I don’t know, obviously. But this play, Sink, has had to come together staggeringly quickly, so I thought it might be worth trying to trace back, and figure out how I got here.
The pitching and programming all happened recently, in April and then May. The writing started after that; the first draft was done by the end of May, subsequent drafts have happened since. Whatever’s ready at the end of this month is what the director, Thomas Martin, will take into rehearsals.
But all of that happened after I had the idea. So where did the idea come from? I think it was at the point of overlap of three different concerns…
Number 1: I was trying to write something else that got away from me.
Plays are often versions of each other. If We Got Some More Cocaine… is a version of Flights (due to finally go on next year), which itself was a version of The Home Front (2009), which in turn was based on an aborted first draft of a novel I tried (and failed) to write in 2006.
Likewise Sink is a cousin of Flights in some ways but is chiefly an offspring of another play I was trying to write, about inheritance and baby boomers and the end of the world (that I still do hope to write.)
Number 2: I had a panic attack at the theatre.
It was Downstate at the National, and I had a panic attack during the second half. It’s not totally uncommon for me to have panic attacks, particularly at the theatre, but because of the subject matter and its theme of potentially faulty memory, in my panic about my panic I started to wonder whether the play was triggering some kind of repressed memories.
The science around repressed memory is disputed. But I do know that I have remembered things – non-traumatic things – that I thought I’d forgotten, after some time; why couldn’t I forget traumatic things too? Shane Meadows talks about this eloquently, and – content warning – upsettingly, in an interview he did to promote The Virtues; so it’s certainly possible to forget then suddenly remember even terrible things.
Watching Downstate, I kept thinking “what if something happened to me and I forgot; what if I’m remembering it now; is this what remembering feels like?” I grew up in Ireland in the 1990s; it was a more careless time and we were all vulnerable. Many suffered. Could this panic I was feeling have a basis in repressed experience?
And if it did – did I want to know? What I mean is, if I’d forgotten something traumatic, did I have an obligation to bring that memory to the surface, or was I better off letting it lie?
In the end after much soul-searching I figured the attack had nothing to do with the play, or my childhood, but was just a common-or-garden OCD/emetophobic meltdown related to the warm hoisin wrap I ate earlier and which, watching Act Two, started to disagree with me.
But the question persisted; if forgetting something made things easier, would it be better to repress the truth? That’s an uneasy proposition, and I knew I wanted to explore it.
Number 3: I was worried about the weather.
Everyone’s worried about the weather. All the time. It’s gone crazy – and we’re going to die because of it. So it’s probably worth worrying about.
Last year the weather dried out Ireland so much that major new archaeological sites were discovered around the country. The soil was disgorging its past as its future was fully threatened.
Some of those bones are of the victims of sacrifice. Some of them were sacrificed by their people in neolithic times. Sacrificed to the pagan gods – sacrificed to the sun, in the hope that the rest of the population would survive.
For thousands of years we’ve been killing ourselves and each other because of the weather. We don’t remember that we’ve been through all this trauma before.
So together I knew that I wanted to write about memory, about panic and post-trauma, about inheriting pain and living at the end of the world. I knew the parlour comedy I was writing wasn’t cutting it yet, but I thought there might be something to be done in a one-person show.
* * *
Sink is a play about an archaeologist doing a dig in a heatwave; and about a nervous woman struggling with her demons at the onset of dementia. It’s the distillation of these various feelings, big and small, that have been hovering around in my mind, addling me for ages.
It fascinates me how being given a purpose (in this case, an opportunity to pitch to), and a formal shape (a one-person show), that these big and disparate concerns can be brought together in a piece of performance. Settling on a formal framework, and knowing for sure where and when it would be performed, gave me solid enough boundaries to contain these nebulous thoughts.
So now I’ve made sense of that feeling I had watching Downstate, at least to myself; I’ve sublimated the frustration I was feeling at a bad draft of another play; and I’ve allowed myself to explore my biggest fear of all; all through one single story.
Whenever I sit down to write on one big idea it falls apart quickly. But when I’m trying to tease out the overlaps between things that don’t seem to relate to each other; that resist my efforts to make them logical; that won’t even tell me why I should care about them; I find I have a framework where I can play and say the things that come from my deepest feelings.
Maybe it’s a creative contrariness in me – it certainly makes it pure awkward to pitch things I want to write in the future – but I usually don’t know what a play is talking about until it’s finished speaking speaking to me.
I can’t wait for Sink to go on in September (venue TBA) – in unseasonably good weather with any luck. And I hope it gets put on again and again and again – many years into the future. I hope I forget about it and it comes back and I’m surprised to recognise it, many years down the line, in years that at the moment none of us are optimistic we’ll see.