A blog that starts “I was lucky enough to…”

Around this time last year I started working on what has been my favourite job to date, The Oldest Woman in Limerick.

This was a co-production between Wide Open Opera and DumbWorld, commissioned by the Limetree Theatre as part of the Made in Limerick strand of Limerick City of Culture 2014.

It tells the story of Sr. Antony, a 104 year old nun.

It also tells the stories of those Limerick women (& one Lithuanian) writer John McIlduff and composer Brian Irvine encountered in their attempts to find her.

My brief was that for those parts where the singers were narrating, they should be wearing something light-coloured and tailored and that they should look like their “best selves”

There would be one scene which would reproduce an old photograph of Camogie players as Sr. Antony, prior to becoming a nun, had been captain of her local Camogie team.


Then, as nuns, the singers would have three looks; one for Vespers, or evening prayers; a more ‘casual’ look for when they were drying orange peel to make tea, something they did in the convent in Rome during the War; and a modern look for Sr Antony’s return to Ireland.

Rachel Croash

Rachel Croash

As far as I was concerned Vespers was the money shot. I wanted something dramatic – but not scary – instantly recognisable as ‘Nun’, but not necessarily authentic.

The nun is such an iconic figure and quite malleable, visually. Hendrik Kerstens has made a series of photographs of his daughter wearing a variety of head-dresses and collars to reference Old Masters. As can be seen from the photo below, something as everyday as a plastic bag can be used to telegraph ‘Nun’.


Hendrik Kerstens, “Bag, 2007”, Danziger Gallery

Nina Katchadourian has made a series of toilet paper portraits, Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style, that illustrate this point even more fully:


Nina Katchadourian

I ended up using the Black&Blum Super Seed Lampshade.


Flipped inside-out it looks like ears, slightly bouncy ears. Perfect!

To make the putting on & wearing as uncomplicated as possible I decided to attach each one to a hairband, and in that way the singers could find its best balance-point on their head.

To increase their stability and the glue-able surface area I first attached a small circular straw base to the hairband. I used Gorrilla Glue as it foams and would spread into the straw. Then I glued a collar stud to the centre of the base, again using the foaming Gorilla Glue. The inside-out lampshade clipped on to the collar stud.

We tried them out in rehearsal but the ‘ears’ moved laterally on the stems of the collar studs and swung in front of the singers’ faces.

The Seed is made of polypropolene, perfect if you need to clean them, but with no absorbency, nothing that an adhesive can adhere to. Glue just lays on top. Also, their natural instinct was to re-take the shape they were intended to be.

I tried using a superglue to partially glue the ears to the hairband and to a greater area of the straw base but once the glue dried it became obvious that the ears needed to be allowed some movement and the superglue was just too brittle.

I had a long conversation in a hardware store and eventually left with Gorilla Gel. Apparently the gel is used in shoe repairs precisely because of its fexibility. I glued everything, (including my finger to my lip twice) then used foldback clips to keep the ends together and the backs of screw-in earrings to hold the polypropolene tight to the straw base and left them overnight.



In any piece of theatre there is a willing suspension of disbelief. It gets a bit meta when you see a performer do a costume change on stage. But this was the intent: During rehearsals for their previous work Things We Throw Away John had said he was working on an opera about putting on an opera “So anything could be in it, this conversation could be in it”

This song accompanied, heartbreakingly, three of the singers reading a transcript of an interview with Sr Antony about her time in Rome:

The Vespers scene takes shape loosely and organically, with the singers crossing the stage, placing props, picking up their head-dresses, fastening their cloaks and gathering some chairs in a circle. It isn’t wholly clear what’s going on. It sounds like there’s a radio on in the background, it sounds like a football match. In fact it is, it’s the 1948 World Cup final between Italy and Hungary. (Sr. Antony really got in to football while living in Italy).

