Meet the shortlist- Michael John O’Neill

By Michael John O’Neill

“That’s why I had to get shot of this place
longer you hang about
all the fucking Bronaghs
thinking they have a right
saying they’ll pray for you
putting their hands on you”

AKEDAH is a visit home to see the sister. It’s all Northern Ireland and church and wishing it were better and would you look at that now, cutting through the marram grass, at the edge of your sight, this slow beast leering in.

Michael is a theatre producer who lives in Glasgow. He has worked with companies including Blood of the Young, Tron Theatre, Theatre Gu Leòr, National Theatre of Scotland, SUPERFAN, Little King, Royal Lyceum Edinburgh, The Arches and Traverse Theatre.

Akedah is his first full length play. He is eligible for the Original New Voice Award, as well as a Judges Award and the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting.


What inspired you to write this play?

I was home, visiting, and as is often the case when I’m home visiting I was immediately at the sea’s edge as I have been since I could first walk, clambering over the rocks to get close to the water. On this occasion, I was careless and slipped and came down hard on my arse and then came up damp and squelched home feeling altogether an eejit. Later I thought of the figure of a fool, reaching and failing to recapture a behaviour that belongs to childhood, and that became the central character of AKEDAH, Gill.

Everything then branched out from this one act – the fall, and the fool stood on the shore soaked to the bone. As it began to take form it increasingly became an attempt at drawing the details of this small cut of land by the water where I grew up. I think we all see a lot of trauma still in Northern Ireland, and I wanted AKEDAH to say something about trauma as it slips through generations, contorting into weird new shapes and delivering individuals into circumstances for which they can are dangerously ill equipped.


Can you tell us a bit about your journey as a playwright?

Thus far, largely its been two solid bits of luck. The first bit was getting to grow up in a situation where having a crack at writing was no bad thing (thanks mum). The second was landing into a community of theatre makers in Glasgow that have been extremely generous with their time and extremely tolerant of some shocking prose on my part.

Previous to AKEDAH, I’d written a couple of shorter fringe works that I also performed in, and then I largely packed up that side of my practice a few years ago to work as a theatre producer. My writing since then has been a weekend exercise, and AKEDAH is the first piece that’s emerged from that. And it is properly wild to me that it’s ended up on a shortlist for a prize that is years deep in so many madly talented playwrights. Properly wild.


How do you feel about being shortlisted?

It’s been very enjoyable, especially this bit right now where I’m getting solid proof that out there somewhere there are persons who’ve read this thing and found enough value in it to go to someone else “here, this one might be worth a read.”


What do you think about anonymity of the Bruntwood Prize?

Working in the sector as producer, I’ve been uneasy about drawing attention to my writing, so the anonymity aspect of application process really felt important. When I originally applied in 2017, that was the first time I’d applied for any sort of writing award and I think a big part of that was knowing that if it was an ungainly mess of a thing then thankfully no one would ever know. Since then, and with the feedback I received, I’ve felt a lot more confident applying for awards/programmes regardless of whether they keep submissions anonymous – but the initial Bruntwood anonymity really helped get me confident enough to do that.

Published on:
29 Oct 2019


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