A play inspired by her parents helped Marion Wyatt come to terms with the beatings she received from her father, writes Colette Sheridan

CORK director and writer, Marion Wyatt, suffered an emotional breakdown in December 2014 but through counselling and writing a play, she says she feels healed.

Looking back, Wyatt says that no matter how content she felt, a pall of sadness would come over her.

“I managed to unravel my life and track this sadness back to the way I was reared. While there were a lot of good things in my childhood, I never expressed how I felt because I was a child and couldn’t.”

Wyatt, aged 62, was beaten by her father when she was a child. He used his leather belt to hit her. She doesn’t know how many times this occurred but it happened a lot. “I remember the intensity of the shock to my skin and going ‘This is my daddy doing this to me’. I wanted to find out why my father was like that, why he could be so cruel and yet so loving and forward thinking in other ways.”

The eldest of five children, Wyatt says her siblings, in particular the two youngest members of her family, born after a lengthy gap, had a different experience of her father who worked for the Royal Navy.

“My father mellowed and changed his approach,” says Wyatt. She was aged 20 when he died from cancer. Her new play, When We Were Young, inspired by her parents’ romance, is not a docu- drama. “It’s about Finbar and Tina, a couple based on my parents. The rest of the characters in the play are fictional.”

Having attended a course on writing plays, Wyatt found herself writing in a stream-of-consciousness style.

“It took me on a journey which has turned into a play. I try to show how my father’s upbringing was quite austere while my mother’s upbringing was gentle and loving. My father was very controlling. When I was 18, I had a curfew and had to be in at 10pm.”

In her latter years, Wyatt’s mother unburdened herself of a dark secret that must have fuelled her husband’s demons as well as being the cause of her recurring depression.

The couple had a child that was born two weeks before they got married in London. Marion’s mother attempted to hide the pregnancy. The child, who had the same name as Marion, died soon after birth and according to the midwife, was “badly deformed”.

Marion’s parents never discussed this. Her mother never held the infant and when her father was ill with cancer, “he was always telling me to put flowers on ‘her’ grave. I thought he was talking about his own mother’s grave. But now, having pieced the family history together, I believe he was talking about the child buried in Harrow Road Cemetery in London.”

Wyatt asked her mother why she allowed the beatings to happen. “Her response was that my father treated her like a child. I thought that was a cop-out but I remember my mother being very compliant and maybe too passive.”

But Wyatt doesn’t want to paint an entirely dark story. She says her parents were very much in love when they married. She found “love letters, anniversary cards and everything written by my parents to each other. Then I found bits and bobs that were darker than the romance of the earlier letters.

“I realised that even though my father had died in 1975, my mother continued to write to him. She wrote about how controlling he was, how he wouldn’t listen to her or how he was expecting too much of her.”

Even now, there is a part of Wyatt that wonders how her father would respond to her today.

  • When We Were Young is at the Everyman, Cork, from April 6 to 16


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