In Conversation: Joe Dowling and Enda Walsh

In Conversation: Joe Dowling and Enda Walsh

Olga Viso: I’m Olga Viso, director here at
the Center, and we’re so pleased that you could join us for the conversation today between
acclaimed Irish playwright, Enda Walsh, and the Twin Cities’ most beloved artistic director
of the Guthrie Theater, Joe Dowling. We actually have a surprise guest, an additional guest,
which is why you see three seats around the table there. We have in town the drama critic
for the Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole, who has come here to see the production at the Guthrie.
He’s here today and is going to participate in the conversation to talk about the theatre
in Ireland and beyond. The presentation of “The Walworth Farce” is actually the second
time we’ve presented the work of Enda Walsh here at the Walker Arts Center. In April,
we screened the new film, “Hunger,” which he co- wrote with Steve McQueen, a visual
artist. It was an incredible film and we did a series of screenings. It tells the story
of the hunger strike of Bobby Sands and in 2008 won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film
Festival. It’s really wonderful to be able to bring
Enda here for the first time in Minneapolis although we’ve presented his work here before. Enda is really among Ireland’s most successful
and most widely performed contemporary playwrights, and his plays have contributed considerably
to the ongoing interest in new Irish theatrical writing around the world. His plays have been
performed world-wide and they’ve been translated into 20 different languages. In addition to “The Walworth Farce,” his plays
include “Disco Pigs,” “Bedbound,” “Small Things,” “Chatroom,” and his most recent work, “The
New Electric Ballroom,” opens in New York this week. Enda has received four Edinburgh Fringe First
Awards as well as Critic’s Choice Award and the Edinburgh Herald Archangel Award for his
contribution to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In addition to his plays, he’s written two
radio plays and several screen plays and he is currently under commission to write two
more films: an adaptation of the children’s story “Island of the Aunts” by Eva Ibbotson,
and a biography of the singer Dusty Springfield, which I’m sure Joe will talk to Enda about. Enda will be available after the talk at 1:30
outside, to sign his most recent book, which we have for sale here at the shop which has
“The Walworth Farce” as well as “The New Electric Ballroom.” Joe Dowling, of course, is so familiar to
so many of us here in the Twin Cities, has been the Guthrie’s artistic director since
1995, and he’s directed more than 35 Guthrie productions during his tenure, including Brian
Friel’s “Faith Healer” in which he’s currently making his American acting debut. It’s really
been a busy week for Joe and we’re just thrilled that he took the time to be with us today
to engage in this conversation. Other directorial credits for Joe include
for the Broadway Stage as well as prominent theatres across the U.S., England, and Ireland.
Joe has served as artistic director of the Abbey Theatre, the Abbey Second Stage, the
Peacock theatre, the Irish Theatre Company, and the Gaiety. He also founded the Young
Abbey, which is Ireland’s first theater-in-education group, as well as the Gaiety School of Acting,
which is Ireland’s premiere drama school. Incredible talents, and among all of that
he holds four honorary doctorates and is a member of the Artistic Directorate of the
Globe Theatre in London. Under Joe’s leadership, his vision for the new Guthrie Theater became
a reality when the current three theater complex opened on the Mississippi River in 2006. In addition, we have, as I mentioned, Fintan
O’Toole who’s joined us today. Fintan is a columnist, assistant editor, and drama critic
for The Irish Times and he’s been there since 1998. He was also drama critic for the New
York Daily News from 1997 to 2001. He’s a literary critic, historical writer, and a
political commentator who’s just been highly published. So, we’re thrilled to bring these
three individuals together to talk about not only the “Walworth Farce,” but Irish theater
and beyond. So, please join me in welcoming Enda Walsh, Joe Dowling and Fintan O’Toole. [applause] Joe Dowling: Thank you very much Olga, it’s
a great pleasure for me to be back on Vinyl in Place after an absence of some years and
to welcome two really great guests. Enda Walsh, of course, as Olga says one of the really
great younger Irish playwrights and terrific to have you here, Enda, as well with “Walworth
Farce.” And Fintan O’Toole, an old friend and colleague from Dublin, now Deputy Editor
of the “Irish Times” and in his role as drama critic he and I sparred on many occasions
and hopefully today we might get a few of those sparks going again, you never know,
you never know. [laughs] Good that you’re sitting between us, yes. Fintan O’Toole: Yeah. Joe: But, I mean obviously we’re here today
because of Enda and the “Walworth Farce” and having seen the play in New York, I mean it’s,
it’s an extraordinary piece of work, Fintan, you’ve seen it as well, it’s an extraordinary
piece of work and so much that you write and that the new generation of Irish writers write
in a way, how much does it draw on what has gone before because you certainly subvert
many of the kind of shibboleths and ideas that were sort of hugely important in the
kind of classical Irish drama and how much is that, are you conscious of that or how
much of that is just? Enda Walsh: I have done, but I’m not conscious
of it, I mean, I’m a great, I love Irish theater, you know, I’m very, very influenced by a number
of playwrights you know throughout our history. So, it’s in your DNA and it’s in your education
and the things that you love and all that type of thing. I didn’t personally go out
to, but you know you’re always going to have echoes of other playwrights. When you sit
down in front of a piece of paper or a laptop, you know you’re like, you know it sounds so
naff, but you feel like you are not alone that there are many, many writers around you.
And I do feel like that and I do feel that there’s echoes in it. I write fast so the
play wrote in about four weeks and I got, so I feel completely disconnected to the work
as soon as I’ve written it. It’s gone you know so I can look at it very objectively,
but I can see echoes of many, many playwrights in there and images I suppose from Irish theater
that we would know. The man at the door, the girl at the door whatever is a wonderful image
in Irish theater again and again and again. I do a lot of work in Germany and they’re
always roaring, laughing and they’re always going, “What is this man at the door thing
and woman at the door? And this family drama stuff?” You know they’re just like, “That’s
hilarious.” I was going, “Well, that’s just our thing. We you know, we annihilate the
family, you know, and it’s all the big story.” Fintan: But, in the old days, it would have
been the man at the half door. So at least we’ve progressed to a full door now, yeah. Enda: As soon as we can get the old sliding
door, then we know we’re in the twenty first century. Fintan: Then, we’ll really be, we’ll definitely
be in the twenty first century. Joe: But you’re, you say that these echoes
are there, but you’re not conscious of them But I think you know, if you look at your
work, at Martin McDonough’s work, it is so, you couldn’t but be Irish writers, isn’t that
true, would you say so, Fintan? Fintan: Oh yeah, I wrote an absolutely brilliant
essay about fifteen years ago, which… [laughter] Joe: I’ve read it online, yeah. Fintan: You must’ve read it, of course you’ve
read it, yeah. Which really explains in absolutely convincing detail why Anna couldn’t exist,
you know, quietly, why this era of Irish drama was over, you know. And actually it was about
how we were used to, we’re spoiled in Ireland because we’re used to sort of… here’s the
next great playwright coming along every couple of years. And I explained to my own complete
satisfaction really, why this really, that was a version of the nature of a certain kind
of Irish culture in a certain American society and it was over. And I’m really happy to say
I was completely wrong. [laughs] It was just absolutely wrong. Joe: Brilliant, but wrong. Fintan: Yeah, yeah. And it is kind of remarkable
the continuity, you know. And it’s not a continuity of the baton being passed on in some kind
of straight line, but it’s just bouncing off of the past that is continually there. And
I think part of it is that, in a way, is the absence of a single fixed tradition. That
may sound paradoxical, but if you have a single fixed tradition, then you almost have to either
reject it or be a part of it. You have to make that choice. And for historical reasons,
Irish theater and Irish play-writing – that’s supposedly what we’re talking about here
– is much more angular than that. Partly because of its relationship with England, historically.
