Magical year just got better

Dublin writer Mark Cantan unleashes his first professionally produced full-length play at the Project. Pádraic Killeen reports

IT’S been a good year for Mark Cantan, with the young Dublin writer enjoying a number of creative breakthroughs. His short play The Big Bad Wolf was produced at the Abbey Theatre in June, while Baptism of Hire, a one-off comic reality-show written aired on RTÉ in September.

This week the Dubliner’s first professionally produced full-length play, Jezebel, has begun a long run at the Project Arts Centre.

The show is produced by Rough Magic, one of the country’s foremost theatre companies. In 2011 Cantan was part of Rough Magic’s much-admired Seeds programme, whereby emerging talent spends a year working with the company. Jezebel is the direct result of Cantan’s time on the programme. For Cantan, that his work is being produced seems like a validation of his efforts as a writer to-date.

Like all of Cantan’s material, Jezebel is fundamentally a comic work. “It’s about a go-getting couple who find that everything is great in their relationship, except for one thing and that’s the sex,” says Cantan. “So, being the go-getters they are, they decide not to let this hold them back and they go on a journey of sexual exploration. Eventually, this leads them to introduce a third party into their sex games and it’s about the fall-out from that.”

With a plot like that, the inevitable first question is where his inspiration came from.

“Well, it’s not actually based on a true story,” says Cantan. “It was more a case of imagining what these people might be doing.”

In the past Cantan has worked on shows such as TG4’s The Running Mate and TV3’s The Offside Show. For a time he also worked as the right hand of Jose Mourinho. Or, to be more precise, he worked as the right hand of the puppet Jose Mourinho that starred in Mario Rosenstock’s sketch show The Special One.

“I was the ‘assistant puppeteer,’” says Cantan. “I didn’t have a lot of experience, but it was directed by a friend of mine, Damien Farrell. A proper puppeteer operates the puppet’s mouth and their left-hand but then they need someone to fill in for the right hand of the puppet. So my friend Damo said, ‘do you think you could get your right hand to act like a right hand?’ And I said, ‘yeah, I think I can pull that off..’ So I would sit behind a desk and just put my right arm in the arm of the puppet. It was a lot of fun.”

Cantan has his own website that is a repository of self-produced videos, podcasts and sketches. His Twitter account, meanwhile, describes him as a writer, actor, director, editor, puppeteer, musician and pistolier. “Wacky Jobs Incorporated is how I like to think of myself,” he says.

Theatre is one of his loves and it was in the Players theatre group at Trinity College Dublin that Cantan’s interest in comic writing and performance first found expression. “I spent more time in Players than I did on my maths degree,” he says. “But I like to mix it up between the media and let one inform the other. So I’m doing theatre at the moment and enjoying that but it could be TV or a film next.”

His recent work for RTÉ, Baptism of Hire, was a comic reality show in which an unwitting victim experiences an absurd first day in a new job. “The reception to the show was generally very good, from what I saw on Twitter and that kind of thing,” says Cantan. “Although there was one person who did tweet that ‘the writer of this show should be kicked in the face.’” Hopefully Jezebel will attract more friendly reviews.

* Jezebel runs until Dec 22. www.markcantan.com


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