Grave Concerns: Opening Night

Katie O’Shaughnessy

Grave Concerns, written and directed by Dom Byrne, brought its opening night audience on an emotional journey through dark comedy and a stellar story. 

The play follows Matthew, played by Cameron Simpson, a Leaving Cert student who just lost his best friend. Matthew finds solace in a gospel choir while he works through his discomfort in the traditional solemn Irish funeral. 

He is joined by two friends; Luke (Ethan Fleming) and Rosy (Grace Collins). The three work through the pain together as they deal with questions of religion and sexuality. 

I was able to interview Dom Byrne and Grace Collins just before the show on opening night. They shared their thoughts on their individual process as director/writer and actor respectively, as well as their mood for opening night and adapting for no mics. 

Dom began his thought process for the play back in January of last year. “I knew it was something about funerals, but it was originally funeral directors, maybe like family funeral directors”. 

Funerals were on Dom’s mind throughout the entire process and to the final product. 

“It’s a theme I’ve noticed with funerals, sometimes they can be lazily put together. I just think a funeral is such a great opportunity to celebrate someone and make a really beautiful experience. It’s just a waste if it’s not a celebratory thing, it’s not a reflection on the person’s life”. 

The play revolved around the death of a friend, and how his deal ripples out and affects different people in the country town.

“He [Matthew] just isn’t happy with how his friend’s funeral is carried out. He gets in a bit of a, well not a scrap, but he has an argument with the local priest”. 

This relationship between Matthew and the priest is central to the story. The scenes between the two are poignant and emphasizes the kindness in the character of Matthew. 

“I started around May or June, the actual bones of the script. Then I kind of got a kick in the arse from DCU Drama because they had a deadline of 20th August”. The play was picked up by the DCU Drama committee and is the first of four productions that will perform in semester two. 

For Dom, the piece was always made for DCU Drama. He always knew he would be involved in the play in a greater capacity than just the writer, but did not plan to direct. 

“I originally didn’t want to direct it. But, I’ll probably get to be too much of a control freak anyway. I’d be too bossy and I’d probably be texting the director all the time saying ‘oh, it’s got to be like this, it’s got to be like that’”. 

He had never tried his hand at directing before and was challenged by the task. However, the play’s staging was simple and effective. The small stage in ‘The Venue’ at the U Building was used to utmost effect, with some scenes held on the ground below. 

“There is a learning curve, for sure. But I try to be as instinctive as possible. Sometimes, being instinctive can be linked with being lazy. I kind of use that as an excuse ‘yeah, I’m just being instinctive’”. 

“The main thing is just making sure that it’s a collaboration with the actors. I’m making sure they are creating stuff rather than me telling them”. 

“It would be just such a waste if I didn’t get their input. They’re so talented themselves”. 

I asked both Dom and Grace how they were feeling ahead of the opening night. Both were incredibly calm and ready to go. 

“I’m feeling good”, said Dom. “The performances were really good from the guys [during dress rehearsal]. We just had some technical bits to sort out”. 

“I’m excited. I can’t wait actually”, said Grace.  “I’m just excited to get to show people what I’ve been talking about for so long. I haven’t been on stage performing since I was like 15, before Covid. This is my reintroduction to theater. I actually can’t wait, I’ve never done a play before”. 

Both flagged the absence of mics, which seemed to me like an anxiety both were having. Grace said, ”Projecting tonight is a big thing. I would typically think that I’m a loud person, but I’m not loud enough”. 

They were right, the absence of mics was an issue. As an audience member, I missed key bits of Dom’s writing and didn’t understand pieces of Grace’s performance because I couldn’t hear them.

The second act was far better, all actors on stage increased the volume big time and the play was monumentally improved. 

Dom said before the show, “At least there’s no issues with mics because that can be a thing. A terrifying thing”. In the end, their absence undermined the performance, but the actors brought it back up.