Theatre: Bogged Down by the Irish Question ; Just Where Is Playwright Colin Teevan Coming from? Robert Butler Finds Out
Butler, Robert, The Independent (London, England)
He was born in Dublin and teaches in Belfast. His new play The Walls, which opens this week at the National Theatre, is set precisely within Dublin's middle-middle class. But when we meet, the first point Colin Teevan wants to make is that he doesn't like the term "Irish playwright".
"Mark Ravenhill writes a play that's set in London, and it's about the Zeitgeist," he says, "I write a play that's set in Dublin and it's about Ireland." Teevan was dramaturg on Tantalus, the translator of Cuckoos and Marathon at the Gate and has just done a new version of The Bacchae for the National. "I translate from French, Italian and Greek, yet whatever I do, I'm Irish."
As head of drama at Queen's University, Belfast, Teevan moves easily between tutorials and rehearsals: the Irish equivalent, perhaps, of David Edgar. Teevan sees bigger differences in the way people actually structure plays than in whether they are from the North or the South or Protestant or Catholic. He identifies two camps in Irish theatre: "formalists" and "storytellers". Beckett is a formalist; John B Keane and Conor McPherson are storytellers.
Teevan is a formalist. He believes "form can express the meaning. In fact, form is meaning." The three scripts Teevan has done for Peter Hall - Cuckoos, the rewrites on Tantalus and now The Bacchae (with music by Harrison Birtwistle) - are defined by form. In his recent book Exposed by the Mask, Peter Hall states unequivocally that "Form frees ..." Put that on a T-shirt and Teevan might wear it.
His new play takes place on Christmas Eve in the Dublin home of a family called the Walls. As the play progresses, the walls of the house disappear. The play was commissioned by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, but "they didn't think the idea of the walls going was a very good idea". So now Mick Gordon is directing it at the Cottesloe. Teevan considers the walls the key pictorial ingredient. "It would be like saying The Cherry Orchard would be OK if it didn't have a cherry orchard in it." Teevan grew up in a Dublin suburb, went to a Jesuit school and had a classical education. His school was James Joyce's old school. He cheerfully admits that "the whole idea of the Christmas dinner party is a nod to Portrait of the Artist". Teevan now lives in Belfast with his wife and two children. He loves it there. "I like to think of Belfast as the subconscious of Britain and Ireland, living with all the contradictions that cannot be countenanced in Dublin or in London."
He is proud of catching the speech patterns of middle-class Dublin. …