This Other City

A new play by Daragh Carville. Click Play Audio for a podcast interview

Daragh Carville orders a coffee and a sandwich. All around him men in suits commence lunch meetings over mochas and chicken wraps; students from the art college across the street lounge around in department store clothes, iPods and laptops resting unused by their sides. The cappuccino machine buzzes frenetically.

Carville finishes eating, wipes his mouth with a napkin and gets down to business. This is what his new play is all about, he says. The new Belfast - a post-apocalyptic society where men in suits enjoy power lunches and hungry young journalists rely so much on switch cards that they forget to bring lose change. Belfast has moved on. With This Other City, Carville explores the shift.

Rehearsal shots from 'This Other City'‘It’s appropriate that we’re in Clement’s in the middle of town,’ he begins, ‘because [This Other City] is very much a play about the contemporary Belfast of coffee shops and new apartments and the bustling, modern European city that this place actually is.’

For his latest collaboration with Tinderbox Theatre Company - with whom Carville enjoyed immense success with previous plays Language Roulette and Family Plot - Carville initially began writing a play set far away from the shining glass frontage of the reborn capital.

In the end, however, the dynamic of the new Belfast was too much to resist. Carville, who has written award-winning plays for stage, screen and radio, and who now lives in England with his novelist wife, Jo Baker, returned to the scene of other creative works like Male Toilets in search of more contemporary subject matter.

‘I started writing a play that was set in Armagh, where I’m from. But I just didn’t feel that it was the play I should be writing,’ he continues. ‘So I went back to page one.

This Other City deals with a Belfast family on the up, a success story. What I was interested in was ideas of morality - the idea of good and bad in a post-religious society… a new world defined by economic institutions. I wanted to look at the idea of what being a good man or a good woman means in a society that is governed - without wanting to sound too po-faced about it - by unfettered capitalism.’

It’s a subject that Northern Irish playwrights have so far failed to live up to, but one rich with dramatic potential. Though the bombs may have stopped and the check points been removed, thematically at least it’s the city’s violent past, rather than its relatively peaceful, affluent present, that seems to inspire.

Carville has never written overtly about the Troubles. He has previously admitted that his screenplay for Middletown - a feature directed by Tim Loane in which two brothers ostensibly fight for opposing sides  -was perhaps written with the Troubles not too far from his subconscious. But Carville’s writing has Rehearsal shot from 'This Other City'always been refreshingly lacking in the usual overused buzz words - sectarianism, bigotry, hate…

Inevitably the past plays a part in This Other City - the success of the family at the heart of the drama would be meaningless without the backdrop of the city’s turbulent past. ‘But it’s not something I like to dwell on,’ Carville admits.

Cherrybomb (another of Carville’s screenplays), which recently premiered at the Belfast Film Festival, is further evidence of his willingness to write about a Northern Ireland rarely explored by contemporary writers. ‘To some degree both Hunger and 5 Minutes of Heaven deal with the Troubles,’ he adds. ‘But I’d like to think that there will be other films that deal with other aspects of Belfast and Northern Ireland, important though those stories are.’

For now Carville continues to operate in the vanguard, writing stories that get audiences excited by their home place, not put off by it. As the men in suits wind down their BlackBerrys and the cappuccino machine splutters into silence, we turn our attention to this other Belfast, an urban sprawl in which playwrights dash across town towards their swanky rehearsal spaces and hungry young journalists make for the ATM.

Lee Henry

This Other City runs in the Baby Grand at the Grand Opera House from May 1-14.