Briefly describe your process in translating Iphigeneia.
This was the first translation from Ancient Greek that I made for the stage. It required a certain amount of research since the text that one finds in most contemporary translations is a highly interpolated text. Euripides wrote 'Iphigenia in Aulis' soon before his death in exile in Macedonia. Some scholars believe he never finished it. It was directed by his son or Sophocles, according to legend, so there may have been additions made at that stage but, as with most Greek tragedies from the Golden Era, this play was not written down definitively for over a hundred years by which time many actors and directors had added bits and flourishes into the gaps. In recent years, scholars like Paige and Diggle have done a lot of work trying to excavate the text using word patterns etc to work out what Euripides actually wrote. 'Iph. . .', apart from the beginning and the end, attempts to be true to this. Gone is Achilles long comic scene and the great messenger speech telling of Iphigenia's transformation into a deer. The former being an actor's piece overegging it. The latter being based on his many messenger speeches but not actually his. The framing structure I took from Aeschylus' 'Agamemnon' since it seems clear to me that Euripides, for his final piece, was expanding upon the first great (and longest) chorus in Greek drama which tells the selfsame story. It was also a result of living in Belfast at the time of the peace talks, a contemplation on how revenge perpetuates violence, and how the demands of state and family pull both apart. When translating it I simply tried to translate what I saw and keep it simple as possible. The making of new words was an attempt to put words together as the Greeks did rather than supply modern equivalents - King, Lord, Soldier etc. I'm not sure I would do that in the same today, but the translation comes out of a very particular point in both Irish history and my career.
How did you break into this business?
In a way this play was the breakthrough. Not in its production, though successful in itself, but because it brought me to the attention of Sir Peter Hall, with whom I worked on a further three projects - Tantalus, Bacchai and Cuckoos - and because it gave me the confidence to approach the big texts that I have adapted and create new texts for big stages.
What would you say is your “claim to fame” i.e. have you worked on any projects that the public might be familiar with or that you are particularly proud of?
Well, Tantalus caused a splash in the US and UK! But I am particularly proud of 'How Many Miles to Basra?' which I wrote in the white heat of the invasion of Iraq by Allied forces. Monkey! which I adapted from the Chinese myth of The Journey to the West has also been particularly successful in Britain. However, when you are a writer you are never satisfied with a piece. Once you have completed it, once it becomes public , it is no longer yours. It is always about the next piece.
What are you working on currently or have coming up (insert shameless plug here!)?
Well, in terms of San Francisco, the half hour play I wrote The Lion of Kabul, for the Tricycle Theatre's hugely successful The Great Game, comes to Berkeley in October/November too. I've just completed a two hour TV film for Irish and British TV for a series called Single Handed which airs in December and January. I really enjoyed working on that and there is more TV drama on the way with BBC. I am also working on a new play very loosely based on Oedipus for next year. And today I will be sending off a 90 minute radio play which BBC Radio commissioned about Macedonia which airs in January.
Words to live by/your mantra?
My wife suggests 'Work! Work! And more Work!'
What are you currently reading?
I've returned to Freud after twenty years. When I first read him I read him as clinical explanation of the make up of the mind, now I read him as literary philosopher with the result that his work appears far less dogmatic and far more beautiful.
What are you planning to read next?
Books on recent Irish political history for a new television project. I am looking for a few good novels for my holidays. Any suggestions?
|What was the last fun purchase you made and from where did you get it?
Each year I attend the BritArt Car Boot sale where one can buy prints and objects from many of contemporary visual art's stars. This year I bought a couple of small Peter Blake prints (he did the famous cover of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for the Beatles) but the real fun purchase was a piece by Gavin Turk which was a print of a road worker's Stop/Go sign. It is printed and signed on both sides, so was a bugger to frame, but it can be hung either way. It hangs above our toilet, largely on 'Go'.
Any recent discoveries this past week that you can share (i.e. new Web site, an interesting person or object, piece of trivia)?
I was discussing Freud with a psychoanalyst friend who told me that Freud said the only race who could not be psychoanalysed were the Irish. I'd love to know the reasoning and the context if anyone can dig me out the reference.
We all loved the island of Ithaca in Greece. One road, a few villages, we had to rent a boat rather than a car to discover the empty coves and the wine-dark waters. Remote, primitive and not overrun with tourist. Closer to home, Mull, Iona and Skye in Scotland were memorable. Maybe it's because I'm Irish, but I only feel truly at home on islands.
Favorite entrée to order and from where:
Recently, linguine with lobster and ginger at Boca di Lupo in Soho, London. Shouldn't work, but it does.
The wines of Burgundy, red or white, are hard to top for lightness, subtlety and relative affordability, though a pint of Guinness in Mulligans, The Palace or Kehoe's in Dublin comes close. I've found, however, that peppermint tea is more conducive to work and family life these days.
Favorite vice/ Guilty pleasure?
I was raised a Catholic, so all my pleasures are guilty. But all the better for being so.
I was born in Dublin and it's streets and people still stay etched upon my soul, but London is my home. It is the greatest country in Britain.
First real job since formal schooling?
When I left university I had already had a play performed in London and an agent. I could already call myself a playwright, though it took many years to support myself as such and many more years before I felt I truly was one. The only 'real' job I have had since then is as a lecturer in drama and playwriting. It suits me since it keeps me honest about my craft and up with what the new writers are doing.
What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?
Don't take it personally.
What keeps you up at night?
Reasoning with myself not to take it personally.
Three people, living or dead, you’d have over to dinner?
In an ideal world I'd say Euripides, Joyce and Bach, perhaps, but let's be pragmatic here, I'd have Spielberg, Scorcese and Almodovar.