‘Because of Grenades people found me’

Emma O’Grady as Nuala in Mephisto’s production of Grenades.

Emma O’Grady as Nuala in Mephisto’s production of Grenades.

THE LAST time I interviewed playwright Tara McKevitt was in 2010 when Mephisto Theatre Company was about to stage her debut play Grenades.

The play had already won RTÉ’s PJ O’Connor Award for Radio Drama and would go on to win a 2011 Gold Award at the New York Festivals Radio Awards.

Mephisto’s production got glowing reviews (“enthralling, heart-wrenching,” said Irish Theatre Magazine; “powerful…impossible to fault,” declared The Scotsman ) and toured across Ireland and Britain.

Grenades’ success opened important doors for McKevitt, with the Abbey and Traverse theatres, as well as RTÉ investing in her talent. Now Mephisto are bringing Grenades back to the Town Hall Theatre next week and it affords an opportunity for McKevitt to reflect on the progress of her career to date.

“When we last spoke Grenades was doing two nights in the Galway Theatre Festival,” she says. “I thought at the time that would be it, but here we are three years later and it’s still going on.

“It’s opened up a lot for me. Directly, because of it I got on the Abbey New Playwrights Programme. Then RTÉ asked me to write for them because of Grenades. I’m also now on the third draft of the film script of it, which came about after I got on a film-writing residency in Glasgow. Because of Grenades people seem to have found me.”

Tara was a participant on The Abbey Theatre’s New Playwrights Programme 2011/12, is one of ‘The Traverse Fifty’ playwrights 2013 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, and had her radio drama An System Nua recently aired on RTÉ Radio 1.

I ask how she found working in the Abbey; “It was great,” she replies. “I was a bit intimidated to start with because I thought ‘Oooh, it’s the Abbey!’ but everyone there was really nice. As part of the programme I had to write a draft of a play and they workshopped that with a group of actors; I am on the fourth draft at the moment. It was really good and it opens things up for you. When you say ‘I’m part of the Abbey New Playwrights’ people sit up and take more notice.”

McKevitt is particularly relishing her current, year-long, association with the feted Traverse Theatre.

“Traverse Theatre is 50 years old this year and one of the things they decided to do is to select 50 playwrights and work with them over the year,” she explains. “They chose the 50 via a competition for which you had to write a 500-word play on the theme ‘A play for Edinburgh’.

“There were about 650 entries, submitted anonymously, and my play, Tourists, was one of those selected so I was thrilled. For two nights in January they did a rehearsed reading of all 50 plays. It was amazing, you had 50 plays, all less than five minutes long, and they were all of a really high standard. It was a brilliant experience.

“Next, they want us to write a 10-minute play and they’ll choose eight of those to put on and then two months later they’ll want us to do a 20-minute play. I love the Traverse, I used to go there all the time when I lived in Scotland, and a lot of my favourite playwrights are ones who came through there.”

As McKevitt forges ahead with her writing career, Galway audiences can once again see the play which started it all. Set in Northern Ireland in the 1970s/80s, Grenades tells the story of Nuala, whose family is caught up in the conflict.

She and her brother are thrust into a violent and adult world and their growing awareness of it leads to disastrous consequences for them and their family. Ten years later, as she waits in a prison, Nuala tries to make sense of her memories.

Directed by Caroline Lynch and performed by Emma O’Grady, Grenades plays the Town Hall on Thursday February 28 at 8pm.

Tickets are available through 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie

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