Killymuck is Co Fermanagh playwright Kat Woods's 'battle cry' for social change
Jenny Lee chats to Enniskillen writer Kat Woods about her latest play which deals with her personal frustration with theatre elitism and challenges audience to tackle social inequality
HAVING already won awards for her previous productions, Belfast Boy and Mule, Enniskillen writer Kat Woods turns the attention on herself for her latest play.
A darkly comic, semi-autobiographical play about class, poverty and the struggle to escape, Killymuck centres on the fictitious housing estate built on a paupers graveyard in 1970s Northern Ireland. It follows young Niamh as she grows up negotiating and experiencing the trials and tribulations of being a kid from what Woods calls the benefit class system, where lack of opportunity, educational barriers, impoverishment, addiction and depression are the norms.
Having enjoyed a successful run at last year's Edinburgh Fringe, where it was long-listed for an Amnesty International Freedom of Expression award and short-listed for the Filipa Braganca acting award, the play makes it Irish debut this week at Belfast's MAC theatre, with Louth actress Aoife Lennon performing.
“There is a forgotten segment of society that we never talk about when it comes to the arts – the lower classes. The underclass. The benefit class. I am from that background and this piece is inspired by my own narrative. These stories need to be told and need to find representation on stage," says London-based Woods, who has degrees from Ulster University in sociology and drama.
In all of her writing Woods offers a voice to the underrepresented in society and she is passionate about Killymuck making a change.
"Coming from a housing estate myself, I don't have the privilege that many others working in this industry have got. Unfortunately, money buys opportunity but I believe theatre should be for all and not just the few. I also want the play to help breakdown working class stereotypes that are often portrayed in the media.
"We are constantly fed this narrative that people on benefits are scroungers and fag smoking, drug taking down and outs who get everything for free; whereas benefits for most of us are a stop gap to help you get forward."
Woods, who sprinkles the play with moments of dark humour and memories from her youth, including a cross-community trip to Omagh's Ulster American Folk Park where they were forced to wear traditional dress, says her own memories of life growing up in Cavanaleck housing estate, was far from that portrayed in Channel 5's Benefits Britain documentaries.
"Yes, there were struggles, but we had a great sense of friendship and community and many I grew up with went on to become lawyers, teachers and successful professionals," she says.
Woods uses the play to deliver a modern day socio-political message on the state of Northern Ireland in 2019, questioning what has really changed since 1970?
"The drama is taken right up to the present day questioning the non-sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the depletion of financial aid for those in need, the state of our education system and are increasing suicide rates. In my research, I discovered Northern Ireland has the highest rates of post-traumatic stress disorder in the globe – but what is being done to help those affected?"
Stating that "Killymuck is my battle cry", Woods encourages audiences to take action in addressing the inequality around them.
"I feel this play can be part of the change for a future generation of equity and equality. I want people to sit up and listen to what we have to say and then take action. They should question MPs about what they have to offer people in need, our below-standard schools and people with disabilities having to fight this system. We need to hold our publicly elected people accountable for helping everyone in society."
The play's run in the Edinburgh Festival, where it won the Daily Mail pick of the festival accolade, has already made those in the industry and take notice.
"The reaction to Killymuck in the Edinburgh festival and awards nominations have put me on the map with television companies. I've had meetings with the BBC for inclusion in their Writers Room and with Steve Coogan's production company. It's not easy being a writer and when you get value and recognition it's really appreciated," says Woods, who grafted for 44 hours a week in a restaurant to fund the production of Killymuck in Edinburgh and its run in London's Bunker Theatre.
As well as planning a more extensive Irish tour of Killymuck in the new year, Woods is working on a new stage play based on Tuam Mother and Baby Home in Co Galway.
:: Killymuck will be performed at Belfast 's MAC theatre on June 13 and 14 (themaclive.com) and Armagh's Market Place theatre on June 15 (marketplacearmagh.com). Age 14+.