The singers sat down, the lighting shifted and lowered and suddenly we were in a Vermeer:

Sarah Shine

Sarah Shine

L-R Sylvia O'Brien, Emma Nash, Rachel Croash, Sharon Carty, Sarah Shine

L-R Sylvia O’Brien, Emma Nash, Rachel Croash, Sharon Carty, Sarah Shine


It is a cliche in keeping with the Humbleblog, but truly, #Blessed


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Filed under Costume, Design, Opera, Theatre

Pictures at an Exhibition 2

Part Two: as a Chinese jar

So, a bit more about 12 Henrietta Street and why I called this post Pictures from an Exhibition. Two weeks after shooting there I was back to see an exhibition called ‘as a Chinese jar’ by a young artist Roisin Power Hackett. The title comes from a line of a poem by TS Eliot, Burnt Norton.

“Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.”

On her website Power Hackett says “These lines speak of the patterns on a Chinese jar and how they repeatedly seem to move, despite being fixed motifs. This can be taken as an example of the rhythms and energy in life and the world”.

TS Eliot photographed by Cecil Beaton

TS Eliot photographed by Cecil Beaton 1956

Further: ”In her paintings and performance Róisín questions peoples’ relationships with their surroundings, depicting an abundance of intricately patterned wallpapers or rugs and blurring the edges between the person, their clothes and their environment…

She portrays historical characters, both real and fictitious, as well as her peers. Her characters blend into their backgrounds, absorbed and influenced by their respective societal norms, they either almost disappear or fight to be seen and heard”.


‘Similitude – A Portrait of Emma’, oil on wallpaper

Similitude – A Portrait of Emma, oil on wallpaper

“In ‘as a Chinese jar’, Róisín focuses on the power relations between the genders as well as between the rich and the poor. Her work highlights how women are regularly oppressed, pressured into submission and made to fade into the wallpaper”.


As a Chinese jar, oil on wallpaper

As a Chinese jar, oil on wallpaper

This would suggest to me a visual equivalent of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s claustrophobic feminist gothic The Yellow Wallpaper.


The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman


The Red Room – actually more a madder rose if you want to be precise – is high-ceilinged and was slanted with sunlight.

In the centre of the room red wool hung from two chains attached to the ceiling, and attached to the wool were red booklets of Power Hackett’s poetry and a green label that said “Read Me”.


Read Me

Read Me


The artist was sitting in a corner of the room, partially covered by a repeat pattern fabric that also wallpapered one wall from dado rail to floor.

Most of the paintings are oil on wallpaper, although the wallpaper isn’t always apparent. Many were very lovely. Ironically, however, they work better as decorative pieces than as polemic. I’ll admit I didn’t see the performance part of the exhibition (Unless the artist’s monosyllabic presence was performance?) so perhaps I don’t have the full story, but I got no sense of struggle or silenced voices from the works.


Similitude – A Portrait of Shawnagh, oil on wallpaper

Similitude – A Portrait of Shawnagh, oil on wallpaper


The more contemporary portaits in particular seemed almost jolly, as if everything is fine now and the feminists have won.

Should this matter? Is it not enough to see lovely paintings in a lovely room? Well, given that Power Hackett’s intentions are so noble, yes it does matter.

Roisin Power Hackett is a very promising artist, and here is a highly resonant way in to women’s lives past and present.

Are women complicit in their own silencing? Where do domestic or private interiors fit in to all this? Are they the female voice given form or the method by which we gild our own cages?

I’d be really eager to see her develop her themes; to go really deep and let her paintings howl. In the words of TS Eliot again: “So the darkness shall be light, and the stillness the dancing”.

I wish I didn't know that this is a painting of Anna Karenina from the 2012 film directed by Joe Wright

I wish I didn’t know that this is a painting of Anna Karenina from the 2012 film directed by Joe Wright

12 Henrietta Street was open to the public as part of the Open House weekend.

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Filed under Art, Fabric, Feminism, Wallpaper

Pictures at an Exhibition

Part One: 12 Henrietta Street

A couple of weeks ago I styled the poster for the Opera Theatre Company’s upcoming production of Don Giovanni. Starring David Kempster, Kip Carroll shot the photos, and the location was number 12 Henrietta Street.


The Heritage Council describes Henrietta Street as “one of the first and finest planned Georgian streets in Dublin” and it served as a blueprint for much of Georgian Dublin as we now know it.

