DRUID THEATRE Company’s main contribution to this year’s Galway International Arts Festival is Be Infants In Evil, the professional debut of Dublin-born playwright Brian Martin.
At once playfully comic and uncompromisingly savage, it is an outstanding debut which centres on a priest, Fr Patrick, newly posted to a parish in Dublin.
Fr Patrick needs to be alone. He can no longer put off the reckoning that has been a long time coming, but instead finds himself hearing confessions he is in no mind to hear - from Noleen, a blind widow who knows more than she lets on to know; Jacinta, a Muslim convert who wants it in writing that she has left the church; and he’s playing host to Henry, a 13-year-old boy who has somehow made it alone from London to be with his former tutor and old friend.
Brian Martin is a native of Dublin now resident in London. He is a graduate of TCD where he studied playwriting with Marina Carr, has been a participant in the Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme as well as their Studio Group, and is also an actor, as he tells me over an afternoon phone call.
“I went to drama school in LAMDA, I came to London in 2009 and I’ve been acting here ever since graduating in 2011,” he says. “I’m currently in Titus Andronicus at The Globe which is going extremely well. It’s quite gory and there have been people fainting during the show. We enter through the audience in ‘the pit’ and one day as we were waiting to make our entrance we heard this loud smack and the door swung open and this woman had fainted as she was trying to get out and she was just sprawled there on the ground as we were entering!
“Be Infants In Evil is my first full-length professional play. I did an English and Drama degree in Trinity and that’s where I first met Oonagh Murphy the director. In my first year there Philip Ridley’s Pitchfork Disney was put on and it blew me away. I hadn’t seen any theatre like it before and it inspired me to want to write so I wrote a few plays for Trinity players, then this one.
“I first wrote it four years ago. The original inspiration was the Ryan Report and there was a quote in it that really stood out for me among all the other testimonies of abuse. One guy who had been in St Joseph’s Industrial School in Artane during the 1940s testified, and I quote his testimony here for you: ‘I had sexual relations with him, that is the way I look at it. The others abused me but with him I would be kinder with the words because the man looked after me. I did do things with him that today people would stand up and scream abuse but he was kind, he was probably the only person in my life up to that time that would give me a hug and look after me. He looked after me, I looked after him, as simple as that. Sexual abuse did take place, I now know it was wrong but he was the one person I loved at that point. I did love the man, I have very fond memories of the man.’
“So that told a different side to the story, one I had not heard before. I was fascinated with that whole debate. There is more to it than the media tends to say. In the play I don’t really take a side but the play just suggests something like this could be reciprocated.”
While the play touches on sensitive topics such as child abuse and abortion there is also a strong vein of comedy running through it.
“The sense of humour in Dublin is brilliant and I suppose having left Dublin it really made me see what the Dublin humour was by stepping away from it and moving to London where the sense of humour is different,” Martin observes. “Noleen is quite a funny character and she is based on my own grandmother and I think we can all relate to that elderly person in our lives who is one moment so wise and caring, and the next comes out with the most bizarre facts and you wonder where they heard it from, but they are so earnest. That is the great thing about the Irish people, we do have that dark history but we deal with it in a way that ‘What can you do but laugh?’
“I never envisaged being in the play myself when I was writing it. There are none of the roles that would suit me in the play. The 13-year-old boy character was a big challenge for me to write, putting a young actor onstage and giving him a lot to do. I was in a Tom Murphy play myself when I was twelve, in the Abbey’s production of The Wake.”
Martin reveals how he hooked up with Druid and director Oonagh Murphy.
“I sent the play to Druid in January last year and at the same time I sent it to Oonagh,” he says. “She had just moved over here and was working in the Donmar. Both Druid and Oonagh got back to me at the same time and Druid wanted to do a rehearsed reading and they wanted Oonagh to direct that but she couldn’t because of her Donmar commitments. When it went on as a Druid Debut rehearsed reading last year the audience loved it so that was a big part in Druid deciding they wanted to do it as a full production. It’s brilliant that Oonagh was able to come on board and direct it.”