The great Irish playwright tradition, by and large, happened in London. You know, going
back to George Farquhar, through Sheridon, through Shaw, through Oscar Wilde… Of course,
you’re also directing at the moment, here in [inaudible 0:10:04] … It had that relationship with England, and
then you had a reinvention around the turn of the 19th century. You had the various conscious
attempts to find an Irish theater rooted in Ireland. Which, of course, set up this strange
sense of, “Who’s Irish?” Is Shaw Irish anymore? What about Sheridon? What about Wilde? And
this continues! Is Beckett Irish? Because he’s Irish, he writes in French. [inaudible
0:10:33] . Joe: If they’re successful, they’re Irish. Fintan: [laughs] Precisely. And you have this
kind of… Joe: But the interesting thing, too, though…
I think that’s a really interesting point about the relationship with London. And you
live in London, now… Enda: Yeah. Joe: And the play “Walworth Farce” is set
in London, and yet it’s a real Irish play. And I’m reminded – and it’s a very different
play – but I’m reminded of Tom Murphy’s “Whistle In the Dark.” Enda: Yeah. Joe: The Irish family transplanted to England.
Again, that continuity…though what you’ve done with this because of the way you’ve used
this whole “Farce” thing, which is not an Irish tradition. Enda: Well, there’s huge traditions in Irish
of the immigrant play, isn’t there? There’s many, many, many plays. The guys, the builders,
the broad and all that other thing. “Whistle in the Dark” and all of that. And I knew,
you know, I knew sitting that I had to write that play. You know, it is a sort of right
of passage play to write, isn’t it? You have to go about doing it. But… I really, really
dislike a lot of those plays. The [inaudible 0:11:34] sort of plays of guys sitting in
pubs and just chatting to one another and going, “Ay, Jesus. If only I was back home
in the green,” and all that type of thing. And they can be quite mawkish. The really
great one, Tom, Tom is like a hero of mine, Tom Murphy, and he’s an influence to all my
generation. But, you know, I had to embrace that and go, “What is it? What is that type
of play? And what is that genre of play?” So, after reading them and all that type of
thing, I thought, “Well, I’ll try my hand in it,” because there is something in it,
you know. There’s great lonesomeness there, and dislocation, and all this type of thing.
And, of course, there’s this lovely, this very silent, you know, lonesome drama in it.
A real heart, a real aching and yearning and you know, that I wanted to do. I don’t have
any of those sensibilities myself, as a person. [laughs] You know, I tend to like, a sort
of, “Phhbbbt,” after myself. Which is a reason enough to actually , to investigate them and
investigate those characters and try and feel that for them and, you know, let it on its
way. But, the whole sort of “Farce” element thing was a complete shock that it turned
out the way it turned out. Joe: But, the whole other part of “Walworth
Farce” which is so intrinsically Irish and you take it to a whole new level is the whole
question of storytelling. Because storytelling is so intrinsic to the Irish culture. And
yet, you take it in the play to a level where it’s actually quite dangerous, because while
it’s a very funny play, it’s also extremely dark in so many of those areas, and Irish
stories tend to be… Enda: God, I was sort of, I was drinking in
the Sackful Lounge and about like a month ago which is a pub in Dublin for late at night
and there was a guy beside me, you know that sort of thing and he was really, really, really
in a dark place. I think he was drinking since about twelve. And we came in after you know
opening up the new electric ballroom in the peacock and I knew that I was about to just
hear his story. You know that’s where, I was about to arrive you know, but from a really,
really harsh sort of place. But, it was that sort of brooding thing in the corner that
there’s, you know it was going to be big stuff, it was always going to be, you know he was
going to proclaim something. And Irish people by Jesus love sort of proclaiming like that
and history and family and where we are and you know politics and all that type of thing
and sure enough you know, like and I live in London now and you know I forget about
it and you go back and you go, “God, this is quite raw, this is really, this is big
stuff.” I mean it was the drink talking of course,
you know as well. But, like it was a very sort of, it was a real, real, real, real,
fear and big Irish moment for me. I was like reminded of this person in the room who’s
just about to go, right? And he just annihilated me because now I don’t have an Irish accent,
I’m talking as a Londoner so he just went into the whole thing of identity. And why
am I over there? And how can you call yourself sort of an Irish writer when you’re over there
and you have this sort of, you have this English twang to your accent? So, he completely, he
was holding onto the, you know the history of Ireland and then fucking attacking me. Joe: But, you know, you were talking Fintan,
earlier of the no fixed tradition and that somehow or other, but there are dangers that
are there also which Enda has avoided and I think you know Connie MacPherson has avoided
and others, of getting rooted in that history and in that tradition. It’s a really dangerous
line you walk between honoring somehow the kind of the righteous of the past and what
has happened and actually creating something new and you know it’s an interesting thing
to watch in your work and in the others. Fintan: Well, it is actually fascinating because
you know, there’s no doubt about the fact that there’s, it’s both a source of great
strength I’d imagine as it is to say, “You’re not alone,” but also, backing along, you know,
you’ve got all these ghosts brooding around you and there is this sense of how can you
recreate the territory. And I think it’s absolutely remarkable, I think it is an incredible achievement
by Enda and handful of other people there over the last decade really to completely
contradict my own sense, you know, that actually we’ve kind of reached a certain point where
this sort of literary tradition of Irish theater was no longer adequate and was no longer capable
of sustaining itself. And in fact, it has sustained itself, and it’s sustained itself
in really interesting ways, actually. And one of the ways I think, and maybe this is
part of the way that the escape has been possible is that because you’ve had this very fractured
sense of a tradition, you have these huge figures, you know you’ve always got a great,
male deities up there, but a lot of their work, very strangely has been unproduceable
in Ireland. So, for example, William Butler Yeats, you
know, perhaps the greatest poet of the twentieth century, the key founding figure in the Abbey
of which you know you worked as Senior Director for so long, most of Yeats’ plays are completely
unproduced and some could argue unproduceable. Joe: Unstageable. Fintan: But, they’ve also, I think have had
a huge influence on younger writers. Not necessarily that they’re going to be looking to read Yeats
and say, “OK, I can write poetry like Yeats,” because you don’t, but there’s really two
ways of doing theater to be absolutely crude and generalistic about it. One is to enact,
you know to play out in front of you a story and the other is to evoke. And I mean it’s
very interesting that you’re doing “Faith Healer,” which I suppose is a classic piece
of evocation. And the evocative tradition that is Yeats, you know, the opening line
of one of Yeats’ plays is “I call to the eye of the mind,” and you know that’s summing
up that poetic tradition, it is also there but kind of buried because the mainstream
tradition has been a sort of naturalistic one. And I think whether consciously or unconsciously
there’s a great kind of resource for Irish writers in being able to sort of rediscover
or bring together these different strands of Irish theater and in doing that it’s because
you don’t just have this one string; you can draw on tradition and at the same time, be
subversive of a lot of what’s gone before. And I think, also, the very simple thing,
which is humor. Your work, it’s incredibly funny. And the antic spirit of humor means
that you just can’t allow yourself to get caught up in reverence for a tradition. So usually, when a tradition is being used,
say in MacDonald’s work or in Enda’s or wherever, it’s being used with that great anarchic,
comic spirit, where it’s being parodied and at the same time being shaped and reshaped,
and I think that’s a lot of the energy comes from that. Enda: Whenever we’re in the rehearsal room
it sort of best, you always get a sense… because I look at it and I think that it’s
an incredibly traditional play. It’s a very, very traditional play. But, an abstraction
sort of happens and you can actually watch that sort of abstraction. But it is, effectively,
looking at a sort of a realistic sketch of something, and then begin to see it just break
and fold… disjoint and all that sort of thing, and fracture and all that other thing;
rereferencing itself and folding in on itself until it’s like… poof, it’s nothing, you
know? Like it doesn’t exist. Joe: You came into theater… it wasn’t in
your family background was it? Enda: No. Well, my Ma acted years and years
ago, but before I came around. There’s six in the family, so before I came around she
had said, “I’m getting out of the theater; there’s too many drinkers.” [laughter] Enda: So she got out of the theater. No, I
don’t… Joe: So, how did it happen? What was the impetus? Enda: Well, I went to a community school,
Kilbarrack in North Dublin, and two of my teachers were great writers, but they were
starting their career. And when I think about it, they were only about 24, 25, when they
were teaching me. They were kids. Joe: One of them was Roddy Doyle? Enda: Roddy Doyle, the novelist; and Paul
Mercier who’s had a massive influence, who’s an amazing, and I think, a great, great playwright. Joe: Brilliant theater practitioner as well.
