Riverbank Arts Centre is delighted to present The Last Five Years by The Odd Theatre Company as a LIVE broadcast from the Riverbank stage on Saturday, 3rd July at 8:30pm. This dynamic local company usually play to full houses and cheering audiences at Riverbank Arts Centre – so this live broadcast is not to be missed! We caught up with director, Cian O’Dowd, to discover more about the company and this exciting new show.
When was The Odd Theatre Company established and who are the key creative forces behind the company?
The Odd Theatre Company was established by Emma Kilduff (now my fiancée), Keelin Kilduff (her sister), and me back in 2017, largely with a view to producing newer or less traditional musicals that audiences in Kildare might not otherwise have a chance to see. We had all performed with various musical and theatre groups around the country over a number of years, and collectively observed that there were a range of really spectacular Broadway or West End shows out there that are rarely performed in this country and so, in a way, The Odd Theatre Company is an effort to bring that brilliant material closer to home.
I have to pay credit to the enormous efforts that Emma and Keelin have gone to in making the company a success: Emma, for her incredible work across marketing, costumes, and sets, and Keelin for producing such spectacular results as musical director to the group. Of course I can’t let the opportunity go by without also giving praise to our phenomenal choreographer Áine Foley, who was nominated for the Association of Irish Musical Societies’ Best Choreography Award for her work on our 2019 production of Little of Shop of Horrors, and to Adam Trundle, who has been an ever-innovative presence as stage manager, not to mention the countless others who have given so generously of their time to help a fledgling, not-for-profit group like ourselves.
You are known for producing fabulous musicals – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Rent, Little Shop of Horrors and now The Last Five Years – was this the plan from the outset, an annual large scale production?
I think initially the plan was to do one show, pray it went well, and then think about what might come next. We picked The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, in part because it was one of the best written comedies I’d ever seen, but amazingly, despite spending over three years on Broadway, it had never been performed in Ireland. So The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee had its Irish premiere in the Riverbank Arts Centre in October 2017. I don’t know how many Broadway shows have had their Irish premieres in Kildare, but I reckon the list must be pretty small. Thankfully that two-night run was every bit the success we hoped it would be, with great audiences and some super performances, and thus gave us the confidence to move forward.
From then followed Rent in 2018, an absolutely captivating and hugely successful musical about New York’s East Village during the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s, but one rarely performed in this country. We followed that up the musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors in 2019, which we decided to perform, not as you may have seen it before, in the eight-actor format from its original Off-Broadway production.
So is there a grand plan? Maybe not. The formula isn’t revolutionary, we try our best to apply everything we learn during the previous production to the next and evolve as a group. Trying to pull off more than one great musical a year might send us all to an early grave, given the sheer amount of work that goes into these productions, so I predict we’ll stick to annual shows unless we win the Euro Millions and can pack in the day job.
Can you tell us about the The Oddcast series, what has the podcast covered so far and how can people find the episodes?
People joke that during the first lockdown everyone set up a podcast, and during the second everyone set up a coffee dock. I don’t know about everyone, but the first part of that sentence is true for us. The Oddcast – Ireland’s Musical Theatre Podcast is more or less what it says on the tin. It’s a podcast about Irish musical theatre produced by The Odd Theatre Company and co-hosted by Daniel Ryan, Adam Trundle, and me that we started in March of last year during the first lockdown, and am pleased to say we’re now running for well over a year. We cover a range of Broadway and West End news, as well as discuss Ireland’s musical theatre scene. We’ve also been fortunate to be able to interview a range of incredibly interesting guests, including West End stars like Rebecca Storm, Molly Lynch, and Brian Gilligan, who people will also know for his semi-final appearance on the televised talent competition Britain’s Got Talent.
If you want to check out the show, and of course we recommend you do, you can search for “The Oddcast – Ireland’s Musical Theatre Podcast” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or indeed any podcast app.
What attracted you to The Last Five Years?
The songs first and foremost. And I know that might be a trite response about what attracted me to a musical, but they really are out of this world. They are contemporary, melodious, beautifully written pieces that I think will touch anyone listening to them, and they are certainly not what you would think of when imagining a show tune. The composer, Jason Robert Brown, is a triple Tony Award-winner and one of the most celebrated song writers in theatre today for good reason.
I think the other element is how emotionally authentic the show is. The piece is semi-autobiographical and so Brown is able to write for the characters, Cathy and Jamie, very honestly and clearly, and in a way I think everyone will be able to understand. The Last Five Years charts the ups and downs of a relationship and marriage over the five years of its life, and like all of our lives over a period like that it contains some wickedly funny moments, but also those that are desperately tragic. It has everything, and frankly I can’t think of a better show that’s been written this century.
Lastly, the show contains just two actors, and with so much uncertainty as a result of the pandemic, using just two people in the production seemed much easier to manage from a range of standpoints.
Did you face particular challenges creating and directing the production through the pandemic? Were the rehearsals mainly on zoom or outdoor?
