We had the chance to put some questions to Steward Roche ahead of the opening of ‘Revenant’ at the International Bar. You can see the results below.
Revenant: Thursday 21st April to Saturday 23rd at 5.30pm. Saturday matinee at 2pm. All tickets: 10 Euro and are available here.
This play was first performed in 2013, is that correct? I’m fascinated by how many plays have very short lives, after all the months of writing and rehearsing, they are only performed a handful of times. Is it a delight to see this return to the stage?
Yes, it was first performed in the winter of 2013. It’s one of the things that can be a little heart-breaking about theatre, the fleeting nature of it. As you say, months of intense work followed by rehearsal and then it becomes little more than a memory (I’m at risk of sounding like Uncle Monty from ‘Withnail and I” here) as opposed to a film or radio play. I have had a couple of excellent amateur productions of plays that had been previously staged but this is the first professional revival. So in that regard, it’s a true delight for “Revenant” to return. This production has run in Manchester and London but I was unable to get over to it so I’m very much looking forward to seeing it. Patrick O’Donnell has received heaps of praise for his performance, not to mention a Best Actor nomination in Manchester. This doesn’t surprise me though as he’s a fantastic talent.
Did you change it much for this production or is it identical to the original script?
I cut it pretty substantially in places. I think having had distance from it allowed me to approach it with a fresh perspective. I hadn’t even read it in the subsequent years so as fond as I might have been of it back when it was first staged, I was able to wield the knife as required. It’s a lot tighter and I think it’s a better piece for it. It comes in at a lean 70 minutes now.
Can you tell our readers a little about the Revenant and the world it explores?
Revenant combines a satire on movie making with folk horror and a touch of Faust. Our main character Carter has found the perfect location to shoot his zombie movie set during the famine- a country house on an island off the coast of Mayo. The only catch is he has it for just 3 days. So when his lead actor drops out the day before shooting starts, Carter is faced with a difficult decision- pull on the plug on his dream project or cast the mysterious Vardell, an actor of incendiary talent but someone with a dark past that he knows precious little about. As events unfold on set, Carter soon suspects that he may have made a grave mistake.
Was it one of your first pieces performed on stage?
Yes, it was my debut play. I’d adapted some classic ghost stories the year before for the much missed Karl Shiels in Theatre Upstairs and they’d done pretty well. They also imbued me with the confidence to write my first original play, which became ‘Revenant”.
Can you remember your feelings about opening night? Was it fear, apprehension or excitement, or a mix of all three?
All three for certain, with fear dominating the other two. In 2012 I’d had a staged reading of a sprawling, never to be produced epic of limited merit and I recall not even taking a breath for the first three minutes and nearly passing out. But in “Revenant” there are a couple of good laughs in the opening scene which I think helped relax me and also the audience, who soon revealed that they were very much up for it. Actually, that opening night was probably one of my happiest memories in all my time as a writer. There was a hint of the magical about it. Simon Toal starred in the original production and he was incredible. I couldn’t have asked for a better interpretation. Phenomenal.
Are you always working on a number of scripts? What are you working on currently?
I’ve usually got a couple of things on the go, as much for my sanity as anything else. Right now I’m working on a screenplay and a radio play, which is also a folk horror. I adapted an MR James story, “Lost Hearts” with my good friend Michael James Ford over lockdown. It was streamed last October and we are in the final stages of getting a theatrical production nailed down for later this year. And hopefully, another play of mine, which is absolutely not a folk horror, will have a production in Rex Ryan’s fantastic Glass Mask Theatre in the near future.
What would you say to any young writers that want to get their work on stage? What would be a good first step to take?
Go to see as much as you can. Read as much as you can, the library is a brilliant resource. Submit your work as many places as you can. Try to get into festivals, new writing nights, whatever presents itself but get something up on stage somewhere and invite people to see it. Seek out mentors, you’d be surprised how open most people are to helping young writers out. Don’t be afraid of Dramaturgs.
And remember to breathe during those first three minutes. Trust me.