Brilliant. Enda: Oh, so great. And so they had a huge
influence on me, particularly Paul. But, they were good guys. They were always really good
guys. And really sort of naively I finished college and studied “communications and right
minds,” wanting to be a filmmaker in a time when there was no film in Ireland. I liken
to it, it was sort of like training in dentistry in a country where people don’t have any teeth.
[laughter] Enda: But, it was a really, really stupid
thing to be doing. But anyway, I knew I wanted to make stuff. I wanted to be in a band, and
I was in a band. I sang and all that. But, I just wanted to say something, and I suppose
theater was the cheapest thing to do. And I ended up down in Cork, working on the Trisco
stage with a company where we gave ourselves two years; lived on Guinness and crisps, and
you know, lived in abject poverty on schemes and on the dough. But, I was quite brave and
brilliantly sort of naive, and a little bit honest. We used to do this devised work, and I was
the “writer” of the group of 15, the designated writer because I liked spending more time
by myself than any of the rest of us. Joe: Coming from a family of six, I can understand
why. Enda: [laughs] We used to produce this terrible
work, absolutely appalling work. But, I used to come out to the audience afterward and
I’d go, “That was terrible. I know it was terrible. Why was it terrible?” [laughter] Enda: And over two years, they actually were
our drama turk, they shaped us… Joe: I just want to warn the audience, that
will not be something we’ll be taking up at the Guthrie, I assure you. [laughter] Enda: You could fly me over. I’ll do it for
you. “Right, ladies and gentleman?” [laughs] Fintan: You’re really putting theater critics
out of work there; I have to object. If you want the audience to tell you why it was terrible,
why have theater critics? [laughter] Joe: Well, nowadays, we have blogs, they tell
us in no uncertain terms. Enda: This is pre-blog. Joe: I’m interested, and this is a very exclusively
Irish conversation when I say, here we are, three Dubliners, and, you went to Cork. Enda: Yeah, I did go to Cork. Which is like
going to China. Joe: Well, there’s a kind of a betrayal there,
that’s really kind of serious. [laughter] Enda: Well, I didn’t know, and I didn’t realize
what Cork was until I arrived down there. I’d never been there before and I went, excuse
my language, “Why the fuck are people talking like this?” They had the maddest accent. I
was going, “I have no idea what they’re saying,” and it’s only two and a half hours on the
train or whatever it is. But, it was wonderful for me, because I had aspirations of being
a writer, but I was no writer, and aspirations of making theater, but I was no theater maker.
But, it was sort of like trying to learn a dialect. And I wrote this very naive play called “The
Ginger Ale Boy” about a ventriloquist who has a nervous breakdown. And I played the
part [inaudible 0:22:57] . But, it actually had something. It was a terrible, terrible
piece in many ways, but it had something in it. And then I wrote “Disco Pigs” directly afterward,
which was my dialogue with Cork about, “Why are you talking like that?” [laughter] Enda: “Why do you always see yourself as the
smaller person?” It’s a piece about identity and about striving for something bigger than
you are. Cork, as the second city in Ireland, dramatically, it’s very interesting for a
playwright. The city itself, the shape of it is very interesting. The fact that it sort
of sits in a basin, effectively, and there’re lots of houses around it and it’s just sort
of down here, and it feels quite sort of damp. And the people are aggressive. Joe: And a great literary tradition too, with
Sean O’Faolain, and Frank O’Connor. Enda: Yes. Joe: I mean, the rivalry between Dublin and
Cork is more manufactured than real, but it’s there. Enda: Great attitude. I suppose it’s the equivalent
of… it’s probably Ireland’s Texas, isn’t it? It’s that type of carry on. [laughter] Joe: Somebody will have to help me with that
reference. [laughter] Enda: I just plucked that out of nowhere,
it doesn’t mean anything. I’m just going to throw it. Fintan: It’s the oil wells. Joe: It’s the oil wells in Cork. [laughs]
There’s another point that we were talking about backstage too: the lack of opportunity
that you found as a young person wanting to get into theater. I’m a generation before
you, and when I started in the Irish theater, you either got into the Abbey Theater as an
actor, or you didn’t work. That was it; there were no other alternatives. Or you got into
the radio, there was a repertory company in the radio. And those two entities were literally all
that there was before subsidy really took hold with the Gate. And it’s a whole different
scene now. That’s why I was surprised in a way that someone of your generation didn’t
have more opportunities in Dublin. I mean, you’ve watched, Fintan, the evolution
of theater over the last 25 years, and it has shifted dramatically, hasn’t it? I mean,
Irish theater. Fintan: Oh yeah. I mean, you’re right, I suppose
it’s become a lot less institutionalized. I know you were obviously part of that process
yourself, in terms of the very painful process of changing the Abbey. There was a link, I
suppose, between the way in which you have these state sponsored institutions; you either
have the state radio company which had a repertory, or you had the Abbey which was the national
theater, which had a full-time repertory company. Which was never big enough. It was like a
kind of Soviet Union model, but without the money. Joe: [laughs] With the Polit Bureau. Fintan: With the Polit Bureau, so you have
all of the drawbacks of having this permanent company. Usually you had to go on about 40
actors, didn’t you? Joe: With 40 actors on salary, yes. Fintan: Which, for running two theaters permanently,
isn’t easy. Some of it was wonderful. I suppose it’s very hard for Americans to understand.
I remember when I came here first, when I was in New York, someone asked me about Galloway.
And I said, “Well, Galloway’s on the other side of Ireland.” And he said to me, “So, how long does it take
you to get there?” And I said, “Well, it takes about two and
a half, three hours.” He said, “You call that a country?” [laughter] Fintan: So to you, it’s so strange, so Enda
was talking about somewhere that’s two and a half hours away on the train, and he doesn’t
know how they speak. It’s a small place, and one of the extraordinary drawbacks of Irish
theatre, when I would have started writing about, and going to Irish theatre first, was,
it really was effectively a Dublin based institution. And effectively, in professional terms, it
was two places, it was The Abbey, and The Gate. The Gate was run by the two greats.
It was started by a gay couple, the great actor Micheal Mac Liammoir, and the director
Hilton Edwards. The Abbey was kind of the national theatre, with the traditions of O’Casey,
Yates and Lady Gregory. So, they were conventionally knows as Sodom and Begorrah. [laughter] Fintan: That was what you had, it was that
very enclosed little world, which of course, also did produce extraordinary work, almost
because of the enclosure, because of the sense that this was local. And what you were saying
on stage resonated very immediately with the audience, or could do if it was powerful enough.
But, I think the great shift was the realization that there was more to Ireland than Dublin,
and Cup Cork, Galway in the West becoming particularly important. Enda has been working
with The Druid Theatre Company there, which was a really important development. It’s hard to imagine this, you’re talking
about this place that has this great theatrical tradition. Galway, which is a significant
city in Ireland, had never in its history, had a professional theatre company, until
the 1970s. So, you get both the poverty that comes out of that, which itself can be extraordinary
– because with the poverty, what do you do – you say, well, what have we got. We’ve
got this weird fellow down from Dublin, who doesn’t know how we speak, but has these ideas,
who’s interested in, the language becomes important. If you don’t have the big institutions,
what have you got – you’ve got language. So, you deal with what you have. But, as that
begins to change, you have this sense of excitement, of novelty, of just beginning to open up.
