INTERVIEW: Award-Winning Playwright Brian Foster on Myra's Story

Award winning playwright Brian Foster returns with an adaption of his much loved play Maire: A Woman of Derry.

‘Myra’s Story’ tells the tale of Myra McLaughlin, a foul-mouthed, feisty, street drinker who also happens to be immensely funny and self-deprecating at the same time. Brian takes the story of Myra to Dublin for this new production, and we talked to the local playwright about the play which has been embraced by audiences across the world.

“We had a run of 13 years in Derry off and on, but it came to its natural end back in 2013 when Carmel McCafferty who played the role retired” said the local playwright.

“I already had the idea in my head that I would like to get the play to a bigger stage and to a bigger audience, but there will still always be the original play here in the city to be performed.

“At the time, I already had an adaptation where the story had moved from Derry to Dublin. The new play is ‘Myra’s Story’ and has about 80 percent of the old play and around 20 percent of new stuff. Instead of being set in the streets of Derry, it is now set in Dublin which is a grand big stage

Brian revealed the reason for the change in spelling with his new adaptation: “Quite simply, newspapers and the media kept getting the original spelling wrong” explained the playwright. “More times than enough it was Marie, Mary, all the rest and it was like ‘oh God, they’ve spelt it wrong again’. Even people mispronouncing it too, so I decided just to nip it in the bud this time around by giving it a spelling which couldn’t be misspelt or missaid.”

Whether it be Maire or Myra, her story is a common one, and one that can be found throughout the world, which is perhaps why it resonates with audiences far and wide. “I have said from the beginning that the story was universal” said Brian.

“Street homelessness and alcoholism can be found everywhere, so obviously with me being Irish I wanted to set it here. I could have set it in London or New York, but it made more sense to set it in the capital city. It also gave me access to a bigger pool of actors to play the role too” explained Brian.

“I originally began the play in the Playhouse in Derry, and then when the Millennium Forum opened up it we moved down to there. Whether it be a local audience or an audience from across the world, everyone can relate to the story. So even if they’re not Irish, or even if they’re Irish but not from Derry, they can all relate to Myra’s story” said Brian.

For this new production, Brian has handed over the reins to top Dublin director Michael Scott, but the Derry man admits he is still very much hands-on. “This is a Millennium Forum production. They have produced it and are taking it on tour but it was left to me to go to Dublin and audition various actors for the role” revealed Brian.

“I had a few well known actresses turn up for the audition, but the one that really stood out was Fíonna Hewitt-Twamley, who may have been somewhat lesser known, but had the streetwise grit needed to take on the role.”

The new production will make its Irish debut later this month at An Grianan Theatre in Letterkenny, before coming home to Derry on Thursday 4th October where it will run at the Millennium Forum until Saturday 6th October. The play has already wowed audiences across the world, so much so that it has picked up numerous awards along the way.

“This new adaptation has already been on tour to Canada and New York where it won quite a big accolade in the United Solo Festival” revealed Brian. “We won ‘Best Tragedy’, so it just confirmed that the story travels and that the themes are universal.

“The United Solo Festival is the biggest festival of its kind anywhere in the world and even to have it participated at the festival was a huge triumph, but to actually then go and win one of the main sections was really good.

“This will be the first showing of the play in Ireland. It opens in An Grianan and then it comes to the Forum. We’re using this particular tour as a showcase for the play, so we’ll be taking it to some smaller theatres as such, but already plans are afoot to take it to the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin next year and I believe Michael Scott is looking to take it on a much more extensive tour.”

Brian also revealed his aspirartions of taking Myra’s Story onto the book shelves. “I just finished writing the book last week and now I have the small matter now of finding a publisher” laughs Brian.

“It isn’t always easy [finding a publisher], but it’s looking good. It will also be called Myra’s Story and I think that it would have a knock on effect for the play in the years to come.”

Actors and writers within the city have had a lot of success of late, and Brian welcomes the impact Derry is now having on the art. “I would like to think that I was some way instrumental in that” admitted Brian.

“I’ve been in the business now some 25 years, but 20 years ago, there was no purpose built theatre and we were behind a lot of other places in Ireland in terms of theatre and in terms of acting.

“Anyone with a bit of talent felt that they had to leave Derry and go to London, or to Dublin, or to anywhere, as opportunities weren’t here for them. I started producing my own plays here in the city and I was able to give a lot of young actors a leg up and give people their first break. I was also able to bring new audiences in that might not have otherwise been involved in theatre.

“Maire: A Woman of Derry for instance, we had audiences who were coming to see that the play, and that was their first time stepping inside a theatre. A lot of those people have stuck with me over the past 16 years and come to all my plays, so we have gradually nurtured a new audience and that in itself is a great thing. With a new audience comes a new interest in theatre, so we now have a lot of new writers and actors coming through.

“I’m full of admiration for the young people now. They have a confidence about them that my generation wouldn’t have had. We were brought up to believe that nothing happened in Derry, and you had to leave here to do anything but that’s not the case anymore. I meet young people now and I am absolutely bowled over by their confidence.

“With the media now being what it is, you don’t need to go away and base yourself in London or Dublin to make people aware of your talents.

“I’m reaching the end now, but there are a lot of new people coming behind me and they’ll do grand” reflected Brian.

Myra's Story will be performed at the Millennium Forum from Thursday 4th to Saturday 6th October. Book your tickets here

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