A double dose of light relief

TRYING to emulate one of his heroes, master of American comedy plays Neil Simon, rarely works out for David Ireland. “I’m always trying to write like him and always end up writing horrible things happening and it’s not Simonesque at all,” says the playwright, currently writer-in-residence at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre. “So this was like an attempt to write a romantic comedy.”

The “this” is End Of Desire, half of a double bill of one-act plays at York Theatre Royal.

Although Ireland says the two-hander is “very light by my normal standards”, he admits it’s still a dark romantic comedy about two strangers – affluent poet Alan and Janet, who loves Big Brother – who meet online and find a mutual desire for love and fear of intimacy.

The piece was first staged in Glasgow two years ago with Ireland directing, despite his claim that “I’m not a director at all”.

So why direct? “It’s a very complicated story, but the person meant to direct dropped out at the last minute. Basically, I didn’t direct it at all, but let the actors get on with it,” he says.

On a brief visit to York during rehearsals, he says: “It’s really nice to see a director direct it and the two actors are terrific and really lovely.

In this play, I think it’s very important the actors are very likeable. That goes a long way, especially in a romantic comedy.”

KATIE Posner directs the cast of Sarah Heathwood, the songstress in the recent production of The Guinea Pig Club, and Jack Ashton, who was also in that show, in End Of Desire. They also star in the other half of the double bill, Escaping Alice, written by Matthew Pegg and directed by Juliet Forster.

Ireland, billed as “one of the UK’s most exciting emerging playwrights”, took home the 2011 Meyer-Whitworth Award for Best New Play by an Emerging Writer for Everything Between Us.

He tries to write something quite light after penning something really dark, which is how End Of Desire came about. He penned it coming off the back of writing a play about child sexual abuse.

“I really wanted to write something light and didn’t have a commission at that time but had a few weeks spare and thought I could write a one-act play,” he explains.

“Now I can see the inspiration behind the play but didn’t at the time. My girlfriend, who is now my wife, was moving to Paris. We’d been going out with each other for a couple of months and I suppose I was afraid of losing her and the relationship.

“The play is really about what happens at the beginning of a relationship. I was exorcising some of those worries at the time. A lot of stuff I write tends to be quite autobiographical.

I can’t see myself in the characters in End Of Desire, although I can see bits of myself and my mother and my sisters and so on. It’s only when I’m outside the process of writing I can see the inspiration for something.”

He’d like to write more lighter plays like End Of Desire, then remembers he’s just finished a play about “a guy who murders a baby” for the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

“I really enjoy writing comedy and making an audience laugh. I’ve got to get back to writing more romantic comedies. In many ways, it’s the hardest to write.

“I find writing comedy quite easy, but writing the romantic part is kind of hard. You have to draw on your experiences of being in love and you have to be in love at the time you’re doing it. I also think you have to love the characters as well.”

End Of Desire is set in East Belfast and rooted in the cultural prejudices there, but Ireland resists being labelled an Irish writer and is adamant it’s not a play about Northern Ireland, it just happens to be set there.

He started out as an actor. “I still am an actor technically. I did some acting yesterday for my wife. She hired me for a one-off job,” he says.

“I was acting and writing at the same time, then began writing more seriously six years ago when I had a long period out of work as an actor. At the minute, I definitely feel more like a writer than an actor.”

Ireland doesn’t have time for acting at the moment. He’s writing plays for the National Theatre and the Abbey Theatre. Then there’s a film and a TV series as well.

THE double bill came out of Katie Posner and Juliet Forster, who’ve both directed at York Theatre Royal before, being interested in working together on a project where they both had creative control. A double bill of plays was the obvious answer when they sat down and thought about it.

“It’s quite rare you get to do one-act plays, to invest that amount of time and money isn’t always that easy,” says Posner. “In terms of programming for the season we wanted to do something light and funny. So we said let’s do two one-act plays where we can share the same actors and same set.

“We also wanted them to be thematically linked. It was important we didn’t have an evening where they felt separate. Whatever the audience discovers in the plays is fine, but there are some very interesting parallels there.”

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