Playwright Tzarini Meyler told David Hennessy about her play Kites which is set in post- war Cork but has a resonance to today.
A London- born Irish playwright brings a play to London next month that draws parallels between post- war Ireland and the present day.
While we are going through a cost of living crisis, Tzarini Meyler’s Kites draws parallels to another time of austerity and instability, reflecting on writer Tzarini’s own grandmother’s upbringing and the opportunities that women would sacrifice to do what was expected.
The play follows the friendship of Kitty, who is played by Tzarini, and Angel, who is played by Ana Canals who also produces, who live in Cork in 1948.
Kitty yearns for adventure while Angel wants to make a new home to replace the home she has lost.
The two have a shared love of kites but with them seeming to be heading in different directions, will their friendship survive or get blown away in the gale?
Tzarini told The Irish World where the idea came from.
She says: “I was fascinated by the idea of a kite as a symbol.
“My work tends to begin with some sort of stimuli, whether it’s a photograph, or an object, or a piece of costume.
“I’m really interested in history and antique items and pieces of art.
“Because my dad raised me as an artist, our house was always full of mad things.
“And one of my earliest memories is flying a kite with him when I was about two.
“I was just really interested in the qualities of a kite and how it’s symbolic of childhood.
“And yet, it has all these different things.
“It can be really, really strong and brace a storm, but then it can get swept away.
“I was (also) talking to my grandmother about her upbringing, and how a lot of people really sacrificed their bigger dreams and things.
“I was interested in that image of somebody being blown away like a kite.
“So then I thought I would begin working on this play.”
Kitty, a Cork native, has never been outside of the city.
Angel left Spain and is desperate to belong and have a home again.
“It was about two girls growing up just after the war.
“I was interested in that time period being quite similar to my generation, but in a very different way.
“Right now we’re facing all these opportunities dangling in front of us and most people my age in Ireland can’t even afford rent.
“So, in a way, it’s a similar position where everyone’s moving away and there’s that longing for something and yet not being able to achieve it.
“I thought it was a bit like looking at kites in the sky, that they can fly up into the clouds and yet, we were being held back by strings.
“It was about two girls with two very different directions and what happens to a friendship when you kind of get lost in the wind.”
Of course the post- war generation didn’t have social media. Much has been said about the effect on people’s mental health of seeing unrealistic or unattainable things online all the time.
“It’s what can happen to people when they’re so busy looking at what they want, you can get lost in that and get tangled up in something when actually what you really needed was right in front of you.
“So these two characters, Kitty and Angel go on very different paths.
“One is more drawn into the sense of needing to belong, needing a family, needing to feel safe, and the other is more drawn to escaping all that and wanting to find herself by emigrating.
“Angel is from Spain so she’s kind of come from a post- Civil War situation where all she wants is to have home because her home was completely destroyed.
“And then you have Kitty, who has grown up in this very peaceful, almost suburban, boring- you might say- small town. She wants excitement.
“I was interested in how that’s very relevant now with a lot of refugees coming into Ireland, who have come from a situation where they just want peace, and then yet we’re all trying to get away.
“So even though it’s set in the past it is quite relevant to now.”
Tzarini could not have known how relevant it would be when she was writing it before war broke out in Ukraine with Ireland opening its doors to large numbers of refugees.
“It’s been a controversial topic, refugees coming into Ireland and yet, throughout history, the Irish were refugees in various parts of the world, my own family included.
“I just think it’s an interesting thing to explore in a more distant sense because I think when you set something in the past, it enables people to look at it more critically rather than it being so raw. It enables them to use their imagination and put themselves into that time.
“I think it questions the sense of home and what it means and whether home is a place or a person, a feeling inside you or a memory.
“In many ways, Kites is about memory, and about belonging.
“And even though it’s about two girls, I actually think it’s very relatable to men as well, and to everybody who’s kind of lost themselves a little bit as they’ve grown up.”
The story is inspired by Tzarini’s grandmother and a great grandparent that she has never met but feels a connection to.
