A friend told me he saw a copy of my play, DENIZEN, on the ground in the Guildhall Square. I don’t know if he picked it up.
Perhaps it was dropped by a District Councillor going into a meeting with The Mayor. Perhaps it fell from a backpacker’s backpack or from the bumbag of a coach-tourist. Perhaps it was discarded by a reader who couldn’t wait to be rid of it. Perhaps a local gilet jaune launched it at the symbolic centre of civic power in the main square of our city, in a gesture of resistance and dissent.
I was reminded of one of the options I gave myself when I wrote the play in 2013, with the support of the District Council, via their UK City of Culture programme. If I couldn't manage anything else, I would read the text in public from the steps of the Guildhall.
I was struggling to find a producer and create a production, so a solo reading was worth considering. There is an egotism at the foundation of writing a play. Sometimes the playwright can’t hide behind actors and technicians.
The District Council’s UK City of Culture programme was controversial. The very idea that Derry Londonderry, our city on the northwest edge of Europe, in Ireland and in a political union with Britain, should be considered a UK city, was controversial.
The organisers of the programme advised that artists wishing to make work on challenging and difficult matters relating to the controversies could seek funds from money they controlled.
Such work had been part of my theatre practice for a number of years (Plays in a Peace Process; Dave Duggan; Guildhall Press, 2008). I thought I had concluded that work, with ceasefires and a peace process in place. My practice turned to narrative forms – novels, memoirs.
The presence and activities of republicans dissenting from the majority of republicans, who were engaging with the political process, sometimes reluctantly, drew my personal, artistic and professional attention.
Violence and how to lessen it has long been a focus of my practice. Conflict is at the heart of theatre. Conflict is not the problem. Violence, direct and indirect, manifest and latent, is.
I asked myself: “Could a dissident militant keep to that political position, using tactics other than violence?”
Such an abstract question is far removed from the material of drama, but soon a character – Denizen – emerged and developed; a story grew around him; a performative device – the speech from the dock – was harnessed to hold the work together in a manner that could engage an audience and – the key insight – I wrote the play in verse, in a heightened form of language used by Shakespeare and others.
I put poetic iambic pentameter, showing lyrical and brutal images, in the mouth of the militant, many people, including former comrades, referred to as ‘scum.’
I’d had enough of that language.
One of the capacities of theatre is the ability to elaborate, present and test new language, both within the work itself and within the thoughts and emotions of audiences and readers.
I entered the woods at the end of the day.
Hardly woods, a stand of Autumn trees,
Behind the craggy hill that is my home.
A secret place that calms me when it can.
Underfoot, mulch to hide my arms within,
A cache for a handgun and some blunt rounds.
A sanctuary and a holy ground.
In the end I didn’t have to read the play off the steps of The Guildhall. Creggan Enterprises gave it a home and got a producer. They engaged a splendid actor to play Denizen, with a terrific technical crew and supporting cast. They staged it in their supermarket foyer, a covered village square, in Creggan and in the court houses in Strabane and Derry. I directed it.
The play text was published (DENIZEN, Guildhall Press, 2014), a copy of which my friend came upon in The Guildhall Square.
It made it there after all.
Hands I clasp more vital than hands you cuff.
Rocks cemented more solid than rocks thrown.
Shoulders bound stronger than shoulders apart.
I will not collude the state’s gun-toting
And pledge to transform my righteous anger
Into a manifesto of the new.
DENIZEN: a verse drama; Dave Duggan; Guildhall Press; Derry, 2014