INTERVIEW: Margaret Irish

Award-winning writer takes a gothic turn in Ravine, but don't call it horror

Accidental Theatre reaches the mid-point of their Rehearsed Reading series on June 10 with Ravine by Margaret Irish. It’s a play that does exactly what it says on the tin.

‘It’s about two people that fall into a ravine,’ Irish says matter-of-factly and stops. She adds, almost as an after-thought. ‘They find a dead body already in there.’

It sounds like the start of a gory horror novel. Irish denies that it is, although she admits that one of the problems faced by her two ‘generic Westeners’ on an extreme sports holiday gone wrong, is what to do with the corpse.

‘It’s decomposing,’ she explains primly. ‘It gets quite smelly and they have no way to get rid of it. They could set it on fire, but they’re in a third world country where burning a body is sacrilege.’

(Or, if it had been a gory horror, barbeque.)

A ghost – ‘of sorts’, Irish hedges – also turns up in the second act. Whether it is a manifestation of the supernatural – there to protest its funeral pyre – or of the trapped men’s psychological trauma is something that you’ll have to find out on the night.

All Irish is willing to say about it is, ‘He becomes a character in his own right.’

This isn’t Irish’s first foray into the literary world. She has written radio plays for RTE and had short stories published across the UK. In 2003 she won the PJ O’Conner award with her radio-play Playing Russian. She also won second prize in the 2008 Linen Hall Michael McLaverty Short Story Competition with a short story called ‘To The Limit’.

‘It sounds like it is, but it’s not about extreme sports,’ Irish chuckles. She denies interest in any sport more strenuous than a bit of hill-walking. ‘It was about a father grieving the untimely death of his daughter.’

Ravine is her first play written for the stage and Irish admits that the experience was nerve-wracking. She credits Accidental Theatre with helping her through it.

‘I came up to work with them twice,’ she says. ‘We sat through a read-through of the first draft and then everyone pitched in with their critique. It was very useful. You think you know what the words sound like when you write them down, but you really don’t!’

Of the list of suggestions compiled by Accidental Theatre’s dramaturg Emily Dedakis, one of the founders of the company and one of the first Creative Writing PhDs from Queen’s, Irish says she incorporated most of them in the second draft.

However, Irish credits a different source entirely with giving her faith in her story.

'Shortly after I wrote the story I read about a Spanish woman on an adventure holiday who got separated from her group and fell down a ravine,' Irish says. ‘She was lost for ten days before they found her. So my story wasn’t that far-fetched.'

And her characters weren’t that unlucky, Irish only leaves them down there for two nights.

Read Margaret Irish's short story 'To The Limit'.

Tammy Moore