Paula McFetridge, director of The Shedding of Skin, a new play inspired by women in conflict, talks to Catriona Doherty about the production
Paula McFetridge, artistic director of Belfast-based independent theatre Kabosh, is the driving force behind new production The Shedding of Skin, a powerful play about women around the world used as tools of war.
It explores a number of international issues and aims to dispel misconceptions about war.
“I suppose the key thing is, it looks at societal change, pre/post conflict,” Paula (55) says.
“It puts our conflict in the north into an international perspective — and I think it’s important that we try to find ways of doing that so that we can generate new conversations.
“It inevitably creates a better-informed empathy with victims.
“It also dispels a lot of the misconceptions of war, with the idea of the legacy of gender violence and how women have been used a tool of war for many years.”
The Shedding of Skin was a long time in the making, involving research and a number of key individuals.
On how it came about, Paula says: “Dr Lisa Fitzpatrick is a drama lecturer at the University of Ulster, and I was up doing a talk with her students on the work of Kabosh.
“Lisa had been researching sexual violence and conflict for many years, so she knows this is an area that Kabosh works in, that we commission new work that deals with the legacy of conflict.
“She was interested in looking at how her research work could be developed as a creative project and how we could share that with a broad range of audiences, so that we would humanise victims and try to redress the imbalance of the stories of conflict that are primarily told from a male perspective.
“That’s how the initial conversation happened, and that would have been about five-and-a-half years ago.”
Paula researched the idea further and commissioned playwright Vittoria Cafolla.
“Vittoria is an Armagh-born, Belfast-based playwright, who had done a lot of work looking at gender politics in the past.
“She is a very interesting playwright and a brilliant wordsmith,” Paula says.
“I linked her in with the International Red Cross and with various reports that had been done on gender violence and conflict. I linked her with The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation and a brilliant woman there, Roisin McGlone, who does a lot of work in this area.
“I also linked Vittoria in with some artists and academics who are internationally working in this field — those I have met through various local conferences from over the years that looked at the legacy of conflict and how you deal with the past.
“She then started interviewing various victims, began doing her own research, and then basically she wrote a script over a four-year period.
“That was how it came about. It’s interesting when you are creating a project like this, some projects just take longer than others, and this one did.
“We decided that it needed to be quite epic in scale. We wanted it to tell local, national and international stories. We wanted to create something that could jump in time and also something that could jump geographically, so it could cover loads of different conflicts.
“Vittoria created this piece and basically the concept of it is a young woman called Sam, who has Irish and Colombian parentage, wakens in a space between worlds.
“She finds herself confronted by the three furies.
“These furies carry stories of many women who are impacted by war from across the world.
“And they assist her to tell her story and they do that by sharing memories of conflict from the Balkans, Soviet Union, ancient Greece, Colombia and Ireland.”
Paula says it’s important to explore the issues raised by the play for numerous reasons.
“If you examine global politics at the moment, particularly when you look at what’s happening in Ukraine, in Israel and Palestine, I think we can feel so disengaged, so utterly overwhelmed by the devastation.
“We also can feel that we are misinformed because information and our education is being syphoned by somebody else.
“I think there is definitely an energy at the moment for people to feel more active and not passive in the face of what’s happening.
“The other thing is, when you look at statistics that came out during the pandemic, and you look at the rise of data that came out through the whole #MeToo campaign regarding gender violence particularly, I think there is a desire to engage with that, and there is a desire to be part of positive change.
“There is an international conversation to be had, and I think as an individual, you either want to be part of that or you don’t.
“There has to be a place that we curate and create, that provides a better understanding of the impact of war.
“Otherwise, what I think is going to continue to happen is that the cycle of war will return.
“Trauma will continue to rise to the surface because we haven’t created an informed conversation where issues around gender violence and the impact of war can be actively discussed from an informed perspective.”
Paula hopes The Shedding of Skin will inspire and entertain audiences and lead to change.
“I hope that people feel mobilised, that it changes their perspectives on things, that we all collectively bear witness to voices we haven’t heard before, and that it reminds us how brilliant live theatre is.
“It will hopefully help us change the conversation about how we deal with the legacy of our own conflict. I think that’s such a pertinent subject at the minute, but also, I think it is about changing conversations around gender violence.
“My big hope would be that we could share it more live here, and that we bring it further afield, and that through taking it to other conflict and post-conflict areas, that we have them deal with the legacy of conflict in an informed manner.
“When you start to look at somebody else’s conflict alongside your own, it gives you a new perspective.
“You see your own with fresh eyes. You don’t feel alone, you feel empowered.”
Paula urges people to buy a ticket and come along to see the play live.
“It’s a quality theatrical premiere created by local artists. It’s the best of local talent.
“Audiences will feel empowered, they will feel inspired, they will leave stimulated,” she says.
“Don’t let the subject matter put you off because it is sensitively dealt with.
“You will leave the theatre with a fire in your belly. It will give you a burst of positive energy.”
For details of The Shedding of Skin performances in Londonderry today and tomorrow, Armagh on June 8, and Belfast on June 14-19, see kabosh.net/production/the-shedding-of-skin