“I like to keep the sense of theatricality side by side with the story that I’m telling.” Thomas Kilroy
Thomas Kilroy was one of our most venerable and inspirational playwrights, who had a long and distinguished career. His oeuvre is highly adventurous, erudite and idiosyncratic. One of his favourite themes was to place the non-conformist, the eponymous outsider, the stranger at the centre of events.
The Lyric Theatre first produced his work in 1978 with a production of Talbot’s Box, directed by Ann O’Driscoll and starring John Keegan, Trudy Kelly, Desmond McAleer, Margaret McCann and Louis Rolston.
In 1985, the Lyric produced Tom Kilroy’s adaptation of Chekhov's The Seagull, directed by Michael Joyce and starring Linda Wray and Stella McCusker. Digital Theatre Archive
The following year, the ground-breaking Field Day Theatre Company presented Double Cross in February 1986, in a production directed by Jim Sheridan and starring Stephen Rea, Kate O’Toole and Richard Howard. Tom sat on the board of Field Day Theatre Company during the 1980s.
Many of Kilroy's plays are about the nature of theatricality. He once said in a press interview “I like to keep the sense of theatricality side by side with the story that I’m telling.” Also central to his work is the quest for the truth. “I think all writing looks for truth,” he says and adds: “I hate making claims for profundity... I would say my plays are concerned with cutting through illusion. But I’m also aware that it’s a kind of fruitless exercise. As we’re constantly surrounded by illusion everywhere, in theatre and life.”
In 2018 the Lyric Theatre presented Double Cross in 2018 as a co-production with the Abbey Theatre, and part of Belfast International Arts Festival. This toured to the Abbey Theatre and starred Charlotte Curry, Ian Toner and Sean Kearns, and was directed by Lyric Executive Producer Jimmy Fay.
Double Cross was first produced in the Guildhall in Derry/ Londonderry as part of the annual Field Day enterprise on 13 February 1986, then toured Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, before transferring to the Royal Court in London.
See below interview with Tom Kilroy in 2018, for the Lyric Theatre and Abbey Theatre co-production of Double Cross:
What inspired you to write the play?
Some time in the early days of Field Day, Brian Friel and Stephen Rea came to my home in County Mayo and asked me to write a play for the company. I had just written a radio play about Brendan Bracken for the BBC. I told them that I was now thinking about a stage play bringing in a second man William Joyce, Lord Haw Haw. I told Stephen that I had in mind that both parts would be played by the same actor. Yes, I told him, I had been thinking of him to play both parts. It was a long afternoon of intense conversation. By the time Brian and Stephen left for home I had the shape of the play in my head.
When researching Bracken and Joyce, what similarities and/ or differences struck you most about their characters?
The thing that attracted my interest was that both of them were Irish and that the Irishness was what drove them to such extremes. They were also contemporaries at a time when Ireland and Europe were going through turbulent times. I had a great personal interest in the Second World War. Indeed, you could say that I was a child of the Hitler war. I felt I could bring all this together in the one play.
Has your perspective on the play changed since it was first performed?
Absolutely. I have actually done some crucial rewriting for this production. I have tried to make Bracken’s obsession with Joyce more dramatic. The myth of fratricide, of Cain and Abel, was in my imagination as I wrote. None of this obsession has any basis in fact. It is all invented. I think the play is better structured now. At least, I hope so!
Do you see any parallels between the play’s themes and the current political climate?
I think we all found echoes in the play of Donald Trump and the rise of right-wing nationalism and fascism in Europe and elsewhere. It is extraordinary that this should be happening all over again, particularly in Germany, Poland and Hungary, places where that savage war was fought on these same issues, all those years ago in the last century.
Jimmy Fay, Executive Producer at the Lyric said:
"I was so sorry to hear of master playwright Tom Kilroy's passing. We got on brilliantly when I directed the revival of Double Cross for the Lyric and the Abbey in 2018. I knew him for years on and off at the Abbey and he was always approachable wise and supportive of whatever vision you were trying out. Tom was always supportive of the Lyric’s place in the Irish cultural eco stream and enjoyed having his plays staged in Belfast and throughout the north. I will miss his wise consul and endearing wit."
Richard Wakely, Artistic Director and Chief Executive Belfast International Arts Festival added:
"Whilst at the Abbey Theatre, I was fortunate enough to have worked with Tom on the revival of his play in Autumn 2000. Tom Kilroy’s The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde, a magical but ultimately heartfelt story of Wilde’s wife’s struggle for redemption was a highlight of my time at The Abbey Theatre and went on to be performed from London to Adelaide. The play reflected many of his fine personal characteristics, not least a gentleness combined with a steely sense of justice. He will be greatly missed by all who loved him."
We join with our friends, colleagues and the wider arts community across Ireland in paying tribute to Tom Kilroy on his passing and sending our condolences to Tom's wife Julie and his family.