FIONA Looney says her latest play, Are You There, Garth? It’s Me, Margaret, wrote itself. “I know writers often say that about their work but in this case, it quite literally happened. Garth Brooks is in six scenes and I have only fictionalised two of them. It was a no-brainer.”
Based on an idea by Darren Smith (creator of Anglo: The Musical), the play recalls the madness that gripped Ireland during the summer of 2014 when the country music star, Garth Brooks, ended up cancelling his concerts in Croke Park when he was refused permission to perform five shows with many north inner city Dublin residents up in arms about the potential disruption they would cause. Some 400,000 fans, however, “had their hearts broken”.
The play stars Deirdre O’Kane as housewife and Garth fan, Margaret, and Fair City’s Maclean Burke as Garth. It’s “a tale of cowboys, Mexicans, angry residents, Civil Servants, courts, politicians, a Lord Mayor and one woman’s hopes and dreams.”
Looney hopes her play is a tilt of the Stetson towards what people went through.
“It’s already difficult to remember quite how reduced this country was economically even a year ago. Part of the inspiration of this play is that there were an awful lot of people who were kind of resting more than just their hopes and dreams on the concerts. They had come to symbolise not quite a full stop on austerity but a little hitching up of the belt against austerity.”
The play is a series of monologues that take place in Margaret’s kitchen. “She talks to Garth Brooks in a ‘Shirley Valentine’ style. She tells him about the trials and tribulations of her life and her family. They’ve been really badly hit by the recession. Her husband has lost his job and is quite depressed. She has a part-time job but is frustrated and has kind of turned her back on God. And there are issues with the kids.”
Interspersing the monologues there are also various characters involved in the saga.
“While Margaret is talking to the wall, the audience will get to see Garth Brooks doing press conferences and having meetings. We also see him relaxing at home although that’s the slightly fictionalised bit. Crucially, we hear him sing.”
Burke plays Garth Brooks. “As well as being one of the funniest people I’ve ever worked with and a really gifted actor, there’s the happy coincidence that Maclean Burke looks like Garth Brooks. And he’s an amazing singer. The show is not a musical but there is musical performance in it and it’s kind of spine-tingling.”
Looney started her writing career as a journalist but these days, she describes herself as a writer who does newspaper columns as well as writing creatively. “Journalism was just a way of putting words together in nice order and getting paid for it. I might once have had the nose for journalism but I never had the neck for it,” she says, shuddering at the prospect of ‘door -stepping’ bereft people after a tragedy.
Being funny comes easily to Looney who has written radio scripts and presented a radio comedy series.
“I’m my own worst enemy because while comedy comes relatively easy to me, I’m always killing myself trying to make people cry. That’s actually much harder. I’d love if people cried at this play because there’s a really tender story at the heart of it,” says Looney.