Celebrated playwright Enda Walsh selects his cultural touchstones

Picture: Dan Linehan

Enda Walsh was born in Dublin in 1967, and moved to Cork in the early 1990s, where he had his first major success with the Corcadorca production of his play Disco Pigs, starring Cillian Murphy and Eileen Walsh.

He has since written numerous plays, screenplays, and operas, and collaborated with David Bowie on the play Lazarus. Walsh lives in London with his wife Jo Ellison and their daughter Eva.

Walsh is back in Cork with Corcadorca for his new play The Small Things, and the 52-year-old is also involved in organising the Sounds From A Safe Harbour music festival in September.

Here, he talks us through some of the art and entertainment he has enjoyed through the decades. But how do these films, plays, tunes, etc, feed into his own work?

“A lot of the stuff I make, in my own head is set in the 1980s. Sometimes I’ll be explicit about it, with popular references to that time, with the music and so on. 

"Sometimes I’ll completely bury it, but I’ll still feel that it’s there, that I’m tonally writing about Ireland and Irishness, and myself when I was a kid or a young teenager.”

  • Corcadorca’s production of The Small Things runs at the Old Waterworks, Lee Road, on June 17-19, as part of Cork Midsummer Festival. Enda Walsh and Pat Kiernan will also take part in a public discussion at Crawford Art Gallery on June 18
  • The Same, starring Catherine Walsh and Eileen Walsh, is at Galway. International Arts Festival, July 18-27

THEATRE

“Before I got to Disco Pigs, I was really influenced by Dublin performer and writer Donal O’Kelly. 

"I’d seen his early work like Bat the Father Rabbit the Son. At the time I was also reading a lot of Joyce and Beckett.

"In Corcadorca, we’ve developed a sort of kinetic style. I was able to find the words that we’re able to build this aesthetic around. 

"Pat Kiernan was the talent. I might have written Disco Pigs, but another director would have made it look stupid.

"In London, I find the theatre a little bit boring, to be honest. They go in for a lot of theatre that is quite sociological — plays about ‘now’. 

"They seem too kitchen sink or living room-ish for me, like they’ve jumped off the front pages and onto the stage. 

"For that reason, I tend to go watch a lot of dance, at places like Sadler’s Wells.

"In Ireland, I think Dead Centre are a really interesting theatre company. 

"I also like Emma Martin, the choreographer who I got to work with on Arlington — her work is beautiful. 

"And Michael Keegan-Dolan’s theatre-dance mash-ups.”

ART

“I've got a load of photography and art books around the house, and when I get stuck I go to Francis Bacon. 

"When you see those pictures and it does something to your brain, and it sort of frees you up. 

"You look at that sort of expression and it teaches you to be brave.”

FILM

“The first time I ever went to the cinema I saw Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. It was a school trip, and a really big deal.

"I would’ve watched lots of films with my dad. He was really into MGM musicals, and I love that world. 

"I was really into Singin’ In The Rain, and later I got to know Gene Kelly’s wife, and I got to hold his score for the film, with all his notes on it for the routine. 

"It was really quite moving, and I was like, ‘I wish my dad could see this’.

In my late teens I saw Blue Velvet, and no surprises that I’m a massive David Lynch fan. There are some things in terms of staging or lighting that I think I’ve nicked from him.

"There’s a sort of little homage to him in almost every show I’ve done.

"I don’t get to the cinema much, but I’m now a Bafta member, so I get all the Bafta films. 

"Documentaries seem to be the thing that stay with me a lot more than fiction sometimes.

"One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen was The Arbor, about northern English playwright Andrea Dunbar. It’s very experimental in its form, but very emotional.

"TV seems to have taken over from film in terms of structurally-interesting drama, even if you get the feeling that some of those box sets should have ended after two seasons, rather than dragging the arse out of it.”

MUSIC

“At about the age of seven I used to be tortured by Barry Manilow’s ‘Mandy’ by my older sister. 

"She played it so often I went from hating it to quite liking it. My older brother was into the Doobie Brothers, who I still have a soft spot for.

"The first album I bought was probably Gary Glitter. I started buying records really young and had quite a large record collection by the time I was 14 or 15. Electronica was my big thing.

"I was a post-punk early teenager, into the likes of Gary Numan, the beginning of New Romanticism before the hair got big, and a little bit later on I got into Kraftwerk.

