Three new offerings from Daragh Carville

The award-winning writer hits the stage, screen and radio

Most people’s definition of hell is being locked in a room with their nearest and dearest for more than 24 hours. Look at Christmas. By Boxing Day everyone is ready to run to the hills. So imagine being stuck six feet under with your close relations for the rest of eternity. 
This is the terrifying idea behind Daragh Carville’s latest play, Family Plot, which has already sold out its run at the Belfast Festival. The award-winning playwright has created a darkly comic ensemble piece far removed from the conventional kitchen sink drama. For Family Plot is set beyond the grave, featuring four generations of the dysfunctional and dead Kerr family. 
For their sins, the Kerrs have been condemned to share the afterlife together, and to continue their disputes and grievances in the confines of a family burial plot. However, the passing of Emer (played by Claire Lamont), sets in train a series of events which finally offers them some kind of resolution. 
Explaining the inspiration behind his sixth stage play, Carville said: ‘I haven’t mentioned the family much in my previous plays, but as it’s one of the great themes in Irish Theatre, it’s something I wanted to write about.’ 
While the language and landscape of Family Plot are very much tied to Carville’s roots in Armagh, he stresses that the play bears no relation to his own family life.
Instead Family Plot focuses on betrayal, a theme beloved by one Carville’s ‘writing heroes’, Nobel Prize winner, Harold Pinter. Carville also cites Irish playwright Marina Carr amongst his influences. 
The writing of Family Plot was a much more collaborative process for Carville than his other plays and involved Tinderbox’s dramaturg, Hanna Slattne.  
The dramaturg is an editorial role new to theatre in Northern Ireland, but common in European theatre practice. Carville likens the role to that of the script editor in film and television. After writing the first draft privately, Carville engaged in readings with Slattne. The ensuing discussion of thematics and structure gave rise to new ideas, with Carville welcoming the input of the dramaturg, director Michael Duke and the cast itself, which includes Frank McCafferty. 
‘The first draft was a messy and sprawling affair, but working with Hanna, Michael and the others helped to define the central structure, the style and the dynamics. I’ve been lucky to have been working with a bunch of really good people. The cast have been fantastic. They have been finding new things within the play and have helped to bring out hidden elements.’ 
Carville is grateful for the support he has received from Tinderbox. ‘The company lived up to its name by finding the ‘spark’ in me, as Tinderbox helped me to realise what I wanted to do. The past 10 years of working with them has been very exciting.’
Carville’s work met with critical acclaim early in his career. He achieved UK-wide recognition for his work without having to relocate from Northern Ireland – an outcome that has eluded many local writers. 
At the age of 27, the Armagh playwright won the Meyer Whitworth Award, the Stewart Parker New Writing Award and a TMA UK Theatre Award nomination for his play Language Roulette (1996). 
His other works include Dumped, Observatory, Male Toilets (one of five plays from the Convictions promenade theatre piece, set in Crumlin Road Courthouse), the radio play Regenerations and The Holy Land. 
More recently, Carville has been branching out into new territory. His short story The Man from Ancestry (also premiering at the Belfast Festival), read by Frances Tomelty, is to be broadcast on Radio 4, and his first feature film, Middletown, is scheduled to go into production in December 2005.  
Set in a border town, Middletown will centre on the relationship between two brothers, played by Matthew MacFadyen, who recently starred as Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice (2005), and Daniel Mays, who played Sid in Mike Leigh’s film, Vera Drake (2004). 
Backed by the Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission (NIFTC) and the Irish Film Board, the film will be shot in Belfast and Monaghan. 
Highlighting the difference between stage and screen, Carville noted: ‘Film-making is a much longer process than stage production. It’s very difficult to raise money, and putting together a budget is a long drawn out process. At various stages, many others might have called it a day, but producer Michael Casey and I never gave up on the project because we had belief in the power of the story.’ 
Family Plot is going on tour across Northern Ireland until December 3, at a range of venues, including the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre, Newry, the Island Arts Centre, Lisburn, and the Riverside Theatre, Coleraine. Full details are available on the Arts Listings website.