She feels her great-grandmother’s story is symbolic of older generations.
“My grandmother moved to England in the 60s in search of work.
“They were from Dublin and they were just very, very poor.
“That struggle of trying to start your life somewhere else was really interesting to me.
“My great grandmother, she looks a lot like me and I’ve been shown pictures of her putting on makeshift theatre, with costumes made of an old apron and a little hat she’s made for herself.
“She died very young and was very depressed because she was just a housewife and she always wanted to do acting and theatre.
“And that’s the only link in my family with the theatre. The rest of them are more visual artists.
“I was really inspired by her story.
“What would have happened had she maybe not settled down and maybe pursued what she wanted?
“It’s a shame but I think it’s quite a common story of that generation, probably for men as well.
“It was just a priority to earn a living and to be secure.
“And how times have changed for women now: The fact that I can be standing here today and my focus is my work.
“It was interesting to me.”
Kites is a two hander narrated by Kate Firth, sister of Colin.
Produced by LipZinc Theatre, it has been performed in Cork, Dublin, the Lion and Unicorn Theatre in Camden, north London as well as Edinburgh.
Tzarini hopes to bring the play to Cork as part of an Irish tour in 2023.
“We did a little preview in the Smock Alley in Dublin about June last year, just for two nights.
“We had a very good response and a lot of audience members said it really resonated with them so that was great.
“And then we did a few nights in Camden before doing a full month at Edinburgh.”
Does it get different reactions in different places? “Yeah, definitely. I noticed a different sense of humour depending on who’s there.
“We did a showing in Mitchelstown in Cork and they were loving all the Cork language.
“’I could drink the cape off St. Paul’, that kind of thing.
“And there’s this sort of playfulness between the Spanish girl not understanding the Irishisms.
“My character plays a lot of different characters within it so we get to see her neighbourhood through all the impersonations that she does.
“I could tell the Cork people knew these people.
“And then in Edinburgh one day we had a load of Americans who really got all the American stuff and the emigration so it appealed to different people for different reasons.
“But what I was really surprised by was how it affected people of all different generations and genders and backgrounds. There was one day where we had a man in the audience come up to us at the end, and he absolutely loved it.
“He was 70 years old from Egypt and he was laughing at all the jokes and I was so surprised because it’s not what I expected.”
Tzarini looks forward to bringing the show to London once again.
“I think Vaults Festival is incredible because it has so many different styles and different artists and its whole premise is about supporting artists and entertainment that’s independent, different and saying something and affecting a positive change.”
Tzarini would love to tour it around Ireland as well as other places.
“We’d really love to bring it to America actually, and we’d love to do a little tour of Ireland and the UK, potentially even bring it to Spain, because as I said, there’s a real Spanish connection with the story.
“Ana herself is Spanish/ Irish and the play deals with how a small community kind of handles different cultures and different expectations.”
Tzarini is now based in Cork but was born in London and did much growing up this side of the water.
“I’ve had a bit of a weird, weird life so far.
“I was born in London because my parents were, as I said, artists.
“They were at St. Martin’s College in London.
“My dad studied fashion design there. And then I was raised in rural West Cork, on a farm.
“And then I moved back to Yorkshire because my grandmother was unwell and we were living with her there and I did A levels in Yorkshire actually, then came back to Ireland and went to UCD in Dublin, so I kind of know what it feels like to be a bit of an outsider in both places.”
“I think West Cork can be quite an isolating place if you don’t know anyone because everyone is quite connected either through marriage or work or whatever so we were definitely the blow ins, which you see a lot in this play Angel’s constantly referred to as a ‘blow-in’.
“It’s that sort of feeling of not quite fitting in.
“I had a really strong West Cork accent and nobody could understand me when I went to Yorkshire. They were like, ‘What is she saying?’”
Kites runs 7- 12 March as part of Vault Festival at Vault Festival, Cage, The Vaults, Leake Street, London SE1 7NN. Supported by Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire.
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