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Murphy & McLaughlin On ... Irish Blood, English Heart

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Darren Murphy and Caitrona McLaughlin, respectively, the writer and director of Irish Blood, English Heart spoke with us about the inspiration and production of the play. Celebrating London and all of its triumphs and failures, Irish Blood, English Heart, tells the story of two middle-aged brothers dealing with the recent suicide of their father, an Irish emigrant who moved to London and became a cabbie. The play manages to capture the heartbreak in such heavy themes as alcoholism, nationalism and child abuse, while maintaining a sense of humour throughout.

Darren Murphy has been produced in London, Edinburgh, Dublin and New York; his credits include such plays as Night Bruises the City and Holloway Road. Caitrona McLaughlin is an Irish theatre director who is currently based in London. Her most recent directing credits include Bottom of the World and Judgement Day, both of which were produced in New York. Here, Murphy and McLaughlin tell us about the creative process and development of Irish Blood, English Heart and the significant role that London plays.

What was the inspiration for the play?

I was sat outside the cafe in front of the Union theatre one Wednesday afternoon when Dennis, a local cabbie, pulled up for his afternoon cuppa. Dennis stared out at the road at his cab. 'They'll fucking bury me in that,' he muttered, and left. That phrase, and that image, took root in my mind and became the story around which Irish Blood, English Heart was woven. If a cab was a coffin, and a cab driver had the streets of London packed away neatly in his head, I asked myself, then what secrets would a cabbie take to the grave with him?

Before transferring to Trafalgar Studios Irish Blood, English Heart had its first performance at the Union Theatre, Southwark.  You say you wrote the play specifically for that space.  How did that come about?  And how does that relationship to the space change with the transfer?

I’d worked at the Union a few times before, and had seen tons of stuff there, so I was already aware of the potential of the space, and always wanted to write something expressly for it. The streets surrounding the theatre were part of Dickens’ old stomping ground, and it’s an area steeped in literary history.  So in my mind there’s this golden thread that runs down through the centuries, connecting that wandering storytelling instinct from then to now. And unlike many such spaces in London it has maintained the feel of an old lock up. I had never seen the uniqueness of the space fully exploited, where the actual location of the space was part of the fabric of the play.  This wasn’t just a site-sympathetic production, it is a site-sympathetic text, the location of the action of the play is the exact location of the theatre on Union street, but re-imagined as an old lock up. So it’ll be interesting how that transfers to the Trafalgar, a much more traditional space.

Caitriona, you're working with actors you've worked with in the past.  Was the play written with them in mind?

When we first floated the idea last summer about creating something specifically for the Union, we both knew immediately who we wanted to work with, two Union stalwarts: Ian Groombridge and Howard Teale. Darren knew he wanted to write something specifically for these two actors, and he knew he wanted to write about two brothers and their estranged father, who we never see. Ian and Howard work brilliantly together, and have this instinctive rapport, but very different energies, so once Darren had made the decision to make them brothers that was the key that unlocked the story for me. I'd worked with Carolyn Tomkinson before, on vastly different projects, so she was the first person I thought of when I started to think about the Peggy character. I'd not worked with Oliver before, but I knew immediately, when we were casting, that he had exactly the right combination of swagger and vulnerability. I'm thrilled to be working with all of them.

Irish Blood, English Heart opened at Trafalgar Studio 2 on 2 May 2011 where it continues until 21 May.


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