Enda Walsh Interview

January 31, 2010


Sometimes I wish that women were never thought to read and write. It sounds like a terribbly sexist thing to say but a quick glance at Irish fiction today leaves me envious of Oedipus and his two vaccated eye sokets . Huberman, Brunker and the grandmother of clit lit Marian Keyes have tarnished the leggacy bethrothed to them by Joyce, Beehan and any number of great- or actual- Irish writers. Where once we were the land of saints and scholars these ladies have rewritten us as a land of skanks and dullards. Would our top ten fiction list read like an Evening Hearld columists wet dream if it were men who baught the books? I doubt it.

Anyway, flipancy aside, theatre remains a rich territory for honest Irish storytelling, unspoiled by Cecilia Ahern and her cronnies(Mr Whippy not withstanding). Marc O Rowe, Martin MacDoagh and Declan Hughes are abley filling in the footprints left across the theatrical strand by McGuiness, Leonard and Friel. If  our many female ‘novelists’ are Dorian Gray like creatures, putting our best face forward, then our playwrites are the pictures in the attic, showing just how twisted and grotesque we really are

King of these scribblers is Enda Walsh who for the past 15 years has shon his light on the madness in Irish mens minds. Creating clausterphobic worlds populated by long suffering characters who speak in unconventional venaculars, his avoidance of naturalism and a love of repetitive storytelling has produced some of the most disturbing and maniachal art to ever grace the Irish stage. His is a very Irish style of writing, but it is a style he has made very much his own.

“I feel as if I’m connected with decades of Irish writing,” he tells me when we meet up to discuss his play, The New Electric Ballroom, which runs as part of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival at the Peacock. “ I can see, in my own work, echoes of what they were writing .I’m not consciously chasing it down but it’s in our DNA, these great playwrights and story tellers and I’m proud of that.”

Walsh’s first taste of writing came during his stint at the Dublin Youth Theatre, when aged 19, he saw his work performed for the first time. “They were very good to allow it go on. It was a turgid piece of teenage angst…. I don’t know what the hell I was on or doing.

“But I was dead fortunate to find something at a young age that I could do. I wasn’t a good actor. But I enjoyed the process of putting stories together and throwing them on stage. Learning how the house of cards is compiled. You know, here’s the set, these are the actors, and this is the story.”

He thinks it’s a shame this outlet isn’t encouraged in more schools in Ireland. “It’s a wonderful form of expression, of exorcising what it is to be a 15 year old. And that’s quite important. And fun. Not everyone in Ireland has the opportunity to be in a place like the Gaiety School of Acting and you shouldn’t have to hope to get lucky and get the right teacher who’ll impart a love of drama on you.

In his mid twenties Walsh headed to Cork, which kick started him finding his own voice in theatre “ The more I stayed in Cork the more I realized I was writing in a Cork dialect. I wasn’t writing as a boy who grew up in Raheeney. I was writing in a very funny, very strange, very powerful dialect. It was my first experience of living outside of Dublin and going ‘I’m not one of these people. I’m enjoying not being one of these people and this is my version of what this is. It really, really suited me.”

His characters are extensions, exaggerations of himself while the plots of his plays often reflect a life controlled by words and dominated by their strength. “At the heart of it is me feeling really powerful as a storey teller and then really ridiculous, stupid and empty. That’s how I feel as a person. A lot of it is about living and what it’s like when you suddenly stop and you go ‘Am I actually bringing anything to the table’?”

Does he think that any one character comes closer to representing the real Enda Walsh than the others? “I can see a lot of me in Pat, in The New Electric Ballroom. This fishmonger, who just can’t stop talking, trying to make sense of things and going into the details of the day and summing up where he is in relation to nature and geography and time and feeling really, really, really tiny. I can see that and in Ada (from the same play) this woman whose afraid of emotion. Of opening herself up and allowing people close to her. “

Repetition is a hallmark of his work. His characters often fall back upon working stories and working passages so that they arrive on stage and then spend the rest of the play trying to get out of that cycle. Trying to find something in the pattern that means something new to them. “It’s a comment on what time is and what time means to me. I find it nourishing as in ‘I’m going to get another day’ but I find it terrifying as in ‘What the Fuck am I going to do with this day? What kind of person am I going to be in 6 hours time? I might be dead in 6 hours time!’

Since his plays reside at the hysterical end of the Irish psyche with claustrophobic, often murderous, family dramas spinning out of control at a viscous verbal pace, does he ever worry that the audience won’t be able to cope?

“I sometimes think I have to take it easy on people or I’ll just bludgeon them. But then there’s another part that goes ‘why not’? Leave it raw. Allow it be a much, much harder ride for an audience. The idea is there to be communicated. If it’s foggy I’ll clean it up. But I try not to mess with it.”

He was fortunate to have Roddy Doyle as an English teacher and attend the same school as Paul Mercier (which makes you wonder what they put in Killbarracks water to produce such greatness). Does he have any advice he’d pass on to those who want to contribute to our ailing lineage?

“My advice to people who want to write is just to write. A lot of people don’t write who want to be writers. You should write and read and look at everything and see what other people are producing and try and analyse it.

“ And take risks with form and structure and language and beware of your history. There are a lot of great writers there with you and I really appreciate and I’m fucking delighted that I’m Irish and I was lucky enough to be born into a country where the tradition is so strong and healthy. I’m a lucky fucker to have people go and see my work.”

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