Award-winning novelist Christine Dwyer Hickey has turned her considerable talents to the stage of late.
Tell us about Snow Angels?
It’s about three men in their early thirties who find themselves trapped in a house. Outside is a heavy snowfall; inside the men gradually come to realise they have no food, no heat and the pipes are frozen; they also realise that one by one, the doors of the house have been locked and can’t be broken down. They suspect each other; they suspect someone on the outside; finally, it occurs to them that a larger force may be to blame. It’s a psychological thriller, but also a ghost story. It is also a metaphor for contemporary Ireland and a lost generation of young men who find themselves trapped by the expectations of society, family, women and self. It’s quite frightening, I think. But very funny too.
How involved have you been in the stage production and what has that experience been like for you as a writer?
A novelist’s life is a solitary thing: we tend to live inside our heads, with people who don’t really exist, making up experiences that are … well, made up. So suddenly, I could see my words coming out of the mouths of real, live people, and that was a bit odd. Another strange thing was having to mind my own business. Snow Angels was written by me, but it’s really down to the director and the cast to take this story from page to stage and make it breathe. It’s a bit like handing your child over to the teacher on the first day of school. It’s still your child, but at the same time, it no longer is. In other words, I’ve had to let go.
How did the idea of the play come about?
It’s a bit of a family affair, in a way. I had always wanted to write a play, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. When you’re writing a novel, a vague idea is often enough to get you going, and the story tends to present itself in its own good time. But a play needs a steadier foundation and a more definite destination. Then my son Desmond started a theatre company called the Dice Players, along with two brothers, Michael and Ger Hough. I was watching them on the stage and struck by the dynamic between the three of them. I had been thinking of various things: pushy, ambitious parents; the role of young men today; what it means to be Irish, to name a few. The next day, my husband was playing on the piano, a piece of music he had written. It was snowing outside. The piece was eerie. Between the music and the piece and the three boys already on my mind, shadows began to take shape.
What has surprised you about writing for theatre?
The feeling of being part of something. The sense that if one goes down, we all go down. There’s a greater responsibility – on the other hand, that responsibility is shared not least by the director, Rosemary McKenna, who has just been nominated for best director in the Irish Theatre Awards. I feel incredibly lucky to have her working on Snow Angels – it’s like having Garry Hynes or Lynne Parker at the start of their careers.
What have you enjoyed or found most challenging?
I have enjoyed the camaraderie and learning about how a play is made from the set design to the lighting to the way the music can be used to greatest effect. I also love the way the play changes after every read through and rehearsal. The real challenge is not to worry. All writers need courage, of course, but never more so than when it comes to writing a play. A failed play is a very public humiliation. And empty seats speak volumes. I’ve never been so excited or so scared about anything in my life.
What are you working on next?
I need to finish the novel I’ve been working on called The Lives of Women. And then … Well, I have an idea for this play …
Snow Angels runs at the Project Arts Centre March 4-15.
Meg Walker, Deputy Editor @ IMAGE Magazine
PICTURE CREDIT: Photograph by Lorna Fitzsimons