AAfter writing 34 books (including comedy thrillers like Divorcing Jack and Driving Big Davie) and numerous films and TV series (BBC Northern Ireland’s Murphy’s Law), Colin Bateman recently experienced a new feeling at his desk.
“I don’t usually get emotional when I write, but I really felt it. It’s very personal, ”he says of his first play, which will premiere in Northern Ireland Derry playhouse in this week.
The title Nutcase will alert some on posters and in print, but in a dramatic context it is part of a survey of attitudes and myths surrounding mental illness. The two characters – Michael and his son Sean – address the audience directly during the scenes, reenacting the boy’s paranoid schizophrenia episodes, splitting into safe units, and eventually returning home under heavy medication.
It is easy to see that Michael’s career is very similar to Bateman’s, and he admits that the play is based on experiences with his teenage son a few years ago.
“I would say 90% of them are true,” says the playwright. Even a scene of a dark farce – the son attacks his father in the car in front of a supermarket, leading to police intervention – is “exactly as it happened. The police came and were dragged into our car. And remember, the police are armed here, so we all roll around with guns. And when they were driving away with my son in the police car, I found that one of the officers had left his hat in my car. And the first thing I did was put on my hat and take a selfie. I knew then that I was on the verge of collapsing. “
He emphasizes that his own sufferings were only a fraction of that of his son, and is also aware that one of the many current panics about literary ethics is who has the right to write about other lives. “My son really wanted the story to be told, but it also reveals the things that made him sick in the first place. So it’s a fine line to walk. “
What does the model think of Sean from Nutcase? “He hasn’t read it or seen any of the clips we uploaded for promotional purposes. He’s coming to the premiere, that’s going to be interesting. ”Given the current tensions over story ownership, I was surprised that the author didn’t want his subject to read them. “He did not want it. It’s a holdover from the disease that won’t go away. He’s doing very well, but being a great reader he now tends to read nothing as the focus isn’t there. Who knows the cause? It could be because of the illness or the extremely strong medication he is taking. “
Bateman knows exactly how strong because of an occasion portrayed in the play. “In my advanced years, I took a cholesterol pill at night and at the same time gave my son his three night pills. I accidentally picked up one of his and ended up in an ambulance after waking up unable to speak or move. The paramedics had to put pants on me. And my son takes three of these.”
This experience shaped one of the themes of the play: “Is the healing as bad as the disease in some ways? But can you take the risk of stopping the drug to see if it goes away? Those are terrible decisions. ”Nor is it known what causes such psychosis. Possibilities include heredity (there is bipolarity in one branch of Bateman’s family), but also extreme stress and smoking very powerful modern drugs, both of which can play a role in Sean’s story as well.
Bateman’s trademark of writing hilariously on terrible topics already brought in inappropriate tone accusations back in the 1990s, which can only increase in a time of “trigger warnings” and “sensitivity measurements” prior to publication. Does he feel that his imagination is more limited? “I am not aware of needing to be more careful. I think it’s a dangerous way to write when you’re working within such limits. But there is probably some censorship built in somewhere now that you know there are just things you can’t say. One of my books is called Mohammed Maguire and it wouldn’t be published now. But I am aware of the possibly controversial language in the play and was not asked to change anything. ”So theater is bolder than publishing? “It seems so. But I’ll find out when the play hits an audience.”
Nutcase stands out in Bateman’s production by containing only a tiny weird reference to the decades of Northern Irish violence when one of the many psychiatrists (the two actors share 23 supporting characters) opens the wrong files and mistakes Sean for a bomb victim.
But the writer, who grew up in a loyalist community in Bangor, County Down, says the Northern Irish Civil War will always be a central theme for him. He is currently finishing his childhood memories, Thunder and Lightning. He holds a photo in front of the zoom screen showing him as a small child, wearing a handkerchief mask and sunglasses, brandishing a branch like a weapon, and making a “no surrender” victory sign. This was his costume to pretend to be a member of the Ulster Defense Association (UDA), a loyalist paramilitary force. “Instead of cowboys and Indians, we played UDA against IRA. We dressed like that, went out, stopped the traffic and asked the drivers if we could look into their trunk. “
He is also completing his first novel since Papercuts in 2016. Like his play, White Widow draws on surprising personal experiences, albeit less directly painful, by fictionalising the bizarre geopolitical life after the death of Bateman’s 1995 debut novel Divorcing Jack .
During the Northern Ireland Peace Process, Ulster Union Politician David Trimble gave a copy of the book to Downing Street as an example of the “loyalist personality.” Years later, a photographer was allowed to enter the nuclear bunker under Whitehall and, recalls Bateman, “there was a shelf with six books, including Divorcing Jack. So my novel will survive Armageddon along with Cockroaches. ”Years later, the book’s dust jacket appeared on the front page of The Times. The writer thought, My God, what have you got me for? But it turns out that Sally-Anne Jones, a radicalized English recruiter who became a recruiter for the Islamic State, had manipulated the cover picture of Divorcing Jack – a nun with an in a gun in one hand and a Jack Russell in the other – as her identification photo on social media.
“I was involved in both the cover and writing of the book. So it was the idea that, however ridiculous – I mean, how many Jack Russells are there in Isis? – something I created was involved in luring young women to Syria, many of whom died. So White Widow is an exploration of something like this that happens to a novelist. “
After Bateman wrote the novel Thunder and Lightning and Nutcase over the past 18 months, he senses a change in his interests. “I don’t know if it’s a lockdown thing – being forced into yourself – but I always want to write more about things that really happened.”