By Rena Bryson
Images by Catriona Bonner Photography.
Revisiting Jungle Door was a journey completely different to what we had expected. It was a play that had stuck with us in a very significant way, the representation of queer characters in a storyline unfocused on their sexual orientation was a mission I felt we achieved and I was very proud of this accomplishment. The team gelled together like a family when bringing the play to Sligo and Galway audiences. We felt comfortable in the world of the play knowing it and each other like the back of our hands. This was all about to change as we and the characters were thrown out of our comfort zone with the help of a new version of the script and a new director.
The new script further highlighted Michelle’s struggles with her body image and societal pressures, allowing us to view one character without the other for the first time. As both women are constantly playing what we in the rehearsal room simply titled ‘the game’ this shared the vulnerable side of Michelle she is scared to share in front of Louise for fear of losing. I was excited to get the new script up on its feet, especially this additional scene which featured a new character Sharon, played by Sabrina Kelleher. Other than this, the rest of the play would resume as it was previously, or so we thought..
Unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts our original director Elizabeth Flaherty was unable to join us this time around. She was very missed and we so appreciate her making Jungle Door what it was, but we were excited to see what a new director’s view would change. We would soon learn it would change quite a lot. Cornelius Dwyer focused heavily on text analysis encouraging us to dissect the play fully, line by line. This process completely changed the dynamic of the two characters and opened up dialogues about the characters issues and why they are the way they are.
An interesting element of the script that had previously gone unhighlighted was Louise’s internalised misogyny enforcing her to mock or disregard anything feminine, wishing to be a ‘cool girl’ or ‘not like other girls’ not for male approval but because she genuinely views femininity as a weak characteristic. Through a mixture of script work and hot seating more and more was revealed about Michelle’s relationships or lack thereof with other memebers of the LGBTQ community. Michelle felt rejected by the community for not presenting as ‘gay enough’ and would prefer to maintain the heteronormative aspects of her personality than fit in. This concept was based on the discrimination sometimes faced by bisexual people, who are believed to be experimenting, especially in a college setting which is were Michelle and Louise met. Louise being accepted by the community during their relationship and Michelle being accepted by the larger community in present day created a great dynamic of status to work with.
Following the intensive script analysis Louise and Michelle had transformed, while still maintaining the core of the characters they had become fleshed out, wanting to leap off the page. So we began to leap and jump and flex all thanks to Choreographer Jessica Bruen. Cornelius and Jessica worked together to lead us to discover a method of transforming our characters subconscious thoughts and feelings into individual movement pieces. This was a beautiful and powerful process that not only gave us agency as actors but produced authentic and unpretentious movement pieces that reflected the world of the play. Cornelius adored these pieces so much they made the bold decision to cut all projections from the show, not risking any distraction from the movement. Instead a song accompanied each piece ranging from Simon and Garfunkel to Jade Bird. Have a dance along to the full playlist here.
We realised a monologue Louise expressed during a projection scene no longer fitted the new shape of the play. This was initially a voice over or the actor speaking but it was an expression of the subconscious rather than something Louise says during the play. Much like a Shakespearean actor will perform aside, letting the audience know their feelings but is unheard by the other characters. For this to now work within the pre established rules of the play it must be a song like the others. So with the script in front of me and some backing tracks from a band I was in years ago I began working on the original song Jungle Door. As if it was meant to be the lyrics blended perfectly with an acoustic track created for a different song in 2013. Adam Conboy generously donated his time to re record the track in Sligo and I added the lyrics on top of it in Galway and hey presto we had ourselves a song, a first for Eva’s Echo.
On top of a new script, new movement and a new song Sabrina Kelleher landed from England to receive various new roles. Always a trouper Sabrina went from the shows Designer to the Designer/ Stage Manager/ Sound Operator and took on the role of Sharon, Michelle’s mother. Each night Sabrina performed through a live mic in the tech box, simulating a phone call with Hazel on stage. The live aspect to the performance allowed the actors the freedom to react authentically each night, playing off one another.
We absolutely loved our time at The Moat Theatre. The technical aspects of the theatre allowed Cornelius and Sabrina so much opportunity regarding design and the staff were more than lovely, a special shout out to Conor who made us feel so very at home. It was exciting to perform in front of a new audience and challenged us to not rely on the safety of our regular audiences, pushing us even further outside of our comfort zone. Although we did receive a few surprise visits from familiar faces, which we so appreciate, it made us feel all fuzzy inside and still does.
After the first show the four of us sat in a lovely Italian in Naas and decided this could not be the last stop for the new Jungle Door. It desired a longer life span and we didn’t want to let it go just yet. So we are bringing the show to Galway’s Town Hall Theatre Wednesday the 10th of June to Saturday the 13th of June . See you there for all the botox, brides and booze you can handle!