My Cultural Life: Martin Lynch

The Belfast playwright on guarding his crown jewels, singing with Brendan Behan and dreaming of Julius Caesar

Can you remember the moment you realised that theatre was for you?
Yeah, I was sitting in the audience at Turf Lodge Social Club in 1975 watching a play called The Non-Stop Connolly Show by John Arden and Margaretta D’Arcy. A character from the play - an English Yeoman with a gun - was chasing an outlaw from the Land League around the main body of the hall and the crowd was loving it, roaring and cheering on the outlaw. It was that moment when I saw an audience not only captivated but involved. It also happened to be the first play I ever saw. 

What piece of theatre has stood out for you thus far in 2008?
Black Watch by The National Theatre Of Scotland. I saw it in London and it is powerful, brilliant and stylistically stunning. I heard about it for at least a year previous and was determined to see it, so much so that I built a trip to London around it. 

If you could have written any play in history, what would it be and why?
The first half of Julius Ceasar. In my opinion the most perfect piece of writing the theatre has ever known. It has great – and I mean great – characters, compelling plot, beautifully written lyrical speeches and it’s all about the big issues in life. Unfortunately, it becomes a different play in the second act, to include a war, but we have to live with that. 

If you could invite three cultural figures, past or present, to dinner, who would they be and why?
There are loads but at random, Arthur Miller, Brendan Behan and Gerard Dillion. Miller, because he is a one-man station of human wisdom. I could sit and listen and learn, perhaps ask him the odd question about Marilyn Munroe or The UnAmerican Committee. Behan, so that I could laugh all night and listen to his reputedly beautiful singing voice. Dillion was a Belfast man, a homosexual and a brilliant painter. I would want to know how he survived the austere 1940s and 50s as a great painter with very little money or recognition. 

What’s your favourite book/film?
Don’t have a single favourite anything but ones that come to mind are The Ragged Trousered Philantrophist by Robert Tressell (from my youth) and James Cagney’s Angels With Dirty Faces (from my childhood). 

What would be your three desert island discs?
I would have three compilations made to include my favourite songs by Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Otis Redding, The Searchers, The Small Faces, Jackie Wilson, Bizet, etc. 

Which Irish cultural figure to you most admire and why?
Apart from the aforementioned Behan and Dillion I have great affection for all the Northern Irish painters from the 1940s and 50s – a particularly fruitful crop in a poorly cultivated landscape. Michael Longley is someone I greatly admire, both as a person and a poet. O’Casey was a great pioneer, practically the first man in the world to write his type of plays. Van Morrison has a depth of creativity that is unquestionably world-class. His best work is the best music I have ever heard. The sheer honesty of brothers, Jim and Peter Sheridan inspires me. I could go on and on. We are blessed in Ireland with having a cultural creativity that is way above the normal population ratio. Think of all the famous artists and writers you know from Switzerland! 

What cultural event are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
I’m a founder member of The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and it all happens in and around where I have my office, so I particularly look forward to that each May. The Queen’s Festival always has events I want to go to. The West Belfast Festival appeals to different audiences. Nowadays Belfast is served very, very well with great festivals. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Growing up in the docks area the best piece of advice came from my father, Jimmy Lynch - if you’re in a fight in the street, stand at arms length from your opponent so that he can’t hit you first by surprise, stand sideways so that he can’t kick you in the balls. I’ve taken this advice into all potential areas of conflict over the years. 

If you could write your own epitaph in no more than 10 words, what would it be?
Son of James and Veronica Lynch.