One day the playwright Deirdre Kinahan was out walking in a bog near her home in County Meath when she came across a bunch of flowers. The flowers were totally incongruous to the flowers one would normally see in a bog-deep browns and greys – so she had a look-see to see what they were about. “And beside these flowers was a photograph”, she tells me. “An old 70s Polaroid, of a young man with the fluff of a moustache and a nautical jacket.” It started her thinking about who he was and what the photograph was doing there. “I connected it to the story of the disappeared, a group of people who went missing from Belfast and Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, civilians who were lifted because they were suspected of being in some way involved in informing on the IRA.”
There was an amnesty in 2001, and the IRA was asked to give up the locations of a number of bodies buried around Ireland. It became apparent that there had indeed been a young man buried in this bog. So Deirdre started to write a play that was about a group of people and their relationship to it.
Brigit is a young one, on rehabilitation, a former heroin addict, placed down in Navan working in a local cafe. She strikes up a relationship with this local recluse, Hughie Dolan, who is a good few years older than her. “They are from totally different cultures, they speak different languages but they connect through a common humanity and a kind of a humor which brings them together.” Deirdre says. “Brigit has a baby she’s trying to get out of care so she is using Hughie to some degree. But he’s enjoying being used, the fun and newness that she brings to his life.”
But all the time you get the sense that he is running from something. And then you discover that the police are digging in the bog near where Hughie lives…
Bogboy looks at Ireland in the now, Ireland in the not too distant past and Ireland in the long gone past through the outlooks of these three characters, showing how we can move and circle around each other and how we have grown as a society. Starting in 2010, when Brigit decides to write a letter to the sister of the boy in the bog to tell her where he is buried, we shift back to 2001 when Brigit was friends with Hughie Dolan in Meath, and then back again to 1974, the height of the troubles. “We are complicit in everything that happens up there but we turn our back on it again and again and just let it disappear from our consciousness,” Deirdre says. “That’s the underlying theme. ”
It also deals with the notion of stolen futures. “Hughie had dreams of a life when he was 17 or 18 when he headed down the bog to help his mate Seamie bury guns.” But it wasn’t guns they were burying. It was a boy. And that broke him. “That one moment, that one instant broke him and took his future and his one chance of a decent life away from him. In the same way that the young guy from Belfast had a future till the ‘RA came knocking at the door… and Brigit the same.”
It is, in essence, about the disappeared. The different people who fall through the cracks and how we, as a society, turn our backs to them. It started life as a radio play, but as she wrote it, Deirdre could feel it coming out of the darkness so she turned to director Jo Mangan to help bring it to life.
I ask Deirdre how precious she is about her work, how finicky she is about the faithful translation of what she puts on the page and what another puts on the stage. “I have a good relationship with my directors and they are very much the boss. Usually when I send a script into a rehearsal room, it’s what comes out the other end because an awful lot of work goes before it.” She has an idea as to who she would like to have direct the piece as she is writing it “so I’ll sit with them through draft one, draft two, draft three and keep talking to them about it.”
She avoids going to the first week of rehearsal as she thinks it’s important for the production team to tear the piece asunder to get comfortable with it. “They need the freedom where they don’t have the writer sitting there. And it’s good for me as a writer to throw myself outside my comfort zone and work with different people because it constantly feeds into my own ethos of writing, thinking about how things can be played.”
As artistic director of Tall Tales Theatre Company, for whom she has written at least one play a year for the past 12, she is in the fortunate position of choosing her playmates. For this production she chose Mangan, as she was impressed by her work on the 2008 Performance Corporation show The Nose. “The Nose was a play that seemed to come up out of the dark, that became bright and glittery before slipping back into the darkness, so it has parallels to Bogboy, which is a dark piece of theatre but also a very lively, funny piece.”
Because casting is key, Deirdre is also heavily involved in that aspect of production. “I have a very clear instinct as to who those characters are. I love to be in the casting room with the director and being treated to the surprise. Because actors can often feed into an element of the character that was there but that you weren’t aware of or that you had a very different physical image in your head. And it really works. It’s a very exciting process.”
Words: Caomhan Keane