- 03 Nov 21
"Where I've ended up with in this sense is theatre in a pure, almost ancient sense as it has these very raw emotions."
Dundalk author Luke Cassidy initially tried to ignore the strong pull of writing.
"I tried to deny it – like it was some sort of an addiction or a deviant habit that I attempted to suppress until my late 20s," he says.
"Then I was sort of like, 'Damn, I just gotta go with this.' I did try and dabble in other things, but I kept getting led back to writing."
After a process of spontaneous writing in 2018, the characters and world of his acclaimed first novel, Iron Annie, spilled out of Cassidy "in a flash."
The novel follows the story of Aoife, a bisexual woman and a "wheeler-dealer kind of character," who is a prominent member of a fictive underworld of Dundalk. The project focuses in on her doomed relationship with the beautiful but capricious Annie as they adventure across the Irish Sea to offload 10 kilos of cocaine swiped from a rival.
"This stuff started pouring out of me very spontaneously, and I just followed it," he explains. "I took it in, and I realised as I went, 'This is this character.' This woman who's living in this fairly violent but also very sexy world."
While patiently awaiting the book's release, Cassidy began to dream of enacting live readings bookended by live music at his launch party. What started as a tiny spark of an idea fully came ablaze, with Cassidy penning the Iron Annie Cabaret, a unique theatrical experience with an impressive 25 tour dates across Ireland this autumn and next spring.
Cassidy found inspiration for the novel and the screenplay in Dundalk, the place where he grew up.
"Dundalk is a place which has been traditionally on the periphery of the Irish cultural scene," he shares, "In the last couple of years, you have a lot of very vibrant stuff coming out of it.
"I was very inspired by that in the spirit, if not in the substance, of the book. I wanted to celebrate it in this way by bringing in the talent of people who I'm close to."
Iron Annie's journey from page to stage was an innovative one – bringing audiences excited about the return of live entertainment a one-of-a-kind experience.
Speaking on the production, Cassidy states: "It's quite hard to define, even for me. Where I've ended up in this sense is theatre in a pure, almost ancient sense as it has these very raw emotions.
"The innovation lies in the interplay between music and performance by actor Eleanor McLoughlin, who portrays the character of Aoife. Those things are very deeply intertwined in the production, but it's not musical theatre. Eleanor is not singing. She is there on stage, and it's like she's there performing with her mates - who are reflecting what she's going through. It's a very interesting thing. "
Actress Eleanor McLoughlin was nominated for Best Leading Actress in the Madrid International Film Festival for her work in Forgotten Man. She also is the voice of the Iron Annie audio book, making her "quite deeply embedded in the story."
Alongside McLoughlin, bands False Slag and the Dandelion Few interpret Aoife's emotional journey throughout the play, each having composed five songs each – five rock songs and five folk songs.
"I gave them a book and said, 'Here, I want you to kind of distill the spirit of this without being prescriptive. Just delve into the atmosphere and the emotions and see what you come up with.'"
The process of creating this theatrical experience, described as "Reservoir Dogs meets Thelma and Louise and The Rocky Horror Picture Show," was far from easy.
"A novel and a stage play are vastly different things," Cassidy begins. "I wanted to avoid at all costs trying to condense the whole story of the novel into the book. I wanted to rather tell a story which would feel complete and not a teaser for the book, in a sense.
"I sort of honed in on the story in how Aoife and Annie meet, and how Aoife overcomes her suspicions and her doubts. She accepts the love she has for this women who, in the end, damages her profoundly. In the play, I just wanted to tell that story of how this happened; how she got there."
Cassidy has become quite the pro at translating his novel to different mediums, with Iron Annie being optioned for television by World Productions - the company behind Bodyguard and Line of Duty
Although Cassidy's theatrical project "was supposed to be one show", the production then "morphed into five, and then 12, and now it's nearly 20 around the country in two legs."
"It's taken on its own life, let me tell you," he grins.
Despite being an innovative production in its form, the Iron Annie Cabaret connects with audience members by reminding us of what it means to be human.
"Life will throw a lot of shit at you," he reflects. "But it's still worth living with the people that you love that make it that way. It doesn't have to happen somewhere special in order for it to mean something."
The Juncture Art production is directed by Peter Moreton, the Artistic Director of Applecart Arts Centre, London, and supported by the Arts Council of Ireland and Louth County Council will be visiting every province in Ireland. See the remaining tour dates below, and for more information, head to the Iron Annie Cabaret website.
04/11 WATERFORD- Theatre Royal
06/11 LIMERICK- Belltable
08/11 GALWAY- Town Hall Theatre
17/11 CASTLEBAR- The Linenhall
18/11 ENNIS- Glór
20/11 MONAGHAN- Garage Theatre
23/11 PORTLAOISE- Dunamaise
26/11 GREYSTONES- Whale Theatre
2022 LETTERKENNY- An Grianán
2022 DUBLIN- Smock Alley Theatre
2022 CORK- The Everyman
2022 BELFAST- Accidental Theatre
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