Co Down actor and playwright pens Radio 4 drama exploring coercive control

Eugene O’Hare: More arts funding required as “serious screen talent” want to work in Irish theatre

Co Down actor and playwright Eugene O'Hare sitting in a chair
Co Down actor and playwright Eugene O'Hare whose radio drama I Appear to Have Killed My Husband explores coercive control

Domestic abuse and coercive control come under the spotlight in the hard-hitting, timely and impactful Radio 4 audio drama, I Appear to Have Killed My Husband.

Written by Co Down actor and playwright Eugene O’Hare, the drama which will be broadcast on March 12 stars Game of Thrones and Gangs of London star Michelle Fairley and Belfast actor Patrick O’Kane.

Set in County Armagh on New Year’s Day 2024. Jane (Fairley) is serving lunch and husband Roger (O’Kane) is reading the newspaper. But very soon everything in their world will be turned upside down in 45 minutes of unrelenting tension.

Game of Thrones and Gangs of London star Michelle Fairley
Game of Thrones and Gangs of London star Michelle Fairley

“The drama explores coercive control, secrets within a marriage, and how difficult it is to be believed when the people around you have already decided what they think about a situation before you can even find the words to argue your case,” explains O’Hare.

As well as stage roles, most noticeably as Magennis in Jez Butterworth’s play The Ferryman, directed by Sam Mendes, O’Hare is an established screen actor with roles in TV crime dramas, The Fall, Marcella and Dublin Murders and as Governor Martin in the global Netflix hit Outlander.

However, the London-based creative is increasingly respected for his writing. He has written for National Theatre Connections, the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and for BBC television and radio.

His first full-length plays, The Weatherman and Sydney & the Old Girl, opened in London to public and critical acclaim in 2019.

The later which took a dark comedic look at the relationship between a malevolent elderly mother and her paranoid middle-aged son, starred Miriam Margolyes.

Miriam Margolyes playing an elderly lady sitting eating a corn on the cob
Miriam Margolyes in Eugene O'Hare's play Sydney & the Old Girl

“Unique, unstoppable, forensic with language, Miriam’s a one off. She’s also a pal now and a champion for me as an actor and an emerging playwright. To do a new and very tricky two act play in her late 70′s playing a character who hardly ever leaves the stage and rarely stops talking is really something,” he enthuses.

Last spring his play Dry House, set in Co Down told the story of two sisters as they attempt to overcome the devastating impact of alcoholism on their family.

It starred Derry Girls actress Kathy Kiera Clarke, who reunites with O’Hare in I Appear to Have Killed My Husband, playing Jane’s neighbour Marianna.

“She is an actor of great skill and compassion. I’d have her in everything if I could,” says O’Hare delighted by the assembled cast for his radio drama.

Kathy Kiera Clarke played Aunt Sarah in hit Channel 4 sitcom Derry Girls
Kathy Kiera Clarke played Aunt Sarah in hit Channel 4 sitcom Derry Girls

“Michelle Fairley is a serious actor and one of the very best. She will bring total commitment, technical brilliance, and enormous heart and empathy to the role of Jan.”

Laura Dos Santos playing Gina, Rosie Smith as Lindy and O’Hare himself playing the role of barman Daithi complete the line-up.

Director Kirsty Williams suggested I play that part. I’m always at pains not to make the thing too much about me, but it’s only half a page or so.”

Dedicated to both career paths, O’Hare believes being an actor offers him an insightful advantage when it comes to writing.

“I see them as being almost the same thing; they rely on the same sensitivity to language, the same instinct and the same often mystified curiosity in the human imagination.

Writing isn’t pleasure for me. But when I exhaust myself avoiding it the thing gets written

—  Eugene O'Hare

“As an actor I’m always alive to other people’s behaviours, speech and predicaments, so I think what I absorb as an actor, often get used when I’m writing.”

O’Hare previous plays have also dealt with difficult themes and impossible situation. He believes that “the stories that regularly feature in the press around ordinary law-abiding people who suddenly snap after enduring years of misery,” probably played a part in inspiring him to write Hello, I Appear to Have Killed My Husband.

“I’m increasingly convinced that a lot of writing gets prepared in the subconscious over time and then you get that sense of a knocking at the door which is the cue to sit down and put the thing on paper. I kick and scream abit at that point.

“With this audio drama all I had in my head was the opening scene. I had no idea where it would go or what exactly it was until I wrote the thing.

“Writing isn’t pleasure for me. But when I exhaust myself avoiding it the thing gets written, and usually very quickly because somehow it feels it has already been prepared in a room in the head,” reveals the 43-year-old.

O’Hare is currently in a series of workshops for new plays in London and has several television and film scripts optioned and in development.

“I have two original feature films backed by Northern Ireland Screen and a couple more recently optioned by production companies. I’ve had some television scripts optioned too and was recently commissioned by ITV comedy,” he reveals.

However, his biggest wish is to get his work on the Irish stage.

“When we did The Dry House in London last year, the Marylebone Theatre amazingly financed the whole thing in-house. As the play is set in Ireland they reached out to theatres and producers in Ireland when the run finished to see if we could find a partner to transfer the show either north or south of the border but nothing came back.

Inparticular, O’Hare is keen to have a Belfast theatre take on his new Belfast-set two act comedy starring Sarah Greene and Michael Smiley.

“With the dire public funding situation, few independent producers with access to cash and very few theatre slots available, it’s really tricky.

“Things are extremely tough out there but I’m hopeful because there’s a real desire among some serious screen talents to do some theatre work here.”

In what little spare time he has O’Hare is steadily working towards his first poetry collection.

“I started writing the poems during the lockdowns and I’ve had about a hundred published since. Some of my first poems were published in Belfast’s Fortnight magazine a couple of years ago when the great Anne Devlin took over as Literary Editor. It was very encouraging to me to know that there is a desire to champion new poetry voices at home.”

One of his most poignant, was that penned in response to the death of 14-year-old North Belfast schoolboy whose body was found in a storm drain in June 2020.

“I had a lot of people mention it including Noah’s gracious and brave mother. Should I find myself moaning about the struggles in the entertainment business, that family’s story puts everything into sharp focus.”

I Appear to Have Killed My Husband will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday March 12 at 2.15pm. Also available on BBC Sounds and online.