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Brian Merriman: 'Identity theatre is always relevant'

I dramatise stories that were impossible to imagine could be told or staged, writes Brian Merriman.

Brian Merriman Playwright

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, Ireland became the last country in Western Europe to decriminalise gay people. We may have progressed rapidly since, but what about those generations who could not speak, love and forge relationships that would now support them in their older years?

10 HISstories gives them a voice on the page and stage. My earlier plays “Eirebrushed” featured the gay and lesbian heroes of 1916 who fought for an equality never to be embraced by the new Republic. In fact, had we remained in the UK, we would be celebrating 50 years of decriminalisation this year.

Asserting our freedom

‘Wretched Little Brat’ unpacks the ongoing legacy of the Oscar Wilde trial. This story of excess, is a key source of all the negative gay stereotypes that were used to justify discrimination on moral grounds.

I realised, that in order to be free, we must assert our freedom. 10 HISstories is a compendium of new Irish gay themed plays giving voices to a wide range of characters from Shakespeare, Wilde, Padraig Pearse and Cardinal Newman, all of whom wrote about their love for men.

But decriminalisation also hurt ordinary lives and still does. The communication codes that had to be used then, couched in humour and camp, now help reveal the stories previously hinted and implied, on the pages and stages of our LGBT writing and theatre.

There are comedies, historical characters, camp references, and modern scenarios through the lens of criminalisation, and all have a good dose of dramatic licence. They give life on stage to the HIV crisis and our generation of ‘war’ casualties, homophobia in sport, the Holocaust, the Eurovision, drag, bisexuality, gender identity, masculinity, feminism, religion, suicide, equality and ageism.

Voices with something to say

The one certainty about theatre is that there will always be voices with something to say, with or without permission. Artists will always find a way to be heard.

I explore in ‘Party Boy’ which is based on a true story, a modern sub culture of chemicals, commercial exploitation, porn and partying – it is a candidly graphic and funny Irish story of a lifestyle that is prevalent today.

Those who lived in the shadows of society, are revealed in the shorter plays to complete a tapestry of courage, limitation, humour, pain and liberation and all are written because of the indelible inspiration and courage of past LGBT generations.

The gift of theatre is as needed today as ever. I dramatise stories that were impossible to imagine could be told or staged in those barren years, when Ireland was cosy and comfortable (with so many other societies), in criminalising the greatest of all human conditions – the capacity to love and to participate as equals.

Identity theatre

I am grateful no other generation of Irish LGBT people may have to endure the limitations insisted upon in my time by those whose role was to exclude, rather than to embrace the rich diversity that makes up any decent community. I salute all those who continue to write and perform in hostile criminalised societies around the world.

Identity theatre is always relevant as we move from telling people who they are, to listening to them tell us. I hope these ten plays may add to that immense, courageous and honest reservoir of theatrical truth that is growing worldwide.

I remind myself frequently that the most wonderful thing about being part of a minority is that sometimes we give the majority the opportunity to do the right thing. 10HISstories is another opportunity to listen.

Brian Merriman is the author of ’10 HISstories’, ‘Eirebrushed/Wretched Little Brat’, ‘Wilde Stages in Dublin,’ available from gaytheatre.ie, ‘Books Upstairs ’D’Olier Street, Dublin 2 and from the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival venues (May 7-20). “2HISstories” featuring “The Second Miracle” and “The Off Switch” plays in the Teachers Club, 36 Parnell Square May 14-19 as part of the 15th International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. 

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Brian Merriman  / Playwright

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