An Interview with playwright Seamus Finnigan

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The Northern Irish playwright chats to us about his new play at the Old Red Lion.

One of Ireland's most perceptive writers, Seamus Finnegan returns to the Old Red Lion and his long standing collaborator, Scottish theatre director and artist Ken McClymont, with whom he has previously put on seven productions at the Islington Venue. With the new play “I am of Ireland”, the Celtic duo are examining the state of a divided nation. With current developments, Ireland plays an increasingly important role in Europe, and the troubled Anglo-Irish relationship will have to be equilibrated once again. Sectarianism declines but racist violence is on the up. “I am of Ireland” looks at the state of the nation through the characters of Father Flannagan, a black priest, Catholic Mary, Republican Dominic and Loyalist Derek.

Jerome Ngonadi and Angus Castle-Doughty in I AM OF IRELAND, credit of Michael Robinson

London Calling: Tell us about your new play I am of Ireland, which I believe is quoting a poem by William Yeats. What is it about?

Seamus Finnigan: It’s a big subject. There are different strands to the play, the Catholic Church plays a part, a former republican activist will come into play, the state of loyalism and the unionists at the moment. Two characters, one who stayed in Belfast and one who went into self-imposed exile like myself, meet in a cemetery after the death of a friend. It is a state of a nation play. For the most part, I always try and give storylines from all the different angles of the people involved, which I think is the duty of the dramatist.

Sean Stewart in I AM OF IRELAND, credit of Michael Robinson

LC: With Brexit negotiations going on, Ireland and the border issue of Ireland is very much back in the media again. So would you say it is important to have those discussions and tell those stories in England right now?

SF: Oh indeed, absolutely! Particularly because Mrs. May is being held in power by the Democratic Unionist Party. I have been writing about this for a long time, I suppose, but this terrible muddle of Anglo-Irish relations, which stays the same and yet at the same time changes, is going through quite a large change at the moment, particularly within the European context.

LC: And there is really no good solution.

SF: Quite. Exactly. They’ve been trying the same one for quite some time now.

Richard Fish and Saria Steel in I AM OF IRELAND, credit of Michael Robinson

LC: You are bringing your play to the Old Red Lion, which is a tiny matchbox theatre, but you have a long-standing relationship with the space?

SF: An early play called Soldiers in the 80s, one of my first productions, was done at the Old Red Lion. It caused a bit of controversy at the time, it was 1981, the time of the hunger strikes. Subsequently in the 90s, I met Ken McClymont who was the artistic director of the Old Red, and that relationship and collaboration has developed since then.

LC: You are an avid theatre lover, what have you seen recently that you would recommend or that inspired you?

SF: Probably the work of August Wilson, the American dramatist, Fences which was turned into a film. Also Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which was at the National Theatre a couple of years ago, he’s a contemporary dramatist I admire.

I am of Ireland is at the Old Red Lion until 30 June. Tickets are £17.