You have Friel setting up The Field Day Company in Derry, you have this relationship between
writers and theatres beginning to emerge. It’s an incredibly interesting period I think. In many ways, oddly, I think that energy has
carried through, that in a way you’re still working off that reinvention that was happening
from the late 70s into the 1980s. Oddly, again, you get this weird continuity, but it’s a
continuity of dislocation. Things have never settled down sufficiently, to have this big,
overarching, mainstream. Everybody still has to reinvent, and every
time they come to try and do it. What’s fascinating to me is, what Enda’s just been talking about,
what’s he listening to, he’s listening to the way people speak. Language remains at
the absolute core of Irish theatre. Why I thought this wouldn’t last is because theatre’s
becoming much more physical, much more visual, and all of those elements have come in to
Irish theatre. It was not accidental. Yeats said at one point he wished he could put his
actors in barrels, to stop them from gesticulating, and they would speak his lines beautifully.
And then Beckett came along, and actually put them in barrels. [laughter] Fintan: There is a very anti-physical tradition
in Irish theatre, and that’s been reversed. You’ll soon see in The Walworth Farce, it’s
a very physical piece of work, as well. But, one of the amazing things is you’ve got the
physicality, and yet you still have the obsession with language, as a self-conscious thing.
In “The Walworth Farce,” the people as they’re speaking, they’re conscious of the way they’re
speaking themselves, aren’t they. Enda: They are. Joe: That’s our tradition from sort of Shannon
Keyes sort of people standing up in hedges and in like telling a story, the storyteller
in the village and things like that. It’s. Fintan: It’s also fascinating to me because
you talk about Derry and Field Day and the north-south divide being, I mean, the major
dominant thing of twentieth century Ireland is the division of Ireland in the 1920s and
what had resulted from that and much of the dynamic, indeed of, you know if you look at
O’Casey and you look at Thuta Freeler, there’s a dynamic that goes about the politics. But,
your work sort of just assumes the politics of Ireland in a way without actually referring
to it. It’s a different, again a different generation thing I think that we’re not as
conscious now of those divisions that really did motivate a great deal of Irish literature
through the years. You know the north doesn’t really feature in your work, does it? Enda: It doesn’t, but I mean playwrights don’t
sort of live sort of like outside, you know we live in the community, sort of everything
is historically and socially, it’s all sort of implicit in you I suppose. You know it’s
all in you and it’s going to come out in some sort of way in sort of the strains and the
work and the characters and the anger and whatever the sort of love or their loss or
whatever. You know that it’s written in a particular sort of period of time. I wrote
a play called, “Bedbound,” and I started looking back at it and going, “Oh my God, why?” It
was sort of like, in fairness it was about this sort of, you know I can sort of see it
now it felt like you know it was, it was meant to be a play about me and my dad and it was
effectively about me and my dad sort of relationship. But, the energy and the sort of and what it
was was more about the beginning of the Celtic Tiger or was the sort of you know it was this
man who just, who builds himself up and just wants more money and creates a universe and
has himself as center of a universe and you know like, just annihilates everything and
must sort of keep on sort of proclaiming how wonderful and how brilliant his world is and
what he’s created and all this sort of thing. But, he feels a very small man and he’s shouting
this sort of out all about this type of thing and it all crumbles of course, all this type
of thing. But, you know what I mean? Yeah, my playwrights live in a society and
live in, you know, I can’t, I can’t write sort of polemic, I can’t write sort of anything
like that. Although I know it will sort of come out in some sort of way. Joe: But, it’s interesting because that period
you’re talking about from the late seventies, early eighties, which was some probably, the
worst period in terms of the violence in Northern Ireland, and the issues about how this was
ever going to be resolved, and the hunger strike which I know you’ve dealt with in the
movie and so on. And writers sort of almost routinely felt it necessary to write their
Northern play. And we got a lot of really bad writing, too close to the time, and too.
And somehow or other your generation and when you came along, it was kind of liberating
that in fact these were no longer going to be the, you know the issues, they’re there,
as you say, they’re intrinsic, but it’s much more free. Enda: But, it’s also our times, I look at
sort of English theater and they have this great, I mean this thing of doing verbatim
theater of doing like political theater or David Harr, you know this is very, you know,
and we don’t, we don’t, we don’t really have, we don’t have that. We don’t have that. It’s
too sort of, it’s too, it feels too soon or, to talk about it, you know to talk about it
in that way and that’s sort of evocative sort of political art, it feels too, it’s too soon,
all right? Fintan: Yeah, I think there’s a big element
to that I mean, but again it’s partly to do with the lack of a realistic tradition that
and again, you know this because you’ve directed O’Casey so wonderfully, you know, our social
realism keeps getting pulled into the man at the door, the language, the farce, all
of those kind of things operate within it. I’ve often talked about this because it’s,
it goes against the grain of what people tend to think about Irish theater, they think it’s
all about Ireland, you know? And of course in a way it is, you know, we’re, and we probably
talk about Ireland but the point of Irish theater is the theater bit that actually what
is implicit in it is this kind of playful, Ludic spirit, which is why we’re talking about
it. That’s why it has a sort of international reputation is that it keeps spinning off,
away from the subject, you know. So, just to give you an example, right? Brian
Friel, whom Joe’s performing here, wonderfully, at the moment. Friel lived on the border between
Northern Ireland, and still does, between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Grew up
in Northern Ireland, is absolutely deeply shaped by the conflict, by everything around
the conflict. He’s, in some ways, a very political man, a very traditional Irish nationalist
in a lot of ways. He made one attempt to write a contemporary
play about the conflict, which was a kind of response to a particular infamous incident
in the conflict, called Bloody Sunday, where the British Army opened fire on demonstrators
on the streets of Derry and killed 14 people. Friel wrote a play called “Freedom of the
City,” and you think, OK, this is the Derry playwright. This is, you know, the great spokesman
for nationalist Ireland is now writing the play about this atrocity. And what’s the play
about? The play’s about… well, I can’t really write a play about it because who knows what
happened, anyway? You know? So, his instinct is to write a political play…
almost a polemical play, for once in his life. But the theatricality takes over. It’s about
language. It’s about, you know, how can we represent, in language, the truth behind the
ways in which this is perceived? So, I suppose my point is simply that you could say that
one of the great weaknesses of Irish theater actually is that thing, you know? We don’t
have that English tradition of… Joe: No. Fintan: …of being able to intervene directly
in political affairs. And it is a weakness. And I think it’s been a particular weakness
over the years of the Celtic Tiger. So, we’ve just been through this boom time, you know,
when we were the great poster-child for free market globalization around the world. This
huge kind of transformation of Ireland into this very, very wealthy, globalized society.
