KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
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.