Compostela: An interview with Miriam Needham

Compostella by Miriam Needham

No don’t thank me you should have already had this. It is joyful but then there is all this other stuff. Of course, it was a victory but it should never have even come to a vote.

Compostela a play written Mirriam Needham will be one of the highlights of the Dublin Fringe Festival and will kick off its run at The New Theatre on Tuesday night. I sat down with the author of Compostela recently to discuss Compostella. Mirriam is also an actor and activist.

The play looks at the aftermath of the referendum to repeal the eight amendment. There was a big picture which many have attempted to make their own. Politicians have claimed it was a silent revolution. They sat on the fence until the decision was beyond doubt and then claim credit for throwing their weight behind the people who had worked so hard to make it happen.

I feel more healthy anyway when I am thinking about this not to blame people but to think about how we can change the structure of our society so that there is no space for people to abused.

But, Compostela is a story about one activist. All great changes start with individuals standing up and claiming that change is necessary and stand up for people who are not able to stand up for themselves. Activism can be a hugely positive experience. Engaging with people and opening eyes is not easy and it is a tiring and often difficult road, especially at the start when the road seems more uphill. It is not exactly helped when politicians subsequently refer to this ‘silent revolution’ when as Miriam notes ‘It wasn’t a quite revolution. We were on the streets screaming for years. Women died, there was nothing quite about it.’

Miriam Needham in Compostella
Miriam Needham

Compostela is a play that was written in part from the experience of one person who had a passionate view that women had a right to make decisions about their own body and for a long time this was a difficult argument to make in Catholic Ireland.But, as Miriam pointed out fighting for a right that should not even be called into question can be difficult. The play will connect with some and less so with others but that is all you can do:

You can’t speak for everyone. All you can do when you write a play or create any piece of art is to present an experience as honestly as you can and people might connect with it, or a little bit of it or all of it but that’s up to the audience.

We spent a lot of time talking about writing as well. Miriam wrote the play while on an artist’s residency at the Hawkswell Theatre in Sligo in 2018. it was not the story she intended to write when she went in but like all great stories it was the come that she came out with. She was very grateful to have the benefit of some great help along the way. Gavin Kostick who is part of the Fishamble team played a part while the writer had a dramatilurgical session which allowed her to learn more about the process and to turn the raw material into the play that is not Compostela.

Perhaps the biggest help along the way in terms of turning the idea into the play was her director Donal O’Kelly:

I am very lucky to have Donal O Kelly to direct the play because I trust him with it very much. When I first approached him about it and when he first read it he got it. I don’t think everyone will get it and I don’t care. He gets what it is about. He’s said things that I never thought of and seen things that I had not seen that makes it much richer.

The one thing that came out more than anything else when talking to Miriam was her passion for this production. But also her passion for helping to build a better society. She would be too modest to put the play in such ‘dramatic’ terms but when all the discussion is over and many have got on with their lives there are others who have fought against injustice and won and it is important to stop and look back. To look back not only at the process and the months and years leading up to the momentous vote. it is only by looking back that we can really start to process the past.

This whole washing over of history makes me feel so strongly about the subject and this story. I don’t have a right to talk about many things but I have a right to talk about this because I did it for years.

 

Compostela written by and starring Miriam Needham is part of the Dublin Theatre Fringe Festival and will run at The New Theatre from Wednesday to Sunday at 8.30pm with matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Get your tickets soon as it will sell out.

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