Cherry Smyth’s ‘Famished’ set to hit the Derry stage

Poet, novelist and critic Cherry Smyth's performance tour of 'Famished', described as 'a sprawling, open-textured dossier, part lyric poem, part documentary' about the Famine, come to The Playhouse on Thursday, June 13.
Poet, novelist and critic Cherry Smyth's performance tour of 'Famished', described as 'a sprawling, open-textured dossier, part lyric poem, part documentary' about the Famine, come to The Playhouse on Thursday, June 13.

A unique poetic sequence that explores the legacy of the Irish Famine will come to The Playhouse next week.

Poet, novelist and critic Cherry Smyth’s performance tour of ‘Famished’, described as “a sprawling, open-textured dossier, part lyric poem, part documentary” about the Famine, come to The Playhouse on Thursday, June 13.

Poet, novelist and critic Cherry Smyth's performance tour of 'Famished', described as 'a sprawling, open-textured dossier, part lyric poem, part documentary' about the Famine, come to The Playhouse on Thursday, June 13.

Poet, novelist and critic Cherry Smyth's performance tour of 'Famished', described as 'a sprawling, open-textured dossier, part lyric poem, part documentary' about the Famine, come to The Playhouse on Thursday, June 13.

In this dispassionate, intelligent work Smyth teases out the under-examined role of colonialism in causing the largest migration of the 19th century and brings to it her trademark blend of emotional density and spacious compassion.

Smyth has developed ‘Famished’ as a collaborative performance with composer Ed Bennett and vocalist Lauren Kinsella – to be premiered at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery in February 2019. A key part of the project was the translation of the text ‘Famished’ into Irish by poet Aifric MacAodha and writer Aoife Casby.

Famished makes an important contribution to understanding a key historical event. Smyth was inspired by the maritime migrant crisis, which evokes the ‘coffin ships’ that carried the Irish across the Atlantic. ‘Famished’ is also the first long poem to examine women’s role in the Famine, interweaving often brutal historical facts with imagined lyrical voices of the 1840s. Richly unsettling, this is a polyvocal work whose richness lies in the variety of forms and registers it takes up. It offers an overlap of traditional lyric, historical quotation, stark facts, autobiography, nursery rhyme and lists.

“Through the collaboration with a composer and vocalist, ‘Famished’ broadens the poetic text to a cross-arts performance,” Áine McCarron, Theatre Programmer at The Playhouse said. “The commissioned score by Ed Bennett provokes the boundaries of Irish traditional music resulting in a 60-minute performance, with spoken word, music and expanded singing.

The symphonic lyricism of the poetry is powerfully amplified by harmonic vocalisations by Lauren Kinsella. The shape of the words is occasionally deconstructed and transmitted into a language of sound and noise. This approaches a kind of garbled rage, emphasising the tragic progress of famine and the silence and suppression that followed it.

“Ed Bennett’s haunting score, commissioned for the piece, breaks the skin of the text itself, moving subtly between eulogy and elegy. Bennett’s music develops a dynamic interplay with the voices of Smyth and Kinsella to create an arresting and cumulative whole.”

Tickets are £12/ £10 and are available from The Playhouse Box Office on (028)71268027 or online at www.derryplayhouse.co.uk.