With the return of his play, Maire - A Woman of Derry, 2013 seems set to be a bumper year for Creggan playwright Brian Foster. Later in the year he returns to the Millennium Forum with another production the Journal asks him what exactly has made Maire such a runaway success...
The most successful play in local theatre history returns to the stage early next month as part of the City of Culture celebrations. The return of ‘Maire - A Woman of Derry’ marks the beginning of a very busy year for playwright Brian Foster.
After Maire, he returns with ‘Derry Through Those Laughter and Tears Years,’ and fans of the Creggan born writer will be delighted that waiting in the wings are three more full productions from Foster.
It is hard to believe that Maire has not been staged in some seven years.
“People are always surprised when I say that,” said Brian. “I am absolutely delighted to be back working with Carmel (McCafferty who plays Maire). “It seemed appropriate to bring the play back for the cultural celebrations.”
In excess of 40, 000 people have already seen the production, a one woman show, with few props, lighting or sound queues. This is Maire’s story and her story only.
“I like a simple set and a strong storyline,” said Brian who also penned the hit ‘Butterfly of Killybegs.’
Maire has those hard hitting qualities in abundance. Detailing the story of one woman’s journey from teen bride to street drinker. Carmel’s performance has won rave reviews and standing ovations no matter where they have toured.
“The story is based in Derry but I think there is a real universality to it. I find it quite remarkable that audiences have gelled with the story from America to Europe and Australia.
“I’ve always been a compulsive fiddler when it comes to the script. I was always trying to squeeze one more percent out of it but the story is settled now and is fit to be performed as is. Carmel is simply magnificent. I’ve always said that, she carries so much on her shoulders with no fall back position, she is on stage, alone for two hours and delivers every time. She is totally alone, so it is such an intense and brave performance. I still find it very emotional to watch every time she performs it.”
Questioned about the subject matter, Mr. Foster said: “I wanted to connect with Derry and alcoholism seemed like such an appropriate subject to tackle. So when I found the obvious subject matter I thought it much more of a challenge to have a lady as the protagonist. To have a lady drinking on the street seems somehow the lowest form of alcoholism.
“I still had to be sensitive. I couldn’t put the audience through two hours of doom and depression. The most serious issues are best addressed through laughter and it was important to give Maire the ability to laugh at herself. The audience are laughing with her and not at her. It is a delicate tightrope and I would never want to exploit the subject matter.”
Carmel returns to the stage as Maire the first week of February. The pair then reunite for Foster’s next production ‘Derry Through Those Laughter and tears Years,’ another Derry based comedy
Set in 1963 as, Brian said: “Those are the years I fondly remember growing up in Creggan Heights. Derry was a peaceful place, the fuse was burning but it was still peaceful even if it was ready to explode into the troubles. That period is quite important to me.”
The new production, set in Springtown Camp, addresses Derry’s political and social issues in a novel way. The exemplary cast of Carmel, Kerry Doherty, Pat Lynch and Bill Waters all play eight year olds.
“That means I can give them some brave things to say. I think it is funny yet poignant but it will upset a few people. I never think that does you any harm at all. I like to upset a few people” boasts Brian proudly.
“I once complained that some protestors had targeted the Opera House in Belfast due to nudity in a show. I called them and highlighted that we had nudity in our production at the Lyric I asked them to come and protest it. They didn’t arrive.”
Perhaps Brian gets that streak from his “quick thinking” mother, Susan. After being expelled from St. Columb’s College this teen truant was refused a place at two more schools as a “college reject.”
“Quite right too,” he admits. “My mother simply told Brother O’Sullivan at the Christian Brothers Technical School ‘That’s OK we’ll send him to a Protestant school.’ They found me a place immediately,” laughed Brian.
Maire - A Woman of Derry shows at the Millennium Forum on February 1 and 2. Tickets from the box office on 02871 264455.