We’re now reverting, thankfully, back to the 19th century, which is going to be interesting… Joe: [inaudible 0:37:18] Fintan: Yeah, but there are no Celtic Tiger
plays, or no successful Celtic Tiger plays. We actually couldn’t write about it because
of this thing about the closeness but also because when anybody sets out to start writing
at the… the impulse is so metaphorical… Joe: It is, yeah. Fintan: …that someone immediately starts
thinking “maybe this could be a version of ‘Antigone'” or, you know, maybe this is like
“I’m going to use the Irish Sagas to try to…” you know? Just, I don’t know, just actually
write a play about, you know, somebody working in an IT factory. No, I can’t really do that. Enda: And even “Pass Machine,” even “Pass
Machine” and “Studs,” when you think of that, I mean, written at the time of the Great Recession,
like in the 1980s. And the wonderful… but it’s metaphor, right? I mean, it is, and it’s
[inaudible 0:38:02] and it’s buried there. Joe: Yeah. I think the best political play
written in Ireland in the last 50 years is Brian Friel’s “Translations.” Which is a play
that absolutely explains, in very clear and very beautiful terms, the origins of the conflict
in a way that, if he had written it in a more contemporary vein, people would have found
either polemic or would have been arguing the… Enda: Yeah. Joe: …but he takes it back to 1832 and says
the two things that changed Ireland in the middle of the 19th century. One was the ordinance
survey maps, changing the names of the places and therefore destroying tradition that had
come before. And the second was the introduction of primary education for all children, and
all taught through English. And suddenly he… I think you were probably there, too. The
first night in Derry, this play, in many ways a deeply subversive play, played in the guild
hall in Derry, which was the seat of Unionist power in Northern Ireland, and of course gerrymandered
power. And to watch the walls of that place crumble under this play was an extraordinary
event in Irish history, let alone in Irish theater. And yet, it’s a play that goes way
beyond Ireland. I mean, it’s done in every culture in the world. So, again, you’re back to that thing. It’s
taking some distance, and it’s also creating a kind of a really metaphorical look at who
we are, and what has created us, rather than “Freedom of the City” where he tried to write
the burning… he said he wrote it in a kind of a burning anger as a result of the event
that took place, and also the report, the Widgery Report… Enda: Yes. Joe: …that actually whitewashed the whole
event. Enda: Yeah. Joe: Politics always comes up eventually,
doesn’t it? When Irish people get together. Fintan: Oh it does; and of course what’s fascinating…
Translations, one of the reasons Translations is so powerful is that it’s about the politics
of language. What you come back to again and again in Irish playwrighting is that the language
itself is political. The forms in which we express ourselves contain, either consciously
or, more often, subconsciously, a whole rake of things about identity, about place, about
dislocation. Even the way Enda talked about his accent, or people talked to him about
his accent, “Can you really be an Irish playwright if you’ve got a little bit of English in your
accent?” In one way ridiculous. But, what makes it
powerful theatrically is that language then becomes a medium in which a whole range of
other things get wrapped up. And then, I think you get out of that then, and you get the
impossibility of a realistic theater. Because you can’t get a slice of life when people
are both speaking and thinking about the way they’re speaking at the same time. So, what you get is a kind of inbuilt playfulness,
an inbuilt self- consciousness, a tendency towards parody, towards pastiche sometimes,
but it’s always playing on these echoes of what’s been said in the past, what’s being
said now. And of course it’s not just Irish theater; that’s very much instinct as well
in the approach of a lot of Irish prose writers, that’s the way Irish prose works. But, I think it does make a particular kind
of theater which is at the same time incapable of mirroring directly Irish society at any
particular time. And yet, it becomes one of the ways in which that society defines itself
and understands itself. And you know, there’s a simple metaphor here,
which is, going back to metaphors: in the 19th Century, Stendhal, the great French writer,
has a line in his novel Scarlet and Black; he says “A novel is a mirror walking along
a high road.” At the same time, in Ireland, you’ve got Maria
Edgeworth; she’s using the image of “Nobody can hold a mirror up to Ireland, because if
you do people wouldn’t like what they saw and they’d break the mirror.” And this image
of the cracked mirror, Oscar Wilde uses it, James Joyce, of course, famously uses it in
the beginning of Ulysses where Buck Mulligan is shaving in the mirror that’s cracked, and
he says “It is the image of Irish art, the cracked mirror of the servant.” The cracked mirror is really what you get
all the time in Irish theater; it is reflecting, but at the same as it’s reflecting it’s also
fragmenting and making new shapes. And it’s that ability to make new shapes that makes
theater interesting, isn’t it? Enda: Yeah. Joe: Fascinating. Tell us about The New Electric
Ballroom, because it’s coming to New York next week? Enda: Thursday, yeah. This Thursday. Joe: You started that in Galway as well, with
the Druid Company? Enda: With Druid, yeah. Joe: With Rosaleen Linehan, one of our favorites
here; she’s played a number of times at the Guthrie. Just tell us a little bit about it. Enda: Well, where “The Walworth Farce” was
effectively about the relationship between me and my brother, strangely, “The New Electric
Ballroom” is the starting point… Well, a couple of things, primarily my mom’s coffee
mornings. I was interested in that. As a boy, I used to love the company of older women,
like much, much older women; and I just liked watching them discuss things, and put the
world to right, and all that type of thing. And so as a starting point it was that, but
I knew I wanted to write a version… I finished “The Walworth Farce” and put it away and then
directly wrote “The New Electric Ballroom” the next week. Because I liked this notion
of just creating theater in living rooms. So, it’s about these two elderly women in
their 60s; they’ve got a much, much younger sister who’s about 40 or so. It’s set in a
rural village, you think, not that I know anything about rural villages, but she sort
of comes home and she dresses them up as their 18 year old selves, with costumes and wigs
and makeup. And she gets them to play the night that their heart was broken by the same
man. So, the play is about well why the hell is
this 40 year old woman actually doing that and what is she trying to sort of get at?
And into it comes a man, a fishmonger, who just keeps on bringing fish. More and more,
more and more fish. And effectively it’s a story about a 40 year old woman. You don’t
know whether she’s torturing them or whether she’s the nurse. But, she is the sister and she’s trying to
learn about love. She’s yet to feel anything, feel anything. And she knows that actually
she needs to sort of break out of that little routine and begin to risk falling in love.
So, it is back to sort of for me, I am amazed that we actually live the way we live as human
beings. That we do get up in the morning and we go [clap] another day. I can’t believe
it. [laughter] Enda: I can’t believe we do what we do. And
we go to sleep and we get up and we get going again. And we do it and keep on doing it.
And it is that, it is the sort of, you know, pushing open sort of a door today for me.
The Hilton there hotel in Chicago airport, of going oh God, I push open that door and
I’ve got no idea what the hell is going to happen today. I’m being really, really terrified
of that, and loving it. I’ve always been a sort of very, very anxious sort of little
boy, and now big man. [laughter] Enda: But, it’s probably a good thing as a
play write to have that. It does amaze me, it does sort of surprise me that we live the
way we actually sort of do as people. You know, so it is about that. It’s about risk. Joe: Fascinating. We’re going to open it up
to the audience now. And we have, I understand, microphones and they’re going to come to you
with it. So, if you have questions, we would love to hear them. And wait till the microphone
gets to you because we want to make certain that we all hear the question and that it’s
properly picked up by the sound system. There’s a gentleman over there. Audience Member: Hi. I have a silly question
to ask about “The Walworth Farce.” You said you work very quickly and it takes, the majority
of your work is little work off and on to what’s taking place. Enda: Yeah. Audience Member: Does that mean we must both
foresee a [inaudible 0:46:42] time before we really get it because you wrote it spontaneously?
Or is it OK not to understand it for the first half of the first act? [laughter] Enda: I think it’s OK. I mean I think it’s
OK not to sort of understand it. But, it is understandable. It does all completely make
sense. In terms of the farce, because people get caught up and they go oh my God, do I
have to understand this bloody play, the elements of this farce? But, it actually, it does all
sort of hang together. But, I always really feel for the audience at half time. Because
oh my God, would I go? I would probably go. But thanks be to Jesus a lot of people come
back. Because you are only seeing actually 20% of the show. You feel that way. It begins
to answer itself. And that was, I’ve never written an interval
before and they’re the most difficult things to write. It’s sort of like the notion of
people going out and having a drink and coming back into the theater. But, farce actually
demanded, demanded that it be written the way it’s written. You know? So, really like there’s no history of farce
in Irish theater I don’t think, or where ever. So, you know, I had to learn it. And just
the notion of these men living in London in a flat and farce existing in the West End.
