This week playwright Stuart Roche, writer of Revenant (for which he received a Stewart Parker award nomination) and Tracer, brings his latest play to the New Theatre. Telling the story of an ex-marine re-adjusting to life as a civilian in a small town in Nebraska, Snake Eaters is directed by Caroline Fitzgerald and produced by Anthony Fox. I caught up with Stuart to find out more.
Talking about what has influenced his writing overall, Stuart speaks of his admiration for writers such as David Mamet, Annie Baker, Patrick Marber and John Arden, speaking of how Marber’s work is brilliant because it is “really pared down.” This influence shines through in Roche’s work, which has a striking simplicity, with the emotion and key story taking pride of place in his writing. The international influence on Roche’s work is also evident. Stuart cites a general exposure to American television, books and media along with time spent in America in helping him to create an authentic American voice for his characters. He mentions finding it hard trying to “un-Irish” some of his phrases in his work, though goes on to tell us that some American ex-soldiers came to rehearsals and have commented on the natural, authentic tone of the piece.
I ask Stuart why he chose to write this play now, and am treated to a fascinating tale of the only American soldier captured by the Taliban, Robert “Bowe” Berghdal, who was held captive from 2009 to 2014. Roche began researching this story, but soon realised he “wasn’t sure if [he] wanted to write about a real person” and so instead turned his research in other directions. Stuart tells us that as soon as he started reading up on statistics regarding violent crime in America, particularly those that showed the likelihood of veterans engaging in such crimes, despite not having a criminal past; he knew that that was what he wanted to write about.
The War on Terror, with its causes and the consequences, is something that has been represented and commented on in theatre since the start of this century, with such productions as Guantanamo, directed by Victoria Brittain & Gillian Slovo (2004) garnering great critical and popular acclaim. As Jasper Rees put it in his article Theatre Leads the Way on the War on Terror for The Telegraph, “Theatre has put the war on terror on stage not only because it can but because it must. It is the closest we have to a moral medium.” The after-effect on people involved in conflict is an important topic to write on; there are huge implications that come with being a soldier in combat, implications and effects that can last long after returning home. As Stuart himself said, “You can’t send people to a country to experience and commit atrocities and expect them to come back unaffected.”
As they face into the last week of rehearsals, I ask Stuart how it has been to hand over his work so completely (this is the first of his plays that he hasn’t either directed or acted in). “There was never a fear of handing it over,” Stuart says, “Caroline’s a great director.” He has high hopes for the production and is happy with how rehearsals are going. He speaks of how it is coming to life before his eyes; “[At] times I’m watching and I forgot I’m the person who wrote this!”
What does Stuart hope the audience will take away from this play? “Hope,” he replies simply, before then elaborating; “It’s its own world, it takes you on a journey and hopefully affects you watching it…I hope people argue about it, I hope they engage enough with the subject to argue about it. But most of all, hope.”
Snake Eaters previews in The New Theatre from November 30th before opening on Wednesday, 2nd December and runs until 19th December.