the receiver. Silence. A click. Then dialling tone. She sits phone in her hand. She is still Woman A: Hand travels. Closes her eyes.
Woman A: Scrumples up box of chocolates. Puts marker in her book. Washes her teeth. Goes to the lavatory. Gets back to bed. Turns on the radio. Jokes continue. Snuggles down. Laughs.
Woman B: Replaces receiver slowly.
Woman C: Arm and hand continue to travel. She draws back her lips in grimace of pleasure or pain…
and so on…

Ends with stillness, the unanswered phone ringing.

1. Issac De Benserade, Translated by Samual Johnson.
2. Robert Gordon, Director, Lecturer in Theatre Arts, Goldsmith College.

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Issue 7-3
p. 11