And then sort of farce seeps down into the mud and goes underneath the Thames and comes
out and sort of grows up and then exists in some sort of form. That became sort of interesting to me. I completely
agree, I’m sorry. You know, like I’m glad I wasn’t in your head. That’s all I can say. [laughter] Audience Member: Enda, could you describe
the difference in your creative process between writing a play and writing a movie? Enda: Yeah. Big difference. I mean when it
comes to writing plays I don’t like getting in the way of it. I don’t feel it’s authored
by me. Really, I think the logic of the play has to sort of exist on stage. So, I do sort
of write completely from the characters point of view. I’ve no notion of where the play
is going to go. It was a surprise to me that there was a knock on the door and guys arrived
in with a coffin. You know, a paper coffin. I was going oh Jesus, it’s a farce. I mean,
that was a complete surprise to me. I’ve only ever once set out to write a play and it was
terrible. You know, to find the story first. And it was a terrible, terrible play. And
I’ll never, ever do that again. I think it’s just the characters need to write
it and they need to shape it and it needs to feel very organic. With screenplays, by
Jesus, I mean it’s just all about craft. I mean it’s just you’re writing this unwieldy
sort of, in this big form. And I find it, very, very difficult. And there’re lots of
hands on you, producers whacking you and all that type of thing. It’s quite sort of tough. But, I like the discipline of it. I’m just
much, much more aware of craft. While in theater, I’m a fan of theater. I love it and I just
write from the gut. I don’t like to get in the way of it. Joe: Roger? Roger: I was very struck with the tight choreography
all through this play. Enda: Yeah. Roger: And I’m not familiar with your other
work, so don’t know whether that is a characteristic of all your plays. But, it was very striking.
Has this been something you’ve always done or was this a new trick? Enda: No, it was completely new. Previously,
like Fintan said, previously it was just people getting up there. And Bedbound was set in
a bed, it was a father and a daughter in a bed talking to one another. So, there was
no stagecraft to it. But, the farce demanded the shape that it was and it was a real sort
of surprise to me. But, you know, I worked with, I can see Mike. Hey Mike. The director’s
up there of The Walworth Farce. And he came over to London when I had written it and we
read it together. And we could sort of see it in our heads and we had sort of great fun
doing it. Now, he’s worked really physically before… He’s a Lecoq trained actor and was
going to always bring that to it. But dramaturgically, really, really helped
me and pulled the play closer together. And found the ending that, you know, the ending
was sort of… I was avoiding the ending because I really didn’t want to end it that way. Because
it was just so heartbreaking for me to sort of imagine that poor guy. But anyway, people
are going… Joe: Don’t give the end away. Some people
haven’t seen it. Enda: OK. It’s really happy. [laughter] Enda: And he goes to Broadway and makes a
fortune. [laughter] Audience Member: You mentioned working with
the Germans and that they could not understand this image of the girl in the door. Would
you speak a bit more about living in England, how long you’ve been there, and working with
people of other countries? German, American English, and Irish and how different cultures
or countries may perceive or understand theater? What are the differences, but what are basic
human similarities that you have found in your experiences? Enda: OK. Wow. [laughter] Enda: I’ll just take off my shoes. What an
enormous question. But, I directed Bedbound in Italian before I directed it in English.
Now, I don’t have any Italian. But, it really sort of, I can’t stand words. Just talking
words. As much as I’m sort of married to them and I have to create these images and I have
to use these bloody words. I would love to sort of write something that doesn’t have
any of that, but I have to. And I can’t do dance, so I have to actually sort of use it. But, I like the shape of drama and I like
the shapes of narrative. And the emotional arcs of characters. So, when it came to sort
of in Italy and working in Italy and working in German. My German isn’t that good. But,
I enjoy watching my plays where I don’t actually have to listen to them. I don’t have to understand
the words. It makes me sort of appreciate or see the
weaknesses of where the play is emotionally. And how the sort of arcs of the character
sometimes and when the audience fall out of it. And I can sense that without any sort
of words involved. I’m interested in very physical presentations
of roles, and I love American actors, American stage actors, and they seem quite fearless.
It’s quite similar to Irish actors I think, in many, many ways, but they really inhabit
roles, and are quite brave, and all that type of thing. I’ve done work in London, everyone
knows it’s a different thing; it’s more of a technique thing. I don’t think my work feels right, a lot of
the time, in their mouths, not just the sound of it, but just the way it’s performed, and
the energy that it demands. There’re more similarities than there are differences, like
culturally. I’ve done a lot of work all over Europe with different people, and seen my
work performed, in various different languages, and I’d like to think, and I think there is.
In terms of theatre practitioners, it feels quite similar to me. It’s the degree of emotion on stage, and the
degree of risk, and the physical risk, that does vary. So, the Germans just completely
get my work, but they think it’s quite peculiar that I’m still writing family dramas effectively.
They think it’s very, very strange, but they like the deconstruction of them, the extraction
of it. Sorry, it’s such a huge question you asked! Joe: This lady here, and the gentleman there. Audience Member: That actually leads perfectly
into my question. I saw the show last night. I liked the way Fintan said about enacting
and evocation, but I find enacting last night was also a provocation. I was provoked to
think of many, many, many different things. And the thing that struck me most was the
question that I bring to you today. How is it that you, and you mentioned Conor McPherson
earlier, I was thinking of some of his plays versus his Antigone, which opens up – how
is this insularity, this familial insularity, how does it at the same time, in some paradoxical
manner, open up beyond Ireland? Especially as you just described the new play, which
sounds almost like a feminine counterpart to this one. Enda: It is. Audience Member: Do you even think about that? Enda: I don’t think about it. I mean, you
were having a dialogue with yourself. You were trying to reach into yourself, of course,
and shake up yourself, and ask big questions. And so the work tends to be very insular,
and folds in on top of itself, and has nowhere to go. A lot of the time, I’m aware of the
big stuff of actually being a writer, and it’s all been written before, and what the
hell am I going to being to the table. Am I bringing anything at all? So, I do like
to pour a lot of anxiety in terms of: I’m nothing, I’ve got nothing to say, I don’t
exist, I’m not bringing anything to the party here. And in some way, that way makes me investigate
myself a lot. So, all the plays are effectively about theatre,
about writing, about what’s the point of it; that it just begins to eat itself into nothing.
And so a lot of it is about me, actually getting through the day. It’s my relationship with
bloody words that I can’t do anything outside of what I can actually do. I enjoy it, but it frustrates me that I’m
not a bloody plumber, where actually I could really bring something to the world, like
real good stuff. [laughter] Enda: Do you know what I mean? But that is
the dialogue that I feel as if I’m having a lot of the time with it. And also wrestling
with the medium, the characters need to be playing and playing and playing, but to what?
And construct societies, and construct rules, and mechanisms within their living room, to
what end? Only to try and escape them again. But then, probably build more and more routines,
and patterns, and all that type of thing. So, I know it’s very, very universal. And
the biggest influence in my life, of course, would be my father. And he was a furniture
salesman, and living in Ireland, furniture is the first business to go in a recession.
And Ireland just constantly lives in and out of a recession. And that was my theater, growing up, was seeing
this man who was wonderful on the shop floor, could adapt to different situations. But,
I was aware of this bigger machine, and this political sort of… The huge thing of just
collapse; things could collapse at any moment! I used to have a paper round when I was a
kid. A very successful paper round, around Raheny. And I used to count my money on a
Friday. In the middle of the recession, I used to look at my dad counting his money,
and I’d have more money that he bloody had. So, I was just aware as a boy of how real
those sort of strains upon the nine to fivers – the people who have to go out there and
do a living. So, all the plays are effectively about routine.
