First encounters

 

In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE

DAVID COFFEY

is a writer, director and actor who created the comedy TV series Dan Becs, about an affluent young south Co Dublin couple, for RTÉ. He has created and co-written several other TV programmes since then. He is collaborating on Singlehood, a play in the Absolut Fringe festival next month

‘UNA AND I GREW UP on the same estate, Ballinclea Heights in Killiney. I’m 30, I was friends with her youngest sister, Gord – her real name is Áine. I went to see Una’s play Victor and Gord and just loved it. As soon as we got chatting afterwards, we realised we saw eye to eye on so many things: shared the same taste in music, theatre, literature, films, TV. I’m in a business where you don’t meet people through work so much, so it’s really nice when you meet someone new that you hit it off with.

“I was aware of Una before that, but we hadn’t really talked much. Now we spend a lot of time together, often with Áine and Una’s two other sisters, Neasa and Medb. They’re a bit like gremlins, you’d be out with one of them and another few just appear.

“There were several different versions of Victor and Gord and I went to all of them. After every performance I’d end up going for pints and Una and I would chat about the show. I’d never seen documentary theatre before and I really liked the idea of it. That’s when Una and I realised we are soulmates. I think Áine was a little bit surprised, but in no way jealous that Una and I hit it off so well. What I like about Una is that she’s very straightforward – she’s braver than me, honest and direct.

“We both draw on real experiences, as I did with Dan Becs. I decided to do another series using the same format to explore different relationships. The first was Sarah and Steve, but I wanted the next one to be about a lesbian relationship and I approached Una about collaborating on that. But RTÉ decided that the 10-minute format wasn’t financially viable.

“How I got involved in Singlehood was that Una approached me about doing it on stage. I was just out of a relationship and didn’t feel it was a good time to be talking about being single on stage, but suggested I could collaborate on it.

“When I was about 14 or 15, a big group of us on our estate started hanging around, grew up together. A lot of us – about 16 people – are still friends, and a lot of us are still single. I think those things are connected, that people who have a large social network to fall back on don’t feel the need to be in relationships as much.”

UNA McKEVITT

is an award-winning theatre-maker whose new show, Singlehood, will run at the Project Upstairs from September 17th-27th. She and David Coffey grew up in Killiney, Co Dublin

‘I WAS A FAN OF DAN & BECS and, after my last show Victor and Gord, I realised David and I shared a certain sensibility, taking stories from the same place. We started seeing each other – platonically, I’m gay – and realised we were soulmates: love the same films, TV shows, and if I don’t, he’ll get why.

“I first encountered docu-drama in 2006 when I saw an English company [do one]. That opened a door for me. I’m not a good writer, but I’m very interested in people’s lives, so to be able to find text and place it on stage without having to make it up opened a big door for me creatively. You document material then select and arrange it. We’ve interviewed 50 people for Singlehood, a show about being single: 11 people, actors and non-actors, will talk about those stories. They’ll also talk about their own lives on stage, which is quite brave of them.

“David and I are not in it ourselves, but we’d both become single about the same time. I wrote Victor and Gord to explore friendship, because I didn’t think I was particularly successful at that. And I haven’t been particularly successful at staying single in the past, so I’m giving it a go. I’ve been single for a year now because I want to prioritise friends and family over just one relationship: not to put all my eggs in one basket any more. Singlehood is about all ages, sexual orientation, people who are divorced, who’ve never had a relationship.

“We’ve been doing Victor and Gord since 2009. The show is the true story of two friends, real people – my youngest sister Áine, whose family nickname is Gord for gorgeous, and Vicky Lewis – who grew up in Ballinclea from the age of two. The crux of the story is that they don’t like each other any more: doing the play has brought them a lot closer because they had to talk out all their problems in front of hundreds of people. We balanced it with a homage to where we grew up: we were afforded a proper childhood. It was a celebration of that as well.

“I don’t regret that I didn’t have the same kind of experience as Dave and Áine, who’ve been part of a gang of friends from our estate since childhood. I’m a one-on-one person, don’t do large groups. The best thing about Dave is he’s the most considerate person I’ve ever met.

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