‘I changed the world, just so you know.’
Compostela at The New Theatre is a one woman show, written and performed by Miriam Needham and directed by Donal O’Kelly. Sitting down we were greeted by a bare stage which was largely covered with a white curtain designed by Fiontann Fitzgerald. There are minimal props: two blocks for sitting on and a large shawl which doubled as a backpack and as, well, a large shawl while also serving some slightly more surreal purposes.
I interviewed Miriam a few weeks ago. It was a great discussion and provided some great insight into the genesis of Compostela, how it was written and where it came from. It also demonstrated how complex the aftermath of the referendum was and how much remained to be done.
You can’t speak for everyone. All you can do when you write a play or create any piece of art is to present an experience as honestly as you can and people might connect with it, or a little bit of it or all of it but that’s up to the audience.
Having seen the play I think that the writer was being a little modest. The play is specifically about the aftermath of the referendum, even though it is very different from most of the stories that fall into that category. This play is about the agony of having to vote for a basic human right, which in itself is a major failure of Irish Society. But, it is also about the success of the individual. It is not easy to change the world, and I am not sure how many people get to do this in their lifetime in a way that is meaningful. Compostela resonates with all those campaigners who fought tirelessly for a cause in which they believed passionately.
The play is set against the backdrop of the Referendum to Repeal the Eight Amendment in 2018. When the play begins, we find Dawn in Spain taking part in the Camino de Compostela. Dawn has gone on the walk to clear her head, process all that has happened in the past months and to get away from the internet.
Along the way Dawn meets a variety of characters and it is in these interactions that we get a glimpse into the mind of Dawn and the struggles that she is going through to ger over the Referendum. But it’s not a breakdown, it’s a breakup she tells us on several occasions.
It might not have been a breakdown but the emotional stress of the referendum on Dawn was evident. Throughout her journey across Spain the people Dawn meets add several layers to the play. There is a lot of comic relief, there is also some excellent voicing of a variety of accents and languages and a juxtaposition of beliefs that just can’t co-exist without a lot of tension.
Two aspects of the play stood out more than any other for me. First, there was the attention to detail. We are given some insights into the referendum form the perspective of the campaigner which would not have been so obviously to the general population. For example, the spectrum of voters from hard no to hard yes with soft no and soft yes in the middle. However, it is this attention to detail which also shows why the referendum was a difficult process for those who believed strongly that even the vote itself was wrong. Why did we need a vote to decide that women could decide on issues concerning their own bodies?
Second, there was the presence of Miriam Needham. There is no room to hide in a one woman show, there are no moments to take a break. For just under an hour the energy levels in the New Theatre were high. But more than that the crowd were engaged from start to finish as the standing ovation at the end demonstrated. The direction from Donal O’Kelly was also spot on. It would have been very easy to try to do more. But, in putting Dawn front and centre and relying on the story and Miriam Needham’s delivery, the director realised that her passion and energy and stage presence could carry the show. Being funny in two languages thanks to excellent comic timing is certainly a rare feat.
The greatest achievement though was that this was not a play for a small audience. Sure, it would resonate with those who had walked up and down the quays, knocked on doors or campaigned around the country to repeal the Eight Amendment. It was a story which resonates with anyone who has ever had a strong belief about anything. For me at least, Compostela was less about the referendum and more about the impact of the referendum. Anyone, who is making their way in a Post Repeal Ireland would get a lot from watching Compostela and listening to Dawn’s story.
Compostela was written and performed by Miriam Needham and directed by Donal O’Kelly. The play was written during a Short Theatre Artist Residency at the Hawk’s Well Theatre, Sligo. It was further developed at FRINGE LAB with the support of Dublin Fringe Festival.
Writer/ Performer: Miriam Needham
Director: Donal O’Kelly
Stage Manager/ Operator Rachel Stout
Backdrop Painting Fionntan Fitzgerald
Lighting Design Reuben Cummins
Producer Elissavet Chatzinota
Marketing Manager Cristina Florescu
Graphic Design Eoin Madsen