Fractures At An Exhibition

Coming to The Whale in September, we asked writer Derek Masterson how the Two Rooks Mate theatre production Exhibition came together…

Exhibition came about after I took a two year hiatus away from writing for theatre. In the seven years after leaving college I’d written and produced thirteen different plays so I decided to take a break to focus on writing for film.

A play I’d written in 2015, and shared with two actors who I’d trusted and worked with on several other projects, had been stolen from me, by them, and staged under a different name in 2017. I felt quite angry at the actors in question, but also at myself, that I’d written a play broad enough that it could be lifted. As a reaction to that I decided to write something so personal that no one would attempt to portray it as their own creation.

My childhood was pretty tumultuous to say the least. It’s always been the breeding ground for my work, something I’ve mined, and probably why I’ve gone on to write as much as I have. My parents split when I was 11, my estranged father died in a plane crash when I was 21, and my mother struggled with addiction issues since I was a young child ; as a consequence my family is quite fragmented, even to this day. After a conversation with a friend where we’d discussed “art” and “what could be considered art”, it left me thinking on the subject.

Shortly after, during one of my Mother’s bouts with delirium tremens, which, if you’ve ever witnessed such a thing, is a horribly violent experience, but also harrowing and oddly gripping to watch, I wondered if this moment, were it to be frozen and presented to an audience, could it be considered “art”, as my friend and I had discussed. The concept really grew from there, and I delved into the relationships of the characters, and how both the trauma and impact of addiction, together with a lack of parenting, could ultimately result in a bunch of siblings being left badly damaged and seeking validation, solace and security.

I should point out that the play isn’t modelled on my own family, however there was something incredibly cathartic in writing a piece that feels very much apart of me like no other play has before. Though it’s dark tonally and there’s a great sense of pathos, there’s also plenty of dark humour throughout. I don’t wish to say it’s profound or anything like that, because I’m not sure it’s for me to suggest, and I don’t want to intellectualise it either, but it has a wonderful sense of heart in its aspirations, and I am so fortunate and grateful to have an immensely talented cast and wonderful director to bring the piece to life.

The play, though it has yet to be performed, has received some accolades to date. It took home the All Ireland Second Runner-Up Award from the Drama League of Ireland in 2021 and the Posterity Award (Stage) from Scriptwriting & Co. in the U.K. in 2022. After the rights to the play lapsed with an overseas production company earlier this year it was decided that it would be the first play staged under new media production company, Two Rooks Mate, which I co-founded with the brilliant Barry Roe, someone that I’ve worked with on a variety of other projects previously, and who also stars in this play. M
Sadly I lost my Mother to alcoholism in April of this year, and the play is very much dedicated to her memory.

Alcoholism is a subject that affects so many yet we rarely speak about it or acknowledge it in society, and when we do it’s in a hushed tones and an avoidant manner, as there’s a great sense of shame and guilt attached to it.

I don’t feel that should be the case as it’s by ignoring an addiction that allows it to grow and take hold.

My hope is that this play opens up a much needed dialogue about the subject and allows others to speak out about their own experiences.

Two Rooks Mate’s production of Exhibition will be at The Whale on Thursday, September 28th and Friday 29th. Tickets here: https://whaletheatre.ticketsolve.com/ticketbooth/shows/873637670/events/128472662

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