Suzanne Lynch on I, Keano by Colin Teevans, in The Irish Times (20 Aug. 2005).

Details: Suzanne Lynch, ‘What links Euripides and Roy Keane? They inspired Dublin playwright Colin Teevan’s examination of modern masculinity, he tells Suzanne Lynch’, in The Irish Times (20 Aug. 2005).

When Roy Keane hung up his boots in Saipan and refused to play at the World Cup in 2002, little did he know that his antics would provide inspiration for artists and playwrights. Following the hugely successful musical I, Keano earlier this year, Dublin-born playwright Colin Teevan is the latest artist to adapt the Keane affair to the stage. His play, Missing Persons: Four Tragedies and Roy Keane, is currently running at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The RoyKeaneiad is the final piece in a sequence of five monologues based on ancient Greek myths which explore ideas of masculinity in the modern world. Teevan originally wrote the Keane piece during the World Cup in 2002. “I was approached by BBC Radio 3 to write a short play on the Roy Keane affair. At the time I was working on a translation of Euripides’ Bacchai and was immediately struck by the parallel between Keane and Achilles, the mighty warrior who refused to fight and sulked in his tent while his comrades went into battle.” As with I, Keano, Teevan exploits the comic potential of the Keane affair, exposing the preposterousness of an event in which the internal squabblings of a football team became the stuff of national epic.

However, the comic, jocular tone of the piece is in contrast to the four dark tales that precede it. Through his intricate reworking of the legends of Uranus, Medea, and Ajax, Teevan’s four monologues touch on such harrowing themes as infanticide, castration and suicide. The result is a disturbing meditation on modern masculinity, expertly performed by the renowned Shakespearean actor Greg Hicks.

One of the most powerful monologues in the sequence is a modern re-working of the legend of Ajax, the heroic fighter who killed himself on his own sword. Teevan transplants Sophloces’ tragedy to modern-day Northern Ireland, as Ajax becomes an elderly IRA member who, disillusioned with the peace process, first kills his horses and then himself. “The question I wanted to ask was: ‘What do you do with the man of war when the fighting’s over?’ “ explains Teevan, who lived in Belfast for six years while he was writer-in-residence at Queen’s University. “The implications of the peace process for those republicans who have only known war, and the debate it must have raised behind closed doors within the IRA, was an issue that interested me, and one that I felt needed to be explored.” Parallels between the ancient and modern worlds are also used to devastating effect in the second monologue in the series. In an inversion of the myth of Medea, the spurned wife who murdered her children, Teevan presents a contemporary middle-class pharmacologist who murders his wife’s lover before drowning his own children.

For Teevan the parallel between Medea and the modern-day father was particularly resonant. “Men are now in the same legal position as women were in ancient Greece. The burden is on the father to prove why he should have access to his children, just as Medea no longer had any authority over her own children when Jason left her in the original Greek myth.” The use of ancient myths as vehicles for social commentary is an idea Teevan has explored before. His radio play How Many Miles to Basra? performed earlier this year on BBC Radio, presents a damning critique of the Iraq war through a modern reworking of Xenophon’s famous historical narrative, The March of the Ten Thousand. The analogy with the current situation in Iraq is clear: though the Greek mercenaries were successful in their ultimate goal of usurping the Persian king, leaving the East proved more difficult than anticipated. As Teevan puts it: “It may be easy to get in, but it is less easy to get out.” The ability of ancient myths to speak across time and space is part of their fascination for Teevan. “Ancient myths can provide a key to understanding our society,” he argues. “The collision between East and West, for example, is something that was happening 3,000 years ago. Reclaiming these mythic tales, and making them relevant for our present time, can enable us to make sense of a sometimes senseless present.”

Teevan’s own interest in classical literature stems from his time as a secondary-school student at Belvedere College, where he studied Latin and Greek for the Leaving Certificate. This formative training, he believes, was invaluable to his later work as a playwright. “Translating Greek line by line is an extraordinary way of learning how drama works. Theatrical writing is a craft, a discipline. There is a romantic preconception out there that writing is about expressing what you feel, but as a playwright you also need to work within a formal structure.” He notes with dismay that although more students in Britain are studying classics in university, the numbers studying Latin and Greek language has fallen dramatically. Nonetheless, he believes that Greek drama itself has undergone a resurgence in recent years. “One of the reasons for this resurgence of interest in Greek tragedy in the last 10 to 15 years, I would argue, is the fact that we are living in what we might call a post-Christian age. In Greek drama, there is no set right and wrong, no definitive answers or moral highground. In a world where we are re-examining moral questions that at one time would have been taken for granted, Greek drama is of particular relevance.” Another reason for its popularity, Teevan believes, is its ability to communicate across boundaries of nation, creed and class. “In our multi-cultural society, Greek drama offers a world that anyone can have access to.”

On the subject of his own cultural identity Teevan is more ambivalent. At present he lives in the UK with his wife and children, where he is the Northeast Literary Fellow at the University of Newcastle. He also lectures on the creative writing course at UEA. “I am very wary of being put in a box marked Irish playwright ... and the expectations that engenders. At the same time I am Irish, and my Irishness is an essential part of my identity as a writer. Nonetheless, living in the UK has thrown up opportunities that I don’t think would have come my way in Ireland - working with director Peter Hall, for example, has been an amazing experience.”

It has been almost 10 years since Teevan has worked in the Republic. Perhaps Missing Persons could be the work that breaks that trend? “Who knows? So far the reviews have been favourable and there has been a lot of interest in bringing the play further afield. I would definitely be interested in bringing the play to Ireland.” Whatever the future holds, it seems that the current run in Edinburgh won’t be the end of the road for the play. As a powerful meditation on modern masculinity and the connections between past and present, Missing Persons is a play that deserves a wider audience.

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