About people caught in patterns and routines, and the larger threats that they feel. That
they have to either stay in the job, stay in the world, or actually try and break out
of that. Joe: There’s a question here. Could we get
a mike down here? There’s a question, this gentleman here. And then there’s over here,
as well. We’d like to take one here first and then we can get the mike down here. Yes? Audience Member: You were talking about the
mechanisms, architectures of a living room space, and that kind of insularity. I feel
like, in the “The Walworth Farce” there’s the ghost of Joe Orton and Luke just waiting
to emerge from the center of the stage. So, I have one question just about how that influence
– as you were working on it – that kind of tradition that’s outside of explicitly Irish
tradition. And then I have a question about “Hunger,”
which is intensely visual and visceral. What it was like to collaborate with Steve McQueen,
how much you were involved in the visuals. And the really striking 15 minutes sequence
that’s purely dialogue – the only real dialogue scene in that whole film, between Bobby and
the priest. Whether you wrote that entirely or what kid
of collaboration was really involved throughout the film, but particularly in the moments
where we get to hear what is spoken. Enda: Yeah. Well, the Joe Orton thing, of
course, would it be a… We don’t have a tradition of farce, and I didn’t really actually read
any farce. Moliere or Anthony, anything like that. When I was a kid, I was interested in
Irish theater and that was about it. So, I actually had to pick up books and begin to
learn the constructs of that. So, the farce isn’t mathematics. It’s just learning a lot,
and Joe Orton presumably, and Michael Frayn all learned from someone else. I just got
in there and learned it and it’s quite, actually it’s quite liberating – writing within a mechanism
as tight and rigid as that. You really feel as, “Oh, God!” It feels quite strong. But, in terms of “Hunger” yeah, it was a very
nice experience to work with Steve McQueen. But, it’s, yeah, all the images. But, you
see, I deal with images every day in my work in theater. It was actually just a matter
of… The dialogue sequence itself was the easiest
part to write in the movie. Outside of that, the images all had to be, of course, constructed
and down to crumbs on the handkerchief, or whatever that had to be. They were the very difficult thing, because
it’s silent. I think the first half an hour is silent, so how do you create some sort
of narrative, sort of strain, so you feel as if the story is actually moving in a forward
trajectory as opposed to just an artistic sort of installation piece in a gallery. It’s a very conventional movie, actually,
but because it does move forward through the conventions of film, but he pulled it off
good. Joe: This gentleman here. Audience Member: I have two quick questions.
The first one is, I just want to make a comment that it was a fantastic, very moving picture.
I’ve never had [inaudible 1:01:47] before in watching a play. And so I did talk to Michael
after the play, how do you, what did you do, I could hate you right now. [laughter] Audience Member: But, what do you go through
– you said you wrote it in four weeks – what do you go through when you write the
play? What was the fundamental motivation of the play? You said it was a relationship
with your brothers, and you showcased that. So, that is my first question: what was the
fundamental motivation that made you write this play? The second question is a little towards the
later half of the play, the introduction of colored character in the play and a very deliberate
attempt to actually make it white. So, was that a reflection of London society or is
race an issue in Ireland, Irish theater? Has that [inaudible 1:02:30] or what’s the accomplishment
of that? Enda: Well, on that one first, on the race
thing first. To me, it was just that she doesn’t fit into his narrative, she doesn’t fit into
his story, into what he has constructed. But, of course, it’s a huge moment in the play.
It’s a hugely strong moment, and I felt as if it was important to have that in there,
that outside of what he knew there was nothing. His prejudice is all based upon his creation
of farce, his little country, his little society as this mechanical thing. Outside of that
he doesn’t see her as anything other. You do not fit in this. You do not look like Maureen,
my wife. But, from an audience point of view, it’s quite a shattering piece to look it.
But, it is the mechanisms and the small societies, the small communities that we all create all
the time and live with, and that anyone outside of that, we prejudice them in some way. On the other thing, in terms of the motivation,
for about two years, I suffered with obsessive compulsive disorder, this recurring sort of
thing. I had problems traveling in London. I was living in London at the time, “Disco
Pigs” was on in the West End and it was the time of the World Cup. And the play was dying
a death. No one was going to the play. But, I thought, Oh, I’ve made it. Is this what
theater is? I don’t know what theater is. I was partying a lot at the time. And I fell into these things where I couldn’t
actually travel anywhere. I had to have a routine whenever I traveled. If I got on the
Tube, I had to sit in a certain seat in a certain carriage. I had to get up at a certain
time and drink a glass of water and put a piece of chewing gum in my mouth. And that
would work for a while. And then I’d have to bang my leg for a while, eat the chewing
gum, drink the water, and then get up at a different thing. And this would go over a month. By the end
of it, I looked like some German folk dancer. I was like this… [laughter] Enda: … as I was running up the steps of
wherever it was, Green Park, crying my eyes out going, I’m going insane, absolutely going
insane. I used to eat in a particular restaurant everyday. I was staying in Shepherd’s Bush
at the time and I’d pass by this house. I’d be walking by and bang, I would see a window.
So, they were doing what they were doing everyday, and I was doing what I was doing everyday,
at exactly the same time. So, it was always a man, and woman and her son, always seated
in the same position in this room. And I would see them all the time and go, it’s them again.
They’re obviously looking at me and going, God, there’s that guy again. But as I walked by it became this little picture.
I could see the Irish shellaly, the JFK picture, the picture of the Pope, all these Irish things.
I thought, these are immigrant people. This is interesting. And I thought, I’m going to
write that play. But, it took me 12 years to write it because I didn’t have the chops
to do it. So, when I say that I wrote it in four weeks,
I wrote it in 12 years, because I wasn’t thinking about it. I just knew I wasn’t good enough
as a writer. I started working on this play about two years ago. I said, Oh, I think I’ll
be ready for this in 15 years time, but I definitely don’t have the intelligence or
the instinct to write the bloody thing now. So, it’s based probably on that and it’s based
upon how myself and my brothers get together like we all do. We sit down in my Ma’s kitchen,
and come 12 o’clock, you know, telly goes off and we all start telling the same stories.
And you know like when we tell, you know I tell the story about whatever and John tells
a story and Darrin and Alton and like we’re all telling exactly the same stories every
year because we don’t see one another. “Tell that story about Dad and how he was
in a couch and the doors of the van door opened and the furniture, and the van door opened,
the van was going up the hill and Dad was on the couch and he fell onto the street and
it went down.” Which was a great story and through and you know and so John would tell
that in great detail. So, it was all this sort of you know, you know this is our family
history, we must keep it together. We have to keep our sort of you know our childhood
sort of you know alive to us, but we have to keep us together, this is our community. You know outside of that, you know boogerdum,
you know this is us as four brothers. Not even my poor two sisters were involved in
it. But, you know it was like just about us and you know proclaiming these stories again,
and again and again. And just feeling you know, you walk away from these sort of nights
just feeling like that’s it, that’s good enough for a year, now I don’t have to see them for
a year, but top in the year there’s that. Joe: Do we have a question over here? Where
am I looking for the mike? Up there, yes. Audience Member: Enda, thank you so much for
coming. I was wondering if you could talk about Irish sense of humor, in theater? Enda: Well, I don’t know, I don’t know what
it is, but I’ll tell you what, I live in London now and I really, really love going home.
I mean I forget just how much bloody Irish people talk. I mean I’ve worked with Michael
Murphy over there now. Michael’s in the new Electric Ballroom he’s acting in it and I
directed the bloody thing for my sins, but he talks more than me, right? And I’m a bit
of a yapper when I get going. But, I really, really like being around people who are just
chatterers who talk and annihilate things, you know, and just keep on sort of like talking.
