A haunting and darkly comic tale about bereavement, brotherhood and breaking away from your past. Award-winning playwright John O’Donovan revisits rural Ireland and draws inspiration from his own experiences and observations growing up in a small Irish community. Flights also shines a light on the devastating impact austerity measures had on a generation of young people and the mass exodus that ensued.
Flights, funded by the Arts Council of Ireland, reunites the successful team behind John O’Donovan’s acclaimed 2016 debut play If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You, One Duck Theatre and director Thomas Martin.
Flights is at Omnibus Theatre 11th – 29th February 2020.
Flights is coming to Omnibus Theatre, what can you tell us about it?
Flights tells the story of three men in their thirties who have been gathering every year on the anniversary of their old school friend’s death. He’s been dead 17 years, so it’s at that odd point where someone has been gone for longer than they were here. The men seem oddly juvenile, like they’ve been frozen in time by the trauma of their old school friend, and the collapse of the Irish economy a few years later, so there’s a lot of childish banter and bickering between them – there’s a lot of jokes, a lot of comedy, but also a lot of anger and recrimination. For one reason or another you soon realise this will be the last time they gather together.
What inspired you to write this play?
I watched a revival of Billy Roche’s A Handful of Stars in London a few years ago, and wrote a short play in response to it – that’s where a lot of the setting, characters and interpersonal dynamics came from. But around the same time I was writing that, I got news from Ireland that an old friend had died by suicide. A few of my friends from home that live in London too got together when we heard the news – we weren’t going to be able to go home for the funeral, so we kind of had an impromptu wake at a pub near Camden Town. It got me thinking about all the other friends I’ve had who’ve died too young, and how often the rest of us have got together and laughed and joked and remembered them. It was odd to me how many of those friends were gone but also odd that the three of us there in London had had to emigrate for economic reasons after the recession and so weren’t able to mourn at home with the rest of the people who were bereaved. After that night, I knew then what I wanted Flights to be about – about surviving but being permanently marked by traumas in the past; both the personal traumas of bereavement and the public trauma of a collapsed economy.
When you’re writing from personal experience like that do you find it makes the process easier or more difficult?
It’s easier in the sense that I can draw on the real details of lived experience rather than having to make up something that conforms to a general idea. Like anger or sadness or loss can express itself through jokes, or unconsciously through the body, or through games – they’re all as valid as speaking outright. It’s harder in some ways as well though – there are a lot of bereaved people where I’m from – everywhere I guess – and I wouldn’t like them to think that the play is specifically about one or other of them, when actually those crucial details I take care to make up from scratch. Death is a deeply personal thing so it’s important for me to be able to represent bereavement generally without leeching off any privacy from anyone else.
You’ve worked with director Thomas Martin before, why did you want to reunite for this project?
Thomas has a real understanding of how my mind works as a writer; he knows I build story from character, theme from story, and meaning from theme. So, he doesn’t short circuit the process – he doesn’t ask me to clarify “why this play is important” or “what am I trying to write about”, he just trusts that I’ll get there via exploring the relationships of the characters on a micro level. He also works brilliantly with actors – he has a great sense of humour and a taste for deep, intensive sadness, and given that both of those elements are constantly present in my work I know he’ll serve it all. There’s nothing worse to me than a play where everyone’s serious for two hours like people don’t laugh, but comedy without depth is so boring too. Thomas covers those bases equally throughout with a real sense of flair for how an evening should progress.
What are you looking forward to most about seeing it brought to life on stage?
It’ll be playing in my home town first – that’s important because I don’t think working class, rural life is represented on stage that often, and even in the plays that do get to tour to the west of Ireland there is usually a focus on light-hearted comedy rather than realism that explores the socio-economic roots of why we live the way we do. People will see themselves in Flights, will hear the names of streets, and pubs, and people, and know it could be themselves they are looking at – that’s hopefully challenging and affirming as well as cathartic. In Dublin and London I hope there’ll be a strong engagement with what the recession did to rural communities in Ireland; while cosmopolitan cities thrive again and maybe were able to recover fairly quickly, ten, eleven years on there are still empty villages and towns around the country that were cleared of their youth. Some of us have spent a decade outside of the country that we love. Some of us died. These are not abstract conversations or fun theories to chew over – we are a generation sacrificed to pay the debts caused by other people’s actions. I want that to be acknowledged.
What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Flights?
Do! You’ll get a lot of laughs, a few tears and a clearer understanding of a world you might think you know but which you don’t quite know the half of yet.
Playwright John O’Donovan’s new play Flights, a touching, comic elegy to lost youth and wasted opportunity, tours in Ireland from the 15 Jan – 8 Feb and has its London premiere on the 11 -29 Feb at Omnibus Theatre.