Writer Rosemary Jenkinson on Here Comes The Night, Aphrodite's Kiss and Van Morrison

Rosemary Jenkinson has just launched a new play and a new book. The Belfast writer talks to Brian Campbell about Van Morrison, short stories and her 'culture comedy' Here Comes The Night, a play of two halves set in 1966 and 2016

Rosemary Jenkinson's new play is a 'culture comedy' set in east Belfast in 1966 and 2016

PLAYWRIGHT Rosemary Jenkinson’s last Lyric-produced play – White Star of the North – came out in 2012 to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, while her latest Lyric show (Here Comes the Night) harks back to 1916 – via 1966 and the present day.

It's a play of two halves – the first set in 1966, the second in 2016. Featuring a cast of five, the common denominator in both halves is the east Belfast house in which it's set.

In the 60s it’s home to Catholic couple Vincent and Mary (Michael Condron and Kerri Quinn) and in the present day it’s owned by Jim (Condron again) and his Polish wife Marta (Susan Davey).

“I discussed it with Jimmy Fay [executive producer at the Lyric] and we thought it would be great to tie this play in with all the 1916 commemorations,” says Jenkinson, who grew up in east Belfast.

“In 1966 a lot of people in Belfast were basically told to leave their houses, so you had this huge population shift that started then. I wanted to write about a house in two eras and I was thinking about the memories that a house bears.

“There are so many differences between the two eras. The main character in the first half [Vincent] is a male writer and it was more of a male world then. Now there are female writers like myself coming through, but in those days [the 60s] that would have been much harder.

“Areas were more mixed [in terms of Protestant and Catholic housing] before the Troubles, but now we have people from different countries coming in.”

Marta finds herself caught up in the 'them and us’ scenario because not only is she an 'outsider’, but also a Catholic and someone who in her role as a community worker is involved in the present day in welcoming Syrian refugees to Belfast.

“Marta has been here for a few years and has basically settled here. She finds herself being dragged back into the past; a past that has nothing to do with her, but once you live in these streets you’re in it,” says the writer.

In 1966, the character Vincent Gallagher was writing a short story about the Easter Rising 50 years previously, while in 2016 we have the culture minister (Donna, played by Kerri Quinn) and Boyd (played by Niall Cusack) from the Ulster Historical Society wanting to put a blue plaque outside Jim and Marta’s house to commemorate Gallagher.

“Political people now like to use the past for their own ends. They can forget and wipe out parts of history, but they love commemorations – there’s nothing they love more. It’s using the past for self-promotion,” says Jenkinson.

While Cusack plays a Catholic priest in the first half of the play, Thomas Finnegan plays postman Freddie; Jenkinson says Finnegan’s turns as Freddie (and Dean in the second half) provide some comic relief in a play that tackles the serious issues of sectarianism and racism. A short story writer herself, Jenkinson based some of writer Vincent’s traits on herself.

“That part is autobiographical because I know those frustrations about not getting work out there. But because he’s writing about 1916 [in 1966], it’s inflammatory stuff, so you get a paranoia that what you’ll write will upset people.”

Jenkinson is complimentary about the cast at the Lyric.

"Kerri Quinn is brilliant as Donna. She gives it some welly. The whole cast is fantastic,” she says.

The play’s title is taken from the 1965 song by Them, the band fronted by Van Morrison.

“I think there’s about as much chance of the culture minister turning up to see the play as there is Van the man,” she laughs. “But music is a huge part of the play. Jimmy Fay is very big into his music, particularly 60s music, so he designed the soundtrack. There’s a real 60s vibe.”

It’s now a decade since Jenkinson’s play The Bonefire – dubbed 'a comedy of manners amongst the sectarian classes’ – was staged.

“I thought I was a new writer, but I’m starting to think that some of my work is historical now,” she laughs. She’s currently working on a play for The Abbey in Dublin.

Jenkinson has also just published her second collection of short stories – Aphrodite’s Kiss.

“It’s been 12 years since the last one. Like Vincent in the play, I’m not very productive when it comes to short stories; I’m more productive with plays. So last week I had two launches – the book and the play. This week is going to be an anticlimax.”

Here Comes The Night runs at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast until May 14. For tickets see Aphrodite’s Kiss and Further Stories is out now, published by Whittrick Press.

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