5 minutes with… director Cathal Cleary

18 Nov 2015

The award-winning director discusses his adaptation of Enda Walsh’s play Disco Pigs for #LoveTheatreDay

Cathal Cleary is the Trainee Artistic Director at the Donmar Warehouse and was the Associate Director on the theatre/television production of The Vote by James Graham. In 2011 he was selected as the winner of the prestigious JMK Trust Directors Award for his adaptation of Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs which had an extended, sell-out run at the Young Vic Theatre, Clare Studio. This autumn, he takes that production on tour, arriving at Brighton Dome in time for #LoveTheatreDay - the Lovie award-winning social media celebration of all things stage.

We caught up with Cathal to discuss the play and his career to date.

What first appealed to you about the play Disco Pigs?

The unapologetic energy of the characters and the writing is what hit me the first time I read Disco Pigs. Pig and Runt are immense characters to work with.

The original production famously launched both Enda Walsh’s career, and arguably that of its star Cillian Murphy. Has Walsh seen your adaptation and what did he think?

Yes indeed, both Enda and Cillian saw a run at the Young Vic, as did the brilliant Eileen Walsh who played Runt originally. The all seemed to really enjoy our production which was a massive relief. They're lovely people.

Your revival came some 15 years after the play’s debut – do you find the play’s messages and portrayal of teenage life and love still stands up today? If so, in what ways?

Great plays tap into universal themes that never go away, about what it is to be human.

Specifically for Disco Pigs, the world is seen through the eyes of two 17 year olds. It's a time in anyone's life that there is endless possibilities and opportunities. And that can be overwhelming and terrifying. At that age you're no longer a child but not yet an adult.

How does this production differ from Pat Kiernan’s original in terms of direction and stage craft?

Unfortunately I didn't see Pat's production but I've heard it was sensational. As I understand, it was much more stripped back and minimal in terms of design. With our production Chloe Lamford (designer) and I have created a clearer physical world for Pig and Runt to exist in, while still remaining true to the text.

The characters sometimes use their own language to talk to each other – does this put pressure on you as director to ensure audiences understand what’s happening, and if so, what techniques do you use to do this?

It's an extra challenge for myself and especially for the actors but it's also a real treat. Enda has created a unique language for Pig and Runt that is wonderful to listen to. For any play, you want everything to be as clear as possible for audiences but ultimately if the actors play the line truthfully then the audience will know exactly what they mean.

The piece covers a range of emotions (funny one minute, tragic the next) and pace – as a director, what do you enjoy most about working on such a frenetic production?

The excitement of it all. I like loud, bright exciting theatre and Disco Pigs has allowed me to create a loud, bright exciting production.

It’s a thrilling and explosive story – what is your favourite scene to direct and why?

The play does feel like one big, every changing scene and I've enjoyed directing every aspect of it. But the first scene when Pig and Runt re-enact their own birth with weird Barbie dolls and Action Men has made me laugh every time. I love that scene.

When did you first discover theatre and what made you want to be a director?

I came to theatre quite late. I was about 24 when I thought this might be something I could do. In the city I went to university in, Galway, there is an incredible company called Druid Theatre who I've always admired. Garry Hynes, the artistic director, was the first woman ever to win the Best Director Award at the Tony's which is a remarkable achievement. She's a local hero and she's been a big influence on my ambition to be a director.

You won the JMK Award in 2011 – what tips do you have to those who aspire to work in the arts?

Create your own work and invite influential people to come see it. It's difficult to make a living from theatre so if anyone loves doing it, then do it for its own sake. If those influential people like what they see then they may offer you opportunities. But continue to make the work regardless.