Druid school: the making of a modern playwright

Brian Martin’s first play is about a paedophile priest struggling to suppress his desires. It’s a bit like learning to open up a can of worms with a chainsaw

Fri, Jul 11, 2014, 01:00

Everyone has a unique way of listening. The director Oonagh Murphy bows her head in contemplation, but lifts her eyes above the script, as though visualising a new drama. Thomas Conway, the literary manager of Druid Theatre Company, reads along from a laptop, benignly, occasionally letting his eyes close. One of the performers, Roxanna Nic Liam, is as responsive as an opening-night audience member, laughing frequently. And the writer, Brian Martin, is hyper-attentive. A young Dublin man, immaculately groomed, he watches the cast, scans his laptop, and pinches his short beard in thought.

It is the hottest day of the year and all the windows are sealed. Most of the cast and crew for Druid’s rehearsals of Martin’s debut play, Be Infants in Evil, have dressed to keep cool, which makes the actor Marty Rea seem all the more incongruous. He is clad head to toe in priestly blacks, a good indication of a play that is tense with considerations of identity, morality and sexuality in modern Ireland. (Rea had arrived in shorts, then told his director, “It’s ridiculous. I feel as if I’m about to wallpaper my house”, and slipped into something less comfortable.)

The cast read from pristine new copies of the script, while older versions lie curling beneath their chairs. This new version is Martin’s ninth draft of a play he began writing four years ago, while still a theatre student at Trinity College Dublin, where he studied playwriting under Marina Carr.

He returned to it while training to be an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art – he still lives and works in London – and the play secured him a place on the Royal Court’s writers’ group. Before the day was out, however, he would begin his 10th draft. Poems, we know, are never finished, just abandoned. In the era of playwriting courses, training, workshops, programmes and mentorships, plays are never finished, just endlessly processed.

Martin is trying to absorb another significant note, a suggested cut of about five pages. This would remove a speech in which Fr Patrick, struggling with his faith, evangelically outlines the Big Bang theory – a sequence the Royal Court insisted he should never lose. “If I ever had a veto to not change something . . . ” Martin muses. “But I can see where Thomas is coming from.”

He has been here before. When the play received a rehearsed reading as part of Druid’s Debut series last year, a number of suggestions had begun to whittle away at his confidence.

“All you hear about are problematic things. I felt like I should never have written the play in the first place,” he says, laughing. “I was so sorry: ‘Why did I ever put these words down on the page and come to you?’ From a new writer’s perspective, coming in to a professional world, you feel like you should listen to people.”

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