Image of Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Brunel standing in front of the giant winch chains of the ss Great Eastern

In April 2005 O'Brien directed Structures, a play by Janet Goddard about the near-death experience of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and how his wife Mary, a highly structured lady, saved his life with her even more highly structured corset. It's a quirky show which uses street-dance, light,video, and extraordinary sound by Lin Sadler – it's a small-scale spectacular.

The brochure for a spring tour in 2006 is being developed and the venues are being finalised. A new producer to help with fund-raising is being sought.

It opened at the Elgiva Theatre, Chesham, on April 12th, and played there for a week as a showcase to raise funds for a tour around the route of the Great Western Railway, one of Brunel's major engineering achievements, in 2006, Brunel's bi-centenary year. We already have commitments from many West-Country theatres and plan workshops for school kids and students. But we're putting much effort into fund-raising – as small-scale theatre events always have to do.

Brunel is one of this country's great heroes and regarded with special affection by O'Brien and by Goddard as both their dads were engineers and loved Brunel.

IMAGINATIVE and thought provoking – that in a nutshell is what Structures is. This play, by Chesham playwright Janet Goddard, may not be to everyone's taste but I thought it was superb. It tells the story of a crisis in the life of Mary Brunel, wife of celebrated Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He accidentally swallows a coin while playing with his children in the nursery, the nett result being he is slowly suffocating to death. Meanwhile, downstairs Mary (played by the wonderful Jemma Churchill) tells the audience of her life with Brunel as she waits for news. She starts out quite reserved, every inch the Victorian lady, but over the course of the play her poise unravels – both mentally and physically as she sheds her clothes to reveal the corset of the title, which is needed to save Brunel. Jemma's performance is quite simply mesmerising. She commands the stage and the audience's attention from the start. Her co-stars also hit the right note. Saul Marron plays Samuel Taylor, a country lad who is helping the doctor to treat Brunel and gets a little too familiar with the lady of the house; and Peter Kyei (Robert the footman) who provides steady (and totally silent) support for his mistress. The remaining cast members are never seen, but their voices bring the characters to life. Robert Hulse, curator of The Engine House (The Brunel Museum) in Rotherhithe, portrays Brunel, while Nigel Anthony voices Dr Brodie.

Maureen O'Brien keeps the direction tight and gets the best out of the actors. But nothing could be achieved without the words provided by Janet, which are moving, vibrant and help bring alive an era of innovation. Estelle Sinkins, The Buckinghamshire Examiner

The Cutting

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Click for a larger image of the poster of "The Cutting" Click for a larger image of the poster of "The Cutting"

The Cutting was first produced at the Bush Theatre, London in 1992. It was nominated for the London Fringe Awards (Best New Play) and the London Evening Standard Awards (Best Newcomer). The following year it entered the repertoire of the National Theatre of Finland in Helsinki where it ran for a year, and had a separate production at the Kemi City Theatre in the north west of Finland in 1994. In 1996 there was an acclaimed Italian production at the Taormina Theatre Festival in Sicily and in 1997 another at Teatro Per L'Europa in Rome. The most recent production of The Cutting was in Austria at the Vienna Theatre Project in January 2004. There's an excellent German translation by Inge Greifenhagen (Agent Per Lauke) and the play has recently been optioned for an English-speaking feature film, script by Arend Agthe.

Judith is in prison on remand suspected of killing her mother. She is also in the prison of her own silence. From the moment the police came to question her she has not spoken. As a last resort, Alex, a psychiatrist who has had great success with mutism in chidren, is called in to make a psychiatric assessment. He battles against her entrenched and lonely silence until at last he breaks the dam. An extraordinary story pours out, her life revealed, her imprisonment broken. This woman speaks directly to another human being, probably for the first time in her life.

Be prepared to get excited … a gem of inner discovery … gripping theatre that should appeal to a huge audience – undoubtedly commercial but also uncompromisingly intelligent and unsentimentally moving. Mark Drouet, London Theatre Record

Compelling. Michael Billington, Herald Tribune

Rivetting two-hander, subtle and claustrophobic … a duet of fear and compassion. John Peter, Sunday Times

Like Beckett's "Not I" or Tom Murphy's "Bailegangaire", two other Irish writers concerned with the power of words to hint at an unvoicable story … Recommended. Jeremy Kingston, The Times

The appeal of a mystery without the gimmicks. John Gross, Sunday Telegraph

A remarkable first play. Mail on Sunday

SURPRISED BY JOY … O'Brien writes powerfully about the transfiguring nature of sexual love … how an oasis of joy in a dour life can be almost intolerable … strange shifts of power as doctor and patient change roles … not afraid of humour … A beautiful play beautifully done. Claire Bailey, What's On In London

Publications: ~ ISBN: 84002321X Oberon Books Paperback 2003

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