Playwright Liam Heylin is courting success on the Cork stage

Colette Sheridan talks to Cork playwright Liam Heylin who finds plenty of material and characters for his writing in his day job as a court reporter for the Irish Examiner

AS AN Irish Examiner court reporter who moonlights as a playwright, the day job is a rich repository of stories for Liam Heylin.

His latest play, Hung Juror, is about a character called Gráinne who has been called for jury service to pass judgement on “an unemployed northsider”, Liam Healy, accused of stalking his ex.

In what Heylin describes as “moral wonkiness”, Gráinne has secrets of her own, including growing marijuana in her attic. Then there’s her husband’s relationship with the revenue commissioners which may not be as straightforward as it seems.

Heylin, a social science graduate of UCC who caught the drama bug in the university’s dramatic society, says he was always going to write plays. That he draws from the courts is inevitable given that he spends his working days there.

Liam Heylin
Liam Heylin

“If I was covering sports or health, I’d probably be influenced by that. I take the ideas where I find them. It’s not that I always want to write courtroom drama. But in court, there’s no shortage of material, whether it’s utterly tragic or utterly farcical or some strange combination of both.”

The idea behind Hung Juror is that Gráinne becomes too heavily involved in the case, carrying out her own background investigation, doing what she is not supposed to do. “It’s a kind of screwball comedy.”

When Heylin started writing the play four years ago, he happened to read about a woman in England who was on jury duty and received an eight month sentence for making direct contact with the man whom she was supposed to be judging impartially.

“It’s not as if the idea of some kind of connection between a juror and an accused man comes completely out of the sky. But I find at this stage, it nearly always happens that when I’m making something up and I think it’s quite bizarre or particular, real life examples come along. It’s just uncanny the way that happens all the time.”

Heylin says that, if anything, he plays down the drama in his writing.

“Sometimes, I come out of a court room and I say to myself that if I did a verbatim play on it, people would say, ‘typical playwright, always going for the melodramatic’. But the melodramatic can often be there in the day-to-day business of the court. I often find that when I’m working on something comedic, I’m calming it down.”

He adds that unless he loves his characters, he won’t be able to write. “I have to have a connection with them. They can’t be one-dimensional or two-dimensional.”

Heylin is conscious of the dynamics of social class and how his plays are perceived. His hit comedy, Love, Peace and Robbery, about the criminal underworld, attracted an audience that wouldn’t have been regular theatre-goers.

“Most people who go to the theatre are broadly middle-class and most writers, through education and opportunity, are middle-class. When it comes to writing about working class people, you automatically throw up a difficulty concerning who is talking about whom and whether as a writer, you have a particular bourgeois perspective. When I was writing Love, Peace and Robbery, I was very conscious that I was writing in a voice that wasn’t my own.”

Hung Juror concerns a middle class juror and a working class man who is on trial. But the middle class Gráinne “is compromised through growing the bit of dope at home. And her husband is fiddling his tax affairs. If there’s one thing I really like to find in a play, it’s that sense of moral ambivalence.”

Hung Juror is at Cork’s Everyman from November 2 to 7


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