Although she is best known for her novels, which number more than 25, Jennifer Johnston has a rich theatrical history too. Her parents were the actress Shelah Richards and the playwright Denis Johnston, and she has written more than ten plays in her long career, not including adaptations of her own work. In Three Monologues, published in 1995 after various discrete productions, Johnston gives expression to three people living through the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The author lived in Derry for many years, and the writing is steeped in authentic detail and character.
In High Noon, directed by Gea Gojak, we meet loyalist Billy, who defines himself more by his love of Westerns than by his religion. What he wouldn’t give to be a hero! Charlie Bonner, beaming as he recounts Billy’s favourite plots and his friendship with local wild boy Sammy, creates a gently persuasive character that we cannot help but warm to, even as we know there is darkness to come. In Christine, directed by Claire O’Reilly, Ali White plays Billy’s wife, dealing with the aftermath of his story. Packing her bags, White is stoic as the steadfast Christine, refusing to remember Billy as a terrorist; he is her husband, a human being. Twinkletoes, directed by Laura Sheehan, completes the triptych. Here, Aoibhéann McCann vibrates with repressed energy as Karen, the young wife of a prisoner at the Maze. “It’s hard being married to a hero”, she admits; she would rather have someone to dance with, to love her.
This production was led by designer Maree Kearns, and her set plays a significant role in navigating the interweaving narrative of the separate monologues. As the stage deepens – from domestic facade to emptied interior to full, cluttered home. So does Johnston’s exploration, which, in its final monologue, relies less on the unspoken gaps and connections between two voices and embraces the full thwarted passion of a young, wasted life.
In the introduction to the published plays, Johnston wrote about how these monologues came about, when Christine “spoke to me; quite intimately … it was as if she inhabited me.” It is this gentle intimacy that defines each of the Three Monologues, the quality of attention that each of the characters demands. As Christine comments, having seen herself on TV at her husband’s funeral, “I do exist. I am a real person.”
Until March 12th