Tragic Carpet

Feature in Issue 5-1 | Spring 1993

Middle-scale touring on a postage stamp. Sounds familiar? Well, it is all too familiar these days and seldom seems to work. However, for Tragic Carpet, it appears to do just that. Formed in 1985 by Freda O’Byrne and her fellow students of the Performance Arts course at Middlesex University (formerly Middlesex Polytechnic), Tragic Carpet has so far performed twelve productions since 1986.

Dublin-born Freda always directs this ‘movement-based ensemble theatre’. With an ever-changing cast of performers from all fields (e.g., mime, acting, opera, dance, music) she creates action intricately dependant on sound, lights and costume; one could say total theatre! Her sources are varied – companies that established plays like Berkoff’s East and Decadence, book adaptations like the critically acclaimed Babi Yar, and film adaptations such as the 1920s classic Nosferatu. Freda describes her style of direction as from a ‘cinematic perspective, looking through the eye of a camera lens’.

Tragic Carpet productions are, she is proud to state, ‘always telling a story and communicating openly with the audience, on their level’. Never afraid to talk and work with the audience, she sees the importance of humour and humanity in stories, having ‘ordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances’, hence creating theatre for people of all ages and backgrounds. A sound company policy that ‘captures and engages the creative imagination of the viewer’. She does not wish to see productions that ‘hide behind the performance’, leaving the people as simply spectators. These artistic directions stem from the strong influences of the Russian directors Meyerhold and Sergei Eisenstein, the former working in theatre whereas the latter worked in cinema.

The existence of this close audience involvement, devising and researching with them, led to a sister company being created in 1988: Liverpool-based First Bite Theatre Company. Aimed at school touring. First Bite is not ‘arty’ or ‘risqué’ but performs serious issues in accessible and innovative ways to children. Having just returned from a Scottish tour, First Bite now embarks on a North West England tour with Out of This World, having a central theme of relationships and exploring such issues as substance abuse, peer pressure, confidence and trust. A new show is planned for the late spring.

So what of Tragic Carpet? Very personal to Freda, Tragic Carpet left the Edinburgh Fringe last year on a high. Island on the Edge of the World (sponsored by Scottish Equitable, Scottish Mutual and Scottish Widows) told the history of the island of St. Kilda. This year sees their thirteenth production, from August: The Heart of a Dog, from the outrageously grotesque and comic novel by Mikhail Bulgakov. With this, and in the future, Freda wants to strive for closer links with other performing companies, even with a theatre or performance space with regards to a permanent home. She wants to work with designers and writers more on new works. She feels she has, through Tragic Carpet, something to say about the issues that affect us all. The company needs to be ‘seen, recognised and valued’ and she aims to tour abroad.

Links with businesses have provided, over the years, some ingenious sponsorships, like: the Manchester Evening News aiding First Bite, Wrangler supplying coloured jeans to Tragic Carpet, and KLP Manchester – a design company – supplying the logo and letterhead design for Tragic Carpet. All simple but terribly important to the overall feel and impression of the company/companies as they attempt to continue growing year by year.

This article in the magazine

Issue 5-1
p. 14