FIONA LOONEY

KITCHEN SINK DRAMA

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS - Don’t miss Fiona Looney’s bril­liant col­umn, with her unique take on mod­ern Ire­land, only in the Ir­ish Daily Mail ev­ery Wed­nes­day.

So, the sin­gle thing that most peo­ple have said to me about the 24 Hour Plays is that it shouldn’t be a prob­lem for me be­cause I don’t sleep any­way. Even though this is ab­so­lutely bonkers logic, I must ad­mit that I quite like the sug­ges­tion that if you’re awake, you can do any­thing. It’s a bit like de­cid­ing, to the hor­ror of all right-think­ing peo­ple, to climb Mount Ever­est with­out ever hav­ing set foot on a moun­tain — and then win­ning their ap­proval by opt­ing to do it in the dark.

Ac­tu­ally, the 24 Hour Plays isn’t en­tirely on a par with an as­sault on Ever­est, be­cause I have at least writ­ten plays be­fore. But I have never been in the sit­u­a­tion in which I found my­self last night — ar­riv­ing at the Dublin Fringe of­fice at tea-time with a chal­lenge to cre­ate a brand- new piece of the­atre from scratch overnight.

When I was asked to take part in this novel fundraiser for Dublin Youth The­atre, I agreed in an overex­cited in­stant — and it has only been in the fort­night lead­ing up to this week­end that the scale of what I had com­mit­ted to be­gan to creep up on me. By the time you read this, ( hopefully) six of us writ­ers will have spent the night holed up to­gether writ­ing new plays, which will be re­hearsed all day to­day and per­formed tonight — for one night only — on The Abbey stage. It’s a mam­moth un­der­tak­ing for all the writ­ers, direc­tors and ac­tors in­volved. But at least the ac­tors and direc­tors get to work in day­light. We, the poor tor­tured writ­ers, have to stay up all night.

Which, to go back to where I started, shouldn’t in the­ory be a prob­lem for me. My life­long dif­fi­cul­ties with sleep have es­ca­lated con­sid­er­ably lately, to the point where most nights, I man­age to drop off some time be­tween one and two and then wake at 3.50am (no, I have no idea why ei­ther). On a good night (for me), I’ll get back to sleep around six for a fi­nal ex­hausted hour, and then wake up in time to turn off the alarm which I’ve point­lessly set. On a bad night, I just lie there for the full eight hours, lis­ten­ing to The Hus­band snor­ing, oc­ca­sion­ally kick­ing him and, yes, some­times, dream­ing up ideas for plays and pan­tomimes.

‘On a bad night I lie there for eight full hours lis­ten­ing to The Hus­band snor­ing and kick­ing him oc­ca­sion­ally’

In fair­ness to The Hus­band, I should point out that it’s not his snor­ing that keeps me awake. Some nights, he doesn’t snore at all, and on oth­ers, he does that weird thing where he snores really loudly and then ap­pears to stop breath­ing com­pletely for a few min­utes.

Usu­ally, dur­ing that ap­par­ently life­less time, I plan what I will do with his wardrobes, be­fore he sud­denly bursts into life again and that ex­tra stor­age space is cru­elly ripped from my hands. But none of this ac­tu­ally keeps me awake: I would be there any­way, mark­ing time un­til it is time to stop fail­ing to get to sleep again. I have tried giv­ing up al­co­hol, cof­fee and read­ing at night. I have worn socks and not worn socks. I have taken va­le­rian and val­ium. Noth­ing works.

I re­mem­ber once hear­ing how Ed­die O’Sul­li­van, the former Ir­ish rugby coach and fel­low sleep-de­nier, spends his nights up­right, study­ing the lives of the great ex­plor­ers. Pre­sum­ably, he too has come to the con­clu­sion that one of th­ese nights, he might climb Ever­est. I’ll be happy if I can just com­plete a short and co­her­ent play.

Be­cause, some­what in­evitably, in the nights be­fore last night’s play-writ­ing marathon, I have lain awake wor­ry­ing my­self sick that last night — the night of nights — might be­come the first night in years on which my body can’t re­sist the urge to sleep.

What if I ac­tu­ally fall asleep? What if I, who have never in my life slept in a plane, a car, on a train or any­where that isn’t an ac­tual bed, sud­denly fall asleep in a chair while slav­ing over a hot lap­top? What if last night is the night that I con­quer my Ever­est, my in­som­nia? What if I fall asleep be­cause it is there?

Well, I can’t. Sim­ple as. Be­cause a cou­ple of hours ago, some of the most se­ri­ous act­ing tal­ents in the coun­try will have shown up ex­pect­ing a play to per­form. Be­cause Pauline McLynn will poke me in the kid­neys. Be­cause Garry Hynes will be there, and we will be in the Abbey and I will be in a state of awe.

Come and see us tonight: just re­mem­ber to avert your eyes from the bod­ies.

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