Directed by Andrew Flynn, of Galway-based Decadent Theatre Company, the play is about a marriage breaking down and is, says Flynn, the inspiration for Pure Mule (written by O’Brien for RTÉ television). Eden is set in Edenderry, a small town in County Offaly. Billy (Patrick Ryan) and Breda (Lesley Conroy) are a couple in their early 30s. They got married in their 20s and have two children.
“The relationship has hit a flat-line,” says Flynn. “The tragedy of the play is that the couple are still in love. Set in pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland, it’s an Ireland that’s a lot different to what it is now. It isn’t easy for Breda and Billy to talk openly about things. Certain subjects are taboo.”
This two-hander is set over a weekend. “Breda is making a conscious effort. As far as she’s concerned, things are going to be put right and the flame is going to be re-ignited. But Billy has his own demons and is on a different journey.”
Breda, by losing weight, thinks she’ll win her husband back. “But he has his own way of trying to fix the relationship.” Delusional Billy is obsessed with a young woman. “He subconsciously thinks that if he can prove he has still got ‘it’, problems will be resolved. They’re both shy people, who had tough upbringings. Their self-esteem wouldn’t be huge. They’re not very confident, so that when something goes wrong within the relationship, they both blame themselves and, in their own way, go about trying to fix it. Billy’s way of fixing the relationship is very stupid. It’s the delusions of a 33-year-old man thinking he’s still 22.”
O’Brien was in his late 20s when he wrote the play. Eden was first produced at the Peacock Theatre, in Dublin, in 2001, and had runs in the West End and Broadway. An adaptation for film, starring Eileen Walsh, was screened on RTÉ in 2004.
“It’s a fantastically mature piece of work. It’s up there with a Brain Friel script. It’s a joy to work with the actors on it. The play has everything. It’s really funny and yet, in a moment, it can turn into high drama with very sad moments.”
O’Brien is from the midlands and his writing is embedded there. “The thing about the play is that while there are only two actors, you come out of it feeling that you’ve met the town. The actors refer to a whole landscape of characters. There’s no doubt that Eden was the starting point for Pure Mule. Jennifer, in Pure Mule, is referred to, as well as Scoby and The Banana O’Briens, and various other characters.”
There’s a scene in a pub. “The characters talk about the people around them. You really feel like you’re there in the pub with them.”
Set up in 2000, Decadent Theatre Company’s produces classic works from the Irish canon, as well as new work.
“I think new writing is a bit of a victim of the recession. Venues are eager for audiences. They revert back to product they know will sell. A new play is not tested and can be a very difficult sell. You really have to choose a play that has proven itself.”
But Flynn is optimistic about the future of Irish theatre. “We have fantastic writers; people like Eugene O’Brien, Conor McPherson and Enda Walsh. They’re around a long time, but are still only in their early 40s. They still have a lot to give and a long way to go.”
* Eden opens at the Everyman Theatre on Oct 8-12.