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Writer and director John King: ‘You get used to being the only Irish person in a room’

Writer and director John King talks about his play Eris, which has just opened at the Bunker, London. Photo: John King
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I shared the first 10 pages of my play Eris with my friend Laura in 2016. We had both been chosen to present excerpts of unfinished work with our playwriting class and decided facing the group blind was too daunting.

The play centres around an Irish wedding and the controversy caused when the lead character’s family deny him a flamboyant gay partner as his plus one. We met beforehand and exchanged scenes. I was so nervous. I remember trying to balance being receptive of the work I was reading with my anxiety about what she was thinking. Laura has a distinctive laugh, and hearing it from across the table was the best feeling. Now when I watch the show, I can only start to relax when I hear the first joke.

Theatre company Airlock did a workshop of the script last February at the Old Sorting Office in Barnes, with a group of Irish actors. After living abroad for a while, you get used to being the only Irish person in a room. Your nationality becomes significant for its contrast with everyone around you, but it can also start to feel as though it’s painted in broader strokes, because it’s increasingly detached from the experience of living in Ireland. I was aware of that not being an issue in the rehearsal room in February, because the actors had an easy understanding of what the play was trying to do, and even recognised some of the characters.

One of the themes of Eris is how being queer in the diaspora adds a further feeling of distance from home. If home is the place you associate with your childhood, then where is home for your queer, foreign, adult self? We played with chorus ideas and tried to find ways of representing far away family members.

My last question for the group was “Are these parts you’d want to play?” They came back with an unequivocal “yes”, which was something I’d aspired to with this play. If I’ve learned anything getting Eris to the stage, it’s that writing for theatre doesn’t need to be a solitary activity. For me, the most satisfying results have been collaborating with wonderful people and, for that, I’m grateful.

CV: John King

Age: 25
Training: Master’s in Text and Performance at RADA/Birkbeck
Theatre includes (as director): Summertime at Dublin Fringe Festival, The Overcoat at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham, If I Forget at Studio Theatre, Washington DC (as assistant director)

John King’s play Eris runs at the Bunker Theatre, London, until September 28. He was talking to John Byrne

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