Number 12 was built in 1730 on a street so grand that, by 1792, it housed one archbishop; two bishops; four peers and four MPs.

Photo: William Murphy

Photo: William Murphy

Following the enactment of the Act of Union in 1801, (ie: The dissolution of the Irish Parliament) many of the politically significant residents of Dublin would move to London to take their seats in the new Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland. The socially significant went with.

Whole streets of grand Georgian dwellings were left in the hands of agents. House prices plummeted and the slum landlords cashed in, at a time when famine-stricken families were arriving into the city in droves, looking for work and a place to live.

By the 1890s many houses on Henrietta Street had been bought by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alderman Joseph M. Meade.

Under his direction the houses were divided up into the maximum possible number of tenement rooms.

The 1901 census records 11 separate dwellings within number 12, occupied by 73 people, ranging in ages from 1 to 76. These were for the most part semi-skilled and skilled workers: Carpenters, Iron Roofers, French Polishers and Upholsterers, Bridle Stitchers, one ex-Lancashire Fusilier, one 70-year old Nurse.


The house still bears the scars of the many divisions and sub-divisions required to provide accommodation to so many people.

Much of the restoration has involved stripping back those modifications, and allowing the bones of the house to be seen again.

Photo: Leona Lee Cully

Photo: Leona Lee Cully

Ian Lumley, the owner, and Built Environment & Heritage Officer for An Taisce, Ireland’s National Trust, rents out the house to film crews and for photo shoots and that money then gets ploughed back in to restoration. As it stands – made safe but still some distance from its original beauty – it is a very lovely, very photogenic space.


Photo: Ian Lumley

Photo: Ian Lumley

Beauty only goes so far, though. Sanitation was non-existent. Those stunning high ceilings and huge windows make the place a bitch to heat, the house becomes damp, maybe you lose a few roof tiles in a storm and, without constant maintenance, a building like this starts to crumble.

In 1913 seven people were killed when two tenement houses on Church Street collapsed.

In 1963 two people were killed when a four-storey house collapsed on Bolton Street. Ten days later another two people died when two buildings on Fenian Street collapsed. The solution?

Headline from Irish Independent, July 1963

Headline from Irish Independent, July 1963

And now here we are in 2015. Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose.


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Filed under Architecture, Dublin looking pretty, History

Lisbon Tile Nerd

I’m just back from a short break in Lisbon. Despite being moved to tears by the Alhambra, Granada, I thought I was pretty ambivalent about tiles. Turns out, not so much. Here’s some iPhone shots taken in the Graca and Alfama districts of Lisbon (apologies for the quality)













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Filed under Azulejo, Design, Lisbon, Portugal, Tiles, Travel

The God of Small Things


There’s an exhibition on right now in the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto that I would love to see. Patti Smith, punk-poet/rock goddess started out as a visual artist, and Camera Solo features around 70 of her black-and-white gelatin silver prints created from photos taken over the years with a vintage Land Polaroid camera.

The photos are grainy and impressionistic and reminded me of nothing more than my post-adolescent photography phase, a year-long homage to Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire and the fashion photography of Deborah Turbeville. By which I mean, and not in a pejorative sense, elegiac atmosphere=good, technical skill=also good but really, not always necessary.


In using such an old camera Patti Smith accepts the accidental. In an interview with CBC News Sophie Hackett, Assistant Curator of Photography at the AGO, talks about a “Totally accidental double exposure” of Carlo Molino’s bedroom “Overlaid with the pattern of iridescent leopard wallpaper along with some butterfly specimens that he had done, so it emanates like a dream coming up from the bed”.


What emanates most clearly is her fandom. Her photos fetishise the most humble possessions of her idols so Rimbaud’s cutlery somehow becomes more fork and spoon than any fork and spoon since. Bolano’s chair resonates with…something. Mapplethorpe’s slippers are simply tragic. By focusing on the everyday, Smith’s photos give us pause. I’m not entirely sure if they give us any fresh insight into the lives of their owners, any more than a reliquary tells us anything about the life of a saint. It is the tenderness with which they are executed that is telling, and it is their meditation on the private and the quotidian that appeals to me.


