Arts

Co Limerick playwright Erica Murray on winning £10k bursary and life at the Lyric

Jenny Lee chats to young Limerick playwright Erica Murray about winning the prestigious Channel 4 Playwrights Scheme Bursary and her plans for the year ahead as the Lyric Theatre's artist in residence

Erica Murray, the Lyric Theatre's new artist in residence. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE Lyric Theatre's new artist in residence, Erica Murray, is following in the footsteps of drama heavyweights Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson in winning a prestigious £10k writing bursary.

Having been nominated by the Lyric, the 28-year-old Limerick woman was one of six people selected for the Channel 4 Playwright Bursary Scheme (known as the Pearson Playwrights’ Scheme in McDonagh and McPherson's day).

As well as each receiving £10,000 to support them in their work, the emerging playwrights will spend a year on attachment with their nominating theatre. In addition, Murray was one of two winners of the The Peggy Ramsay Foundation, which will fund her in writing her next play.

This is the first time the Lyric has worked with a writer who has received the Channel 4 Bursary, although the Belfast theatre staged the early plays of McPherson and McDonagh, both winners in the 1990s.

"I am absolutely thrilled to be selected for this fantastic opportunity, and to be working closely with the Lyric on writing a new play. Without the support of the Channel 4 Playwright Bursary Scheme this next year would be looking very different. It's a very exciting step to be taking at the start of my career, I plan on making the most of it," says Murray.

So what was her plan B?

"Probably still working at the Understudy Bar at The National Theatre in London and trying to fit in time to write," she laughs. "This is why this bursary is so useful, because you can cut back on other work in order to have the time and space to sit, write, think, be on your own and focus."

Originally from Co Limerick, Murray holds a BA in Drama and Theatre Studies from Trinity College Dublin and an MFA in Playwriting from The Lir Academy, Ireland's National Academy of Dramatic Art, at TCD.

She has has already won critical acclaim for her early works, her first play Bunk winning the Best Original Writing gong at the Irish Student Drama Awards in 2012, her next, The Cat’s Mother, premiering in London and going on to have successful runs at the Edinburgh and Dublin Fringe Festivals.

Always an admirer of the Lyric, Murray has travelled north to see productions there since she was a teenager. She credits its literary manager Rebecca Mairs for cementing her relationship with the theatre.

"She's the literary manager of dreams. Most of the time when you submit your work, you don't even get an acknowledgement that your work has been sent in, but Rebecca was so encouraging."

During her year in residency Murray will be involved in the creative learning department, hosting workshops, working with the summer youth group and with her own writing. But first she will involved in staging the first full production of her play All Mod Cons in May.

Originally developed by Murray during her time in the inaugural Lyric New Playwright Programme in 2017, All Mod Cons is set in a fictional town in Ireland. It tells the story of estranged siblings Jean and Gary who are thrown back together when their mother dies, leaving a small fortune under her bed – the only stipulation being that the money is used for them to buy a house together.

Jean has just returned home for good after eight years of self-imposed exile in Berlin and feels responsible for her younger, directionless brother. As the two search for a new place to call home with their old friend and estate agent Ian, dark secrets from the past threaten to reveal themselves.

"I never really know where my ideas come from, the characters almost walk into my head," Murray says. "And when you can't stop thinking about them, that's how you know you are on to a good story. It's a play examining a relationship under stress and about the responsibility human beings have to one another."

Murray is currently splitting her time between Limerick, Belfast and London, where she is working on a number of projects, including a pitch for a television drama.

"Hopefully the years of moving around and jumping from place to place will be worthwhile," she says.

Her favourite playwrights are Annie Baker and Amy Herzog.

"They are young American female playwrights who deal with contemporary issues. I'm really inspired by them as I like to tackle big issues in my writing," she says.

Her advice to other budding playwrights is "follow your instinct". "Don't get bogged down by what other people are doing or what you believe they will think about your work," she adds.

And what can we expect from Murray's next play?

"I'm still trying to figuring it out and toying with a few ideas."

:: All Mod Cons by Erica Murray will run at Belfast's Lyric Theatre from May 18 to June 9. The Lyric Theatre’s New Playwrights Programme 2019 is currently accepting submissions. To find out more information visit lyrictheatre.co.uk

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