We’ve used every facility we possibly can to get this show to the stage, including video calls, recording audio tracks, holding rehearsals outdoors, you name it, we’ve tried it. We, like I think virtually all theatre groups, have done everything to ensure we’ve abided by the guidelines and tried to maintain the safety of everyone involved in the show. The setbacks and the slow pace of re-opening can be frustrating, but as important as theatre is, playing your part and doing what’s asked of you to help minimise the pandemic’s impact on public health is more so.
But yes, the neighbours have certainly been treated the sounds of The Last Five Years during back garden rehearsals.
One of your leads in this upcoming musical, Newbridge’s Daniel Ryan, won an AIMS award last year for his portrayal of Seymour Krelborn in your production of Little Shop of Horrors – tell us a bit about the talented Daniel?
And what a well-deserved award it was too. It’s rare you see someone “get” a character so instantly, right down to their tone of voice, their almost imperceptible mannerisms, and of course their comedic style. I say “instantly” with a degree of sarcasm, of course, because while it might seem like a quick transition into the character in rehearsals, that characterisation is the product of Daniel’s phenomenal work ethic in studying the script, detailing the elements that make up a character like Seymour, and then applying them to a complete performance. He is simply a superlative actor.
The kind of performances he gives are also a product of experience. This will be his fifth production with The Odd Theatre Company, but he has also performed with Athlone and Newbridge Musical Societies in recent years, and as a soloist in the National Concert Hall with Bobby Productions. He is also the recipient of numerous medals and awards from the Royal Irish Academy of Music in singing categories, and has a wonderful, smooth vocal tone, which is extremely well suited to musical theatre, and in particular to the score of The Last Five Years.
And tell us about Keelin Kilduff, the female lead in The Last Five Years?
I first met Keelin nearly 17 years ago, when we were both performing in a school production of Les Misérables. Even then, as young teenager, she had this incredible, show-stopping voice that never seemed daunted by the scale of the songs it was asked to perform. Over the years she has trained with some incredible vocal professionals, including most recently Lucie Jones, currently playing Fantine in the West End production of Les Misérables, who helped prepare Keelin for her performance in The Last Five Years. She is an utterly spectacular vocalist whose voice never ceases to amaze both me and anyone who comes to see Odd Theatre shows.
Like Daniel, she has a wealth of experience as performer with a wide range of groups across the country, and has appeared with Clane and Newbridge Musical Societies in recent years, as a soloist at the National Concert Hall, and was a co-founder of the musical society at Cork School of Music, now part of Munster Technological University, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Music.
Honestly, between her and Daniel it can get a bit depressing working with these high achievers. Makes you wonder what you’ve been doing with your life.
Design has been a strong element of your previous productions, what type of set or other design elements can we expect in The Last Five Years?
As The Last Five Years is being live-streamed we’ve opted for a much more minimalist design with only a handful of props and set pieces, many of which are recurring and repurposed in each scene. Without delving too deeply into the theoretical aspects of the design, the fact that The Last Five Years is a quite novel, abstract piece with its contra-flow narratives (the end of Cathy’s story is the first scene of the show and her timeline moves backwards as the musical progresses, while Jamie’s story moves forward chronologically) means that we’ve opted for a set design that doesn’t attempt to suspend your disbelief. It attempts employ a kind of distancing effect, to break a sense of immersion, and instead ask the audience to focus on the words Cathy and Jamie are singing.
One really beautiful piece of design is the artwork Emma has created for the show’s posters and other branding, which is a watercolour of two shapes mixing together, still visibly distinct at their edges but overlapping at their centre and now formed into an inseparable third colour tone. Such as it is with relationships, we retain a portion of the people that we were before but so much of us is changed by the other, irrevocably, that we become something new. I think it perfectly represents Cathy and Jamie, and beautifully captures the aesthetic of the show.
We would love to have audiences in the theatre to see this show (we know Odd Theatre Company always have full houses and a brilliant atmosphere) , but a livestream from the Riverbank stage is the next best thing – what tips do you have for audiences joining us from their sofas on 3rd July? Is there a beverage that would accompany the show well?
Wine. It’s that kind of show. And maybe have some tissues nearby.
Have you a favourite musical? Or was their one musical that got you hooked?!
It would be hard to pin down a favourite, but certainly the one that got me hooked was Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It was my first school show, way back in 2003, and I just found it the most absorbing experience. A friend had tried to convince me to do the school’s previous production, West Side Story, which I scoffed at on the basis that performing in a musical was likely to have a monstrously deleterious impact on my chances of being thought of as “cool”. By the time Seven Brides for Seven Brothers rolled around I must have resigned myself to the cold reality that “cool” and I were unlikely to enjoy any crossover, because I don’t remember having the same reservations. That show got me hooked, and that was it for me, I was into theatre and haven’t looked back.
Can you hint at what might be next for The Odd Theatre Company?
I’m delighted to say we have some very exciting plans for late 2022 at the Riverbank Arts Centre. I can’t reveal the show just yet, but it’s certainly something that hasn’t appeared on stages in Kildare before.
This blogpost is part of our Spotlight On… series, focussing on local partners, organisations and artists during Covid restrictions – See our recent features on JUNE FEST, Newbridge Drama Group, Irish Military Festival and Griese Youth Theatre.