It’s getting harder and harder for me | Preview
Spoken Word: Parallel female alienation at the threshold of Ormeau Road
Dublin Fringe Festival 2017 • Boys school, Smock Alley Theatre • 10 -17 September
The second collaboration from the illustrious and independent pens of Sarah Baxter and Alice Malseed, follows their critically acclaimed Jellyfish with an equally lyrical effort, centered on Belfast’s Ormeau Road. Tracing the interrelated lives of three city women, It’s getting harder and harder for me promises a pointed yet darkly humorous indictment of the loneliness and drudgeries faced by its principal protagonists.
Going about their quotidian affairs both domestic and professional, lurching from crisis to crisis and boredom to boredom, all three women find their lives upended by an apocalyptic chance encounter on the way to a communal ballet class.
In anticipation of the release of their sophomore effort, writer and co-creator Alice Malseed, winner of the Wild Card Award at the Dublin Fringe’s 2015 edition, was kind enough to respond to several questions in order to expand on the play’s thematic content and inspirations:
How important is it, that it happens to be Belfast, and Ormeau Road in particular, which provides the setting for It’s getting harder and harder for me? In other words, do you see Belfast as being both something of a crossroads and at a crossroads?
Belfast is intrinsic to the play. The rhythm of speech, the nuance of language, the jarring and jumping and the way people naturally mess around with words and speech in the city is at the crux of what Sarah and I were thinking about when creating these characters. The physical location of Ormeau is really interesting to me – the mixes of classes, of nationalities, and the influxes of new people; from gentrifiers and the coffee shop crew, to the Roma community. It’s a really interesting mash up. I moved back to Belfast 3 years ago after 8 years away. I think you can always see things more clearly with a bit of distance. I don’t know if Belfast is at a crossroads or is a crossroads, I see it more as being at a threshold. Whether or not it will get over the threshold is another story.
You mention urban alienation quite a bit in the press release. Do you think the psychogeography of the urban space necessarily lends itself to alienation and loneliness? Or is it more subtly an indictment of how urban planning occurs all too often at the expense of the lived experiences of those who have to suffer it?
I definitely think that the psychogeography of cities lends itself to alienation and loneliness. How can people feel part of a city when they can’t afford a piece of it? Or when marketing images show only a certain type of person, i.e. clean, young, and affluent.
But the characters in It’s getting harder and harder for me experience this alienation and loneliness for a whole array of reasons; everything from being a stay-at-home housewife from a traditional community which has broken down, to drugs, alcohol and social media. Despite this, they’re full of a raw energy that I think is specific to Belfast. They’re not shying away telling the audience that life isn’t rosy, but they’re still great craic.
What other alienations and oppressions do you think the three protagonists face which the audience may readily identify in their own lives?
The play spans generations and ages, leading to a really well-rounded picture of the ideas in your previous question.
The biggest issue I wanted to explore, when writing the play, was the lives of women. The three protagonists are women, which means they’re more likely to be living in poverty, to be unemployed, and to be dealing with mental health issues than their male counterparts. The play is by no means ‘preachy’ about feminism, but it definitely speaks loudly and clearly about the lives of three women in Belfast today. Their experiences of alienation and oppression sit on a binary scale; I mean, they’re not homeless, they’re able-bodied, they have some degree of disposable income and they can all afford to go to the pub or to a cafe. But they’re also victims of successive governments who’ve done very little to invest in social infrastructure, and who’ve driven austerity. This isn’t a piece about that in isolation; it’s not a morbid piece. It’s a piece about three women living in Belfast who are linked because they live on the same road and they experience a collective and an individual trauma. But it’s got that frank, dark and playful Belfast humour. Despite the weight of the women’s worlds, it’s very dry-witted. Sarah’s directing style is incredibly playful, honest and fun.
Touring our previous work, Jellyfish, showed us that no matter what the story or the character’s experiences, people have all felt moments or times of isolation, unable to reach out or feel unheard. Those feelings are universal. That’s what we’re doing with It’s getting harder and harder for me.