Cyprus Avenue, the award-winning dark comedy written by David Ireland, is coming to the Tron this March. The play is an absurd tale about the cost of sectarian violence, following die-hard Unionist Eric Miller who discovers that his wee granddaughter is the Sinn Fein leader. SNACK caught up with David ahead of the Scottish premiere of Cyprus avenue and discusses why Glaswegians are in on the joke, saying the wrong thing and talking to God.
Could you tell us a wee bit about Cyprus Avenue, for those who aren’t familiar?
It’s the story of a Belfast Protestant called Eric Miller who believes his baby granddaughter is Gerry Adams. His wife and daughter think he’s going mad, so he turns to a loyalist paramilitary called Slim for assistance. Eric and Slim come up with a plan to stop the baby before it destroys Eric’s family.
The play has been performed worldwide since it opened in Dublin in 2016. What makes it especially relevant now?
I wrote the play in 2012 and it didn’t feel very relevant then. When it was produced in 2016, some critics seemed to think it was a commentary on Brexit and Trump but I never saw it that way. To me, it was always about family and fatherhood and heritage. I’ve no idea if the play is or ever has been relevant. It’s not my business. Neil Simon said don’t try to be fashionable. Just be truthful and let fashion come to you. I try to work along those lines.
How does the Tron production differ from past productions? Have you been tempted to do something different?
I’ve tried to cut some of it, so it’s a bit shorter. It was one of my first plays so it’s a bit overwritten in places and I’ve tried to correct that.
You said to the Royal Court: ‘I think the world would be better off without my plays, and I try my best to avoid writing them, but something drives me to it. Some pernicious discontent.’ What pernicious discontent drove you to write this one?
My fear of becoming my father.
As a resident of the city, how do you think a Glaswegian audience will relate to Cyprus Avenue?
I’m hopeful they’ll enjoy it. When it was performed in London, you could sometimes hear one member of the audience laughing alone at a specific cultural reference – it was pretty clear they were either from Northern Ireland or Glasgow. In my experience, Glaswegians tend to enjoy brutal honesty and raw humour, and this play has plenty of that.
This piece is divisive, apt for a play about the cost of sectarian violence. Did you anticipate this from the outset?
When I started writing plays, it was a bit of a surprise to me that there was such a strong reaction against my work. I was heavily influenced by South Park, Eminem, Tarantino, David Mamet, Frank Zappa. I assumed everybody liked that kind of stuff so it was weird for me when people started acting all offended. As an actor I had been in a lot of boring plays so I set out with the idea that I never wanted an audience to be bored by my work. I’ve probably taken it a bit too far at times but it’s made for an interesting career.
Was it a natural development that the script shaped into a dark comedy, or was that your intention from the start?
Yeah, I think I always intended it to be a dark comedy. It veers into becoming a bit of a tragedy as the play progresses, which was never my intention but sometimes a play takes on a life of its own.
As an actor, did you envisage playing any of the parts yourself?
I wrote the part of Slim for myself but by the time we did it my son was five weeks old and my daughter was two. I’m not sure it would have been good for my marriage to leave my wife and children in Pollokshields while I went swanning off to Sloane Square. I always write parts for myself in my plays but no one ever casts me – possibly because I’m not a very good actor, I don’t know.
After a pandemic and now a recession, do you think theatre is in jeopardy?
I think it was the authoritarian overreaction to Covid, rather than Covid itself which put theatre in jeopardy. It really surprised me how compliant everyone was in 2020. Currently, theatre is more in jeopardy from the timidity of artists and producers. Everyone is terrified of saying the wrong thing. That’s never been a problem for me. I love saying the wrong thing.
In the current climate, it is challenging for emerging playwrights to keep their heads above water. Do you have any advice for writers scrabbling to be seen?
I don’t really give advice. Nobody listens to me anyway. Talk to God. That’s my only advice.