We had the chance to interview Jarlath Tivnan, the writer and one of the stars of Pleasure Ground, which returns to Smock Alley before continuing around Ireland. It was one of our theatre highlights of 2015 so it is not to be missed. You can see the results below…
Smock Alley – Sunday 10th & Monday 11th April at 8pm
The Pleasure Ground of the title is a local park where the young people of the community meet up. Was there a similar park or place in your life?
Yes, indeed there was. In fact, the title of ‘Pleasure Ground’ is derived from the name bestowed upon the local playground in my own hometown of Boyle, Co. Roscommon. It was a place where my friends and I would often spend our lunch break during our secondary school days; some fantastically vibrant and warm summer nights were experienced there too.
Were any of the characters in this play based on people in real life?
All four characters were formed out of an amalgamation of people I grew up with, and how I viewed them personally, I suppose. It was my hope, when writing this play, that an audience member would recognise these people from their own life, or even perhaps see themselves. I think the characters of Pleasure Ground exist in every rural Irish town; I see them all the time.
Was it difficult to give the finished work over to the director, Maria?
Not at all. Maria was constantly informed about where the play was at throughout the whole process of writing it; she has written several plays herself, so her guidance was vital to me. Often, by being the devil’s advocate, Maria would encourage me to explore other avenues in terms of the character’s motivations/ choices, or to mine deeper into the serious themes of the play. Also, at various stages of writing, bits of the play were read aloud by the actors. It was great to hear my own thoughts imbued with fresh emotion and complexity- a useful way to keep the head down and drive on. When the finished product arrived, everyone was primed.
Is the finished play different to what you expected it to be?
Yes and no. This play was gestating in the minds of myself, Maria and other members of Fregoli, a year before the writing began. The notions of community, belonging and the fate of small towns in Ireland, were all issues we wanted to tackle from the get- go. Boyle, like every other town, has suffered during the last few years of collapse and abandonment. We wonder how towns like Boyle can retain their glory days when, right now, so many people of the younger generation are leaving for lands that offer plentiful life options. At the end of the day, it takes people with enthusiasm and hope for the future, to teach a town how to walk again.
Suicide and the perception of mental health in Ireland came when I began writing. Two of the characters have left their hometown to work and live life, two have stayed. The death of a childhood friend was a way to bring all of these character back home. Because this time would be so emotional for all involved, I could address the confusion, anger and deep sadness that burns in people when this (unfortunately prevalent) tragedy occurs.
Your own character seems to be the most bitter of the four. Was it interesting to give yourself a challenge in that role? How do you try to keep the audience from turning against him as a character?
Evan is the most bitter by a country mile! I suppose what was interesting was also the biggest challenge- i.e. his uncompromising nature. Evan is buried deep within his own resentment of how life has treated him- many loved ones have let him down really badly, so he has built an almost impenetrable wall around him, to protect himself from ever getting hurt again. However, owing to the fact that for three quarters of the play, Evan is so unmovable in his bitterness, it weirdly provides a lot of funny moments to get the audience on his side. He really does not give a shite about who he insults, or how he is perceived; lots of humour arises from how he addresses the people around him. Also, towards the end of the play, because he is drunk, he reveals a deep and honest pain that festers within him; it is here I hope the audience understands why he is the way he is, and that they accept him.
Could you ever see yourself writing a novel or would you write strictly for the stage?
At the moment, I’m tinkering around with pieces prospectively for the stage, and maybe (one day) for screen. A novel isn’t something I envisage just yet, but saying ‘never’ is always a foolish thing.
Tour Dates :
April 10th + 11th: Smock Alley, Dublin
April 15th: Siamsa Tire, Tralee
April 22nd : An Grianan, Letterkenny.
May 5th: Backstage Theatre, Longford.
May 14th: St Joseph’s Hall, Boyle.
May 17th + 18th : Town Hall Theatre, Galway.