And yeah, there’s great sort of you know, wild sort of levity in there. I think Irish
people like the surreal. I’m a big fan of sort of you know Flan O’Brien
and all that sort of writing it’s very dense work, very strange and bloody funny. But yeah,
I think my work sometimes and in the U.K. people can go, “It’s just sort of, it’s you
know the bizarre Irish people fucking yapping to one another and telling sort of jokes and
all that type of thing,” plus I don’t really care and that’s just the way it is, you know. Fintan: I suppose if there’s a defining characteristic
of Irish humor, it’s deadpan, you know? It’s the gap between the awful and the very funny
is really narrow. So therefore, you know, straight faced becomes part of the humor which
is, is this funny or is it not funny? Enda: I must tell you, you’ll appreciate this,
there’s a very personal sort of matter, but I don’t mind it, you know. I don’t mind sort
of sharing it with you. When, my dad died sort of like nine years ago and we were all
in the room and as a family we were all into this like, he died in hospital and you know
he had cancer so he was out for about sort of two days. But, as a family we weren’t all
together for years, for about sort of seven years, I mean sort of like a whole sort of
family, and we got together and finally got together and he died. He died he sort of [deep
breath sound] and he was out and we were all there and we were all looking at one another,
of course we were all crying and this, losing it and losing it and just, you know for an
hour or so, it was really, really quite upsetting. And then, and then I said, “A man walks into
a doctor with a strawberry up his ass. And the doctor looks at the strawberry and goes,
‘You could do with some cream on that.'” [laughter] Enda: And we just fell around the floor. And
it was a wonderful, it was a wonderful, wonderful moment. I mean because my Dad would have so
sort of appreciate that joke, but it was brilliantly and then the crying started again, it was
like, but it was a wonderful, wonderful moment. My best moment. Joe: Perfect definition of Irish humor I think.
This gentleman over here. Audience Member: You talked a little bit about
how families get together and tell stories as a way of preserving this small community.
And it seems to me that theatre also does that. It’s, historically, getting together
and telling stories as a way people identify themselves. With The Walworth Farce, and also
the Brian Friel play, work as a repudiation of that. The stories aren’t to create community,
they’re to annihilate the truth, to hide something that people don’t want to talk about. I wonder
if you could talk about that a little bit, and maybe about if that Brian Friel play also
has it, if that’s an ongoing theme in Irish theatre. Joe: Sounds like a Fintan question. Fintan: It’s a really perceptive point. What
you have to remember, and the reason why there is this very, very fine line between the absolutely
appalling and the very funny, is to do with exactly that. It’s to do with the way in which
the energy of the storytelling is also an energy of denial. You have Donald Rumsfeld,
your great philosopher, who famously expostulated about the epistemological questions about
known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. And in Ireland, I think we’ve had a special variation
on that, which he didn’t even think of, which is the unknown known. It’s a very screwed
up society in a lot of ways, which is why it’s good at theatre. It has incredible capacity
to both know and not know things at the same time. So, for example, just recently, we’re going
through a recent period at the moment, where it’s like all this darkness of the history
is washing over us. We ran institutions in the Republic of Ireland for most of the history
of The States, where we enslaved and tortured children, in vast numbers, up to the 1990s.
The Republic of Ireland incarcerated a larger proportion of its population than any other
known society, ever. Between prisons; industrial schools where they locked up children; Magdalene
homes where women, who were in moral danger, or had babies outside marriage, were locked
up; and mental hospitals, where huge numbers of people who were not mentally ill were incarcerated. So, the silence is the background against
which the manic energy of the language emerges. You don’t have one without the other. If we
were a healthy society, the energy of the language – you have to think about Beckett.
Beckett does encapsulate so much of this. If you think of Winnie buried up to her diddies
in the bleeding ground, as somebody says to her, she’s buried up to her neck in sand,
and the language is coming out. That’s a bit of what you’re getting is the sense that there
is a buried silence, and you’ve got the language on top of that, which is coming forth. And there’s a comic energy to that, which
is, there’s nothing else we can do except speak, except use this language and let it
come out. And the language becomes extraordinarily interesting and playful, and acquires all
this angularity to it. But, at the same time, what you’re not seeing and not hearing is
the repression and the silence underneath it. That, I think, is where what Enda’s doing,
or what’s in faith he’ll learn, I think you’re right, there are really interesting connections
between the ways in which language is used in both of those. What makes those plays so powerful, actually,
is that sense that repetition of certain stories becomes a way not of expressing anything,
but of encapsulating the silence, so that the language is really a function of what
you’re not saying, rather than of what you are saying. There’s a real truth in that,
because often the Irish linguistic gift has been a gift of distraction. [laughter] Fintan: It’s, “We’re going to talk about this
to avoid…” You know when you get a kid and you say, “Did you just break that plate?”
They’ll start saying, “I was at school today and something interesting happened and I saw
this guy, there was a great thing, and I was in the playground and I saw this other girl,
and…” You know, they use language to distract. And one of our psychic disturbances is that
we use language as a distraction. As I’m doing now, because I can’t think of what I was going
to say. [laughter] Joe: We’ll take one more question. Oh, there’s
a gentleman over here. Can we get a mike up there? Just one more question because we’ve
got make sure everybody can get to the show. Audience Member: I kind of have a double question.
Maybe it’s a slight statement and then… Is the art director Tom Hicky? Is that his
name? Enda: Yeah. Audience Member: I met him once, a few years
ago. He was doing a play by Tom McIntyre at the Art [inaudible 1:16:10] Center in New
York. I remember him talking to me about the road that playwrights, how it’s a special
calling, special thing. You can’t be an actor and playwright because that’s just not the
way it’s done. There was this hugely romantic, almost shamanistic projection of this figure
of the playwright, which I feel Ireland has both benefited and suffered from. I’m interested
in this younger generation of Irish playwrights who came up in a much more collaborative space. But, at the same time, I’m wondering, is the
way in which they’re not writing these grand plays that sort of project a nation, is that
related it to a simultaneous reduction in the ego or ambition or something? And my second question is related to Beckett
and to language and to this idea of language as distraction. Beckett famously wrote in
French to get away from the Celtic, just the Irish way of writing. I’m wondering, Enda,
if you ever feel like it’s just too easy? [laughter] Audience Member: Do you want to… Is it too
easy? Would you ever want to get away from that language, and do you ever think you could,
or would that interest you as a gesture? Enda: Would it be easier to begin to write
in French or German? Audience Member: No, almost like, just not
directly… To step outside – I’m curious about this – to step outside, into the… Enda: But I, to step outside the… Sorry,
say that again. Audience Member: Well, write a play set in
Mars or somewhere. That’s a silly suggestion, but you know? Enda: Yeah. Well, my favorite play of mine
is called “The Small Things” and it’s set in Lancashire. It’s sort of set in it, it
uses Lancashire. Really, all of the plays I’ve written I’ve got no notion about what
it is to be those people, and that’s why I actually write them. I’ve got no notion of
what it is to be a 65 year old woman living in a rural village somewhere in Ireland, surrounded
by fish. But, that’s a good enough reason for me to write it. And like, an 85 year old
Lancashire woman who’s the last person to talk in the world, because everyone else in
the world has lost their tongues. That seems like… So, I always feel like
I’m actually effectively a middle class sort of boy from North Dublin. That’s a very dull,
that’s a very dull person to be, and I would never actually write a play about my life.
Because it’s a very, sort of, dull thing. I always feel as if I’m actually… I am writing,
I am performing. When I write I sort of tend to perform the characters because I want inhabit
different peoples, and different logics, and different worlds. Of course, you’re writing
about your whatever. Tiny solar light or heart, and like that, and the minuscule intellect
that I certainly have. But, yeah, I don’t know. I always feel like
I’m completely just observing where these characters are going to go or how… What
they’re going to do. And that’s a reason enough for me to be a playwright – to step outside
middle class and the world from North Side Dublin, for a while. Joe: Well, thank you all very much indeed
for coming on, and thank Enda and Fintan for joining us here this morning. And thank you.
Well done. [applause]

3 thoughts on “In Conversation: Joe Dowling and Enda Walsh

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