We had the chance to ask writer Philip St. John some questions about his new work ‘The Restoration of Hope’ which opens at the New Theatre today. We asked him about how he came to write the play and the inspiration behind it. You can see the results below.
The Restoration of Hope by Philip St. John – at the New Theatre until December 16th
How do you start writing a play? Is it with the characters or the plot?
I start with a glimpse of a scene. In The Restoration Of Hope, I glimpsed a drowned woman standing in a Dublin office. I had vague notions about how she had got there, but much of the writing time was taken up with investigating what had happened to her and what the consequences of that were.
At the start, I also had the sense that the drama would uncover a deeper ‘reality’ of which most of us are unaware. This notion seems very resonant just now. We are repeatedly uncovering secret or hidden realities – in the banks, the financial tricks of the rich, the behaviour of theatre and film luminaries, procedures in the Guards etc. During the play, Hope comes to discover the most elaborate and dangerous hidden ‘reality’ of all: she has to decide whether she will be part of it or not.
How long did it take to write this play?
I wrote a rapid longhand draft about a year and half ago. About six months ago I started to put shape on that. I’ve had one day off since then. Sometimes with a play, my ‘investigation’ of the story’s mysteries is quick: I feel like Sherlock Holmes. Sometimes, the investigation is a lot slower: I have to go over and over the evidence, and feel like I’m PC Plod. My last play Temptress was Holmesian. The Restoration of Hope, like The Sylvia, was Plodian. I think both methods get you there.
Is it difficult to make a living from writing in Ireland?
I’m just about surviving, with the help of commissions (TROH was commissioned by Mermaid Arts Centre), bursaries, giving workshops, appearing on panels, and the money I get from the writing itself. An American film producer bought an option on Temptress. A translated version of The Sylvia will be starting a brief Italian tour this week. But my income is frighteningly small.
Do we do enough to encourage young writers?
Well, we do a bit more than we did when I was in that demographic. There are writing courses everywhere, and lot of places to publish, virtually and in print. Again, the problem is money. Writing takes time. How is a young person to find that time if they have to work long hours to pay rent, and probably spend long hours commuting too? Everyone – artists and civilians – should get a living allowance. What they do with their time after that should be up to them.
This play sounds like a sinister version of Scrooge or It’s a Wonderful Life. Does it follow in that tradition, giving the main character a second chance to look at their life?
Though there is an element of that, it is more about characters coming to see the true nature of things in general: dying is clarifying…But like those films (oddly, I never thought of them during the writing), it is a comedy which plays with the incongruities and weirdness of returning to this world from the next.
Have you been involved in the rehearsal process?
Yes, I’ve been in and out of rehearsals.
Has the play changed much during that time?
It did change, yes. I cut a lot, reshaped scenes and added new passages. The cast have been great with feedback and suggestions, as were the director Mat Ralli and – earlier this year – the dramaturg Annabelle Comyn.
How will you be on opening night? Do you suffer from nerves?