"In terms of gigs, two standouts from the early 1980s were Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Smiths, both at the SFX Hall in Dublin. 

"Siouxsie had a broken leg at the time, so she sat with a cast on her leg in a big armchair and sang the songs. It looked extraordinary, sort of Beckett-like.

"The Smiths were touring Ireland around 1984 after their first album. I had a beret that I chucked on stage, and Johnny Marr picked it up and threw it back into the audience. 

"I never got it back but I was beside myself that Johnny Marr had handled something that was on my head.

"When I first went down to Cork, I listened to A Fierce Pancake by Stump almost endlessly. 

"We did A Clockwork Orange in Sir Henrys [nightclub], and we were all very much into that dance scene around then. 

"The vibe of Disco Pigs came out of that, the sort of stickiness of that dancefloor, those mixtapes, the DJs who played there.

"I adored a dance — still do. It was a huge amount of fun, and a tiny bit of depravity.

"These days I listen to a lot of different things. I think Chris by Christine and the Queens was the best album of last year. 

"This year, I’m listening a lot to Lambchop’s new album, This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You). 

"I also love Aldous Harding’s new album Designer, and I think Fontaines D.C. are the most exciting band to come out of Dublin for years.” 

OPERA

“I started going to opera about 10 years ago over here, and at the end of the year I’d realised that my favourite shows were opera shows. 

"For instance, I saw a production of Berg’s Wozzeck a few years ago that I loved. 

"It was a weird thing, in the first 20 minutes the music was so overpowering I threw up in my mouth, and I just had to swallow it. It was just so visceral.

"The operas I did with Donnacha Dennehy came about after I’d done Misterman with him. 

He approached me about doing an opera, and I thought it sounded like a great idea — you can swirl around theme, and isolate characters, and make really broad statements, and also keep things really small and itchy.

"I’ve been a fan of Donnacha’s work and Crash Ensemble since they started. 

"I just couldn’t pass it up, and when I did The Last Hotel, I thought I just have to do another one. So now we’re doing a trilogy. 

"We did The Second Violinist, and now he’s working on the music for The First Child. I’ve already written the libretto.”

BOOKS

Spike Milligan
Spike Milligan

“My mum was an actress, but by the time I came along she had given up acting. 

"But she loved poetry so there was a bit of that around. 

"At about 7 or 8 I was really into the Two Ronnies, and my dad got me a fantastic sketch book that I used to read out and laugh my arse off at it. I also loved Spike Milligan.

"At around 13 or 14 I really got into Beat poetry. I loved the Liverpudlian beat poets, so I used to sort of ape them. 

"Roger McGough for me back then would have been so cool. And John Cooper Clarke from Manchester.

At the moment, I’m doing a lot of research on Northern Ireland, so on my side of the bed, there’s a pile of factual books about the Troubles. 

"My head is completely in that world, which isn’t great for bedtime. 

"I’m also reading a fantastic book about the Korean war, On Desperate Ground, by Hampton Sides. 

"So when I’m not reading about Northern Ireland, I’m reading about Americans being lost in the mountains of North Korea!”

TELEVISION

“My earliest addiction in terms of television was all those old black and white American shows that RTÉ used to have, like the one with Champion the Wonderhorse [a name later applied to athlete Sonia O’Sullivan by one of the characters in Disco Pigs].

"I really got into the Three Stooges, and it sort of fed into my surrealist leanings at the time with Spike Milligan. I loved that sort of chaos.

"In later life I ended up writing The Walworth Farce, which was this sort of weird nostalgic piece about me and my dad, because we bonded over the Three Stooges, with ridiculous fight routines and stuff like that.

"In my teens I was massively into Man United so I’d religiously watch things like Football Focus and Grandstand. 

To this day, I think the happiest part of my life was sitting down and knowing I could watch four hours of sport on a Saturday.

"The whole day just seemed to be mapped out: the Three Stooges, going out playing with Raheeny United or Kilbarrack, coming back covered in grass and muck, and sitting down to watch Grandstand. 

"And then just coasting into Starsky and Hutch, and then Match of the Day at the end of it all. Best days of your life!

"I missed out on stuff like The Wire and The Sopranos, but I did get into shows like The Killing and The Bridge. 

"A big thing for me is Spiral, that French cop show which I think is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television. 

"I just can’t get into Game of Thrones... I really don’t care about dragons and that stuff.”

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