My focus recently has undergone a radical shift. Having been stupidly (gratefully) busy for the last six months of 2012 I am now mostly at home seeing things I haven’t noticed in months. And in the contraction of my exterior world I feel an expansion within.


Morning light in my apartment


The Lidl €5 bouquet


Silk Bias Cut Lingerie I’ve made myself, as intellectual exercise and treat for the senses


Rhubarb that Paddy, the last tenant but one, planted outside the bedroom window


Photo 1 (of Patti Smith) from

Photos 2, 3 & 4 (by Patti Smith) from

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Filed under Dublin looking pretty, Photography, Poster Art, Spring, Unemployment

December 1991 by David Hare



She drove me to Trouville in her black Volkswagen droptop
Leaving Paris early by the Peripherique and getting there by noon
There was frost even on the inside of the slanted back window
And the laughable so-called heater pretty soon

Gave out. The tyres rocked on the brittle brown concrete.
The car shook. The frozen air thickened like a knife,
Pellucid, and we left a trail of hot breath through Northern France.
As we travelled I thought “New life.”

New life. Deauville went by, with its curious timbered medieval
Travesty of a hotel. Thank God we’re not lunching there.
We prefer to head for white-tiled, cheap and cheerful,
A neon-lit, salty lunch at Les Vapeurs where

Our idea of what is good, pithy little peppered shrimp and oysters,
Dredged from the bed, sole, chips, beer, coincided. “Oh this is what she likes.”
The mud-brown beach stretching away beyond
And the silver sea motionless, trapped, unchanging, painted; estuaries, dykes

Small boats, dredgers, abandoned, the weather
Too raw for anyone, however calloused by experience, to pass red hands over rope.
This is the place, bracing then, where I find what it turns out I’ve been looking for,
By the sand, by the water, the what-you-don’t-even-know-you’re- missing: hope.


Happy New Year everybody!

Clodagh x

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Filed under Dublin looking pretty, January, Poetry, Reading

The Gate’s Ghosts

The Dublin Gate Theatre Studio was founded by Hilton Edwards and Mícheál Mac Liammoir in 1928 with a showing of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt at the Peacock Theatre and moved to its present home, part of the Georgian era Rotunda Hospital complex, opening with Goethe’s Faust in 1930.

A common thread (pun intended) in all the work I do is the disconnect between a final, polished product that the public sees, and the work that goes into creating that illusion and the places in which that work is done. ‘Behind the scenes’ can be a pretty ramshackle place.

The Gate is no exception: While the public areas are very elegant and the new extension is swoon inducingly lovely, other parts of the theatre are exhausted. But this is where the ghosts live and everyday treasures are created or unearthed.

I once found a small mirror in the back of a cupboard in a disused convent. It was rectangular, with a thin gold coloured frame and it still had a Woolworth’s price tag on the back. I can barely remember the film I was working on, but I remember wondering who had owned and hidden the mirror. Was she pretty? Did she miss that part of her life, a time when her vanity seemed natural, not a sin?

The Gate, like most theatres, has its ghosts. Apparently there’s one called The Grey Lady who is a benevolent presence, although I’d still rather not meet her.

Other ghosts take more tangible form in the corridor that leads from Wardrobe to a fire escape that overlooks one of the Rotunda Hospital car parks.

Many of these posters haven’t been archived. These are the originals and the only copies. To try to remove them would damage them, to leave them where they are is damaging them.  If you look closely you can see that they’ve been painted around or as below, have had electrical work superimposed.

There are plans to reproduce them however and hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later.

While the transience of live performance can seem terribly romantic the memory of these productions is worth preserving, however imperfectly.

Credits: Photo 1 from Scott Tallon Walker Architects

Photo 2 from

Photo 3 from Ian Grundy‘s Flickr Photostream. (Many thanks Ian)

All other photos by me.

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Filed under Dublin looking pretty, History, Illustration, Poster Art, Theatre