Richard Molloy: ‘Write what you’re afraid of . . . you have to upset people’

Divorce is a source of painful shame in Richard Molloy’s new play, ‘The Separation’

In early 1990s Ireland, before divorce was accepted in a referendum by just the narrowest of margins, Dublin-born Richard Molloy grew up feeling different and ashamed as the son of separated parents.

Today, Molloy is a teacher and playwright in his early 30s. His first play, The Separation, which is now on at Project Arts Centre in Dublin, starring Carrie Crowley and David Murray, examines a disintegrating Dublin family.

The play is not autobiographical, he says, but it is personal. In school, a teacher had once made it clear to his mother, Mary, that her son would not have been accepted into the school if its management had known that she and her husband, Philip Molloy, had separated, “because marriage was sacred”.

“I was ashamed to tell my friends at school that my parents were separated,” he says. “I felt it was weird, I felt that I was an alien. I’m sure the other parents had their own troubles but I was ashamed of it . . . I don’t really want to write political plays, but this play came out of the shame that I felt as the child of a broken home.”


Now, Molloy worries about what his parents – his father, Philip Molloy, a former Irish Independent journalist who now reviews films for Newstalk, and mother, Mary Meyler – will think of his work.

“It isn’t an autobiographical play about something that happened, but it is informed by that shame that I felt. I am sure it will be upsetting for them. I am worried about how they will respond.

“Writers are told that you have to write about what you are afraid of and that is what I was afraid of. That was the first thing I had to write about. I hope it doesn’t upset them too much.”

Long time

He pauses for a long time. “But if it doesn’t then it is not a good enough play. That’s another thing they say; you have to upset people, too.”

Molloy wants his play, which has been three years in the making, to succeed but worries about the price to be paid. We meet in a London rehearsal hall, where the cast have been working on the play for three weeks. In it, an American character, a work colleague and potential lover of the husband, plays the foil, offering an outsider’s bemusement at witnessing Irish society in the days before divorce was introduced.

For Molloy, that bemusement represents his past: “My parents separated in 1982, I think. There was a sort of a weird situation, living apart for 15 years before they were able to get divorced. That obviously was a little strange.”

The first scene in The Separation was written five years ago, but the majority of the first draft did not emerge until the summer of 2011 when Molloy wrote "it over the course of the summer holidays" from his school in Stanmore in North London. "I was living with three people, who probably found me very anti-social. I just sort of stayed in my room all summer and wrote."

Later, there was a reading of the play in London. "I felt it wasn't in very good shape, and I felt that I didn't really know how to fix it." Some 18 months on, his friend, actress Susan Stanley, proposed a reading in Dublin.

The push from Stanley worked. "I redrafted it and suddenly it felt a lot better. After the reading I redrafted it again." His second play, O Do Not Love Too Long, is already written. "Practise helps; the more you do it the better you get."

Play-writing has come after trying prose. “When I was writing prose I couldn’t find a place where I wasn’t being so critical of what I was writing that I could just do it. Whereas when I put the words in a character’s mouth it just felt like it flowed a lot easier. I wasn’t tripping over myself.”

Molloy left Dublin eight years ago “before the crash, when everything was still rosy”, believing the city was “too small and claustrophobic” for him. Following a job in the Lamda theatre school, he found work as a teacher and for the past six years he has taught in the 1,600-pupil strong Park High School in Stanmore in North London.

His school principal, Emlyn Lumley, has been supportive of his playwright-teacher, helping to fit classes around rehearsals: “He’s been great, he seems genuinely excited at the prospect of one of his teachers having a play on.”

For Molloy, the time in front of a class in Park High is the best part of the job: “There is a stereotype about London schools: that everything is awful, but being in a class with teenagers is great fun.

Exam system

“It is all the other stuff I don’t like. Marking is incredibly boring. The system itself is broken, it isn’t an education system. It is an exam system, one of constant assessments. The children are so indoctrinated.”

For now, Molloy has cut his time in class to four days a week, to allow more time for writing. In time, he would like to cut it further.

“I would love to be able to give up teaching and write if not full-time, but more of the time. Making a living out of writing feels an almost impossible thing to do. I have got a lot out of teaching but I don’t think I’d want to do it for the rest of my life.”

The Separation is at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, until June 14,