Playwright Deirdre Kinahan Talks to Her.ie
Deirdre Kinahan is one of the country’s most celebrated playwrights having had a number of her productions picked up by theatres in both London and New York.
But according to the lady herself, who has been writing plays for over ten years now, she hadn’t always wanted to go down that route.
‘I first got into writing when myself and a friend Maureen set up the Tall Tales Theatre Company and we were both really interested in acting. I was acting for a couple of years, from around 1997 to 1999.
‘When I was acting I was also doing a bit of work with Ruhama Women’s Project. It provided education to women who had worked in prostitution all their lives in Dublin… I was in there teaching basic English literacy, computers and drama and I became very close to a couple of the senior women.
‘They then got interested in coming to my plays and one of them had the idea about writing a play about their lives so I said yes, I would bring a writer in and all the rest of it but they said we don’t want anyone else to write it but you. I said I’m not a writer but they said we trust you so I agreed to do it. That was my first play.’
Despite having quick success with this debut production, Be Carna, Dublin-based Deirdre explains that being a playwright in Ireland isn’t the easiest of professions.
‘I have to be honest. I think it’s improved for women writers in the last couple of years. But playwriting is a tough gig in Ireland. To present a play requires a huge investment and we have no dedicated new writing house in Dublin. I think that’s a real problem in Irish theatre. I’ve always said it.’
Despite such obstacles, Deirdre has gone on to have a very successful career not only in Ireland but internationally. She has had her plays, including Bogboy and Moment, picked up by theatres in both the UK and the US.
Bogboy is a play about friendship, addiction and violence.
Speaking about these achievements, she said, ‘I suppose it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. It’s only been in the last two years internationally that things have taken off.
‘It was really the advent of Culture Ireland and the invitations to one or two festivals abroad. Then particularly when Moment was picked up by the Bush Theatre in London last year that it really just hit another level for me.’
Moment is a universally-acclaimed family drama about a man who commits a crime which has a long-lasting impact on his family. As well as London it was also picked up by a theatre in Chicago where it is currently enjoying an extended run as well as a larger venue.
‘It’s an extraordinary experience to work with them and see the kind of reverence and joy with which they embrace the play. The audience reaction and critical response has been phenomenal,’ said Deirdre about the American production.
‘I had hoped it would do really well but the reviews have been extraordinary and then to go over knowing they’d extended the run. And then to announce that, when I was there, they were moving to a bigger theatre. That’s as good as it gets really.’
But that’s all across the water. Back in Ireland Deirdre’s new play Halcyon Days is having its world premiere as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival this October. And it seems that this particular production has a special place in the playwright’s heart.
‘Halcyon Days is quite dear to me… It’s very much inspired by my own uncle Sean who lived out his last few years in a nursing home and I love him hugely. I wanted to sort of celebrate his life and celebrate the man in some way.
‘As for the premiere, for me as a writer, that’s the first time that one of the bigger institutions in Ireland has taken up one of my plays. It’s great.’
Bogboy is one of the plays that has gained Deirdre international recognition.
Halcyon Days is a play of two characters, Sean and Patricia played by Stephen Brennan and Anita Reeves, who develop an intimacy within the setting of a nursing home conservatory.
Deirdre explains: ‘It’s a very different play to Moment… This is very tailored, very calibrated, very precise because it has to be. You only have two characters and you’re trying to say an awful lot about their lives in a very tight timeframe and setting.
‘It’s a real mix of comedy and joy and fight and spirit, with decline and abandonment and hopelessness. It was a hard write but a fulfilling one and when you see two actors of that calibre take it up with relish, I mean, I just can’t wait to get in the rehearsal room and then put it in front of an audience and see how they react to it.’
It is this type of intense personal drama that Deirdre loves to explore in her plays. It is an area of focus that she says makes sense to her.
‘What else is there but our relationships with each other and our love with each other and everything that transpires from that?’ asks the mother of two before continuing: ‘I actually come from a good solid family myself even though I write a lot about dysfunction. Although I don't think anyone goes through life completely scot-free.
‘I think it’s how we deal with what life throws in front of us that is something that really interests me. I find it fascinating, how people cope you know? And how that community and support and friendship lifts us beyond.’
Moment is one of Deirdre's most successful productions.
As well as theatre, Deirdre also has her finger in a lot of other creative pies at the moment including film, radio and television. Although she admits that theatre is where her head ‘naturally lies,’ it is obvious she is also relishing the opportunity to work in a different genre.
‘Film is all about action. In theatre you’re much more restricted whereas so much can be told in such a short time through pictures. Film is a very different medium but I’m beginning to get a handle on it,’ she explained talking about the project.
While she couldn’t say too much about the feature film, which she is co-writing with Ian Fitzgibbon, Deirdre did say that it is about four men dealing with the aftermath of a childhood trauma: ‘It is a darkly comic family drama, a very different scenario to Moment but very much the world I write best in… thematically it’s a world I’m very comfortable in, it’s just a different style of presentation.’
With theatre, television, radio and film all in pipeline, you’d think that there would be nothing left for Deirdre to do. She says think again: ‘I certainly haven’t done it all. I’m only starting!
‘There’s a drive in me to try and do something in Ireland to help playwrights to get their work onto the stage so they can move forward. In terms of my own career, I really want to get more work on in Dublin and then get it out to London and US.
‘I haven’t hit the big time, I haven’t hit the Broadway or the main houses. My work has been very successful in the well-respected smaller houses so the plan is to get my work out to a wider audience. I just have to keep getting it out there, keep getting the commission, keep getting the work.’
Halcyon Days is opening on October 10 in Smock Alley Theatre.