‘Shiver’ explores the irony of life through two contemporary couples

«Shiver,» by Irish playwright Declan Hughes, takes a universal approach to contemporary urban reality in Western society. A penetrating work, it maintains a delicate balance between irony and compassion. The four characters, two men and two women, represent – if only in fragments – the feelings and experiences of many 30-somethings. Kathimerini asked Hughes about his work. Your heroes in «Shiver» are two contemporary couples. Is it a play about today? «Shiver» is about «the way we live now,» like many of my plays. I like theater that takes the lives we lead and places them on the stage – but not simply in a bare realistic way, but rather transforming them into some kind of metaphor for the pattern of our lives. There seems to be a bitter taste to your work with people struggling to find meaning. Are instability, shallowness and disappointment part of modern urban life? In «Shiver» I am looking at the ironies of life in a booming economy, where people expect a certain quality of life, but instead find themselves working harder and harder just to stand still. I’m also looking at a society living «in the shadow of the rock,» by which I mean a post-Catholic society, where people have spiritual capacities that are no longer satisfied by the church, but are not fulfilled by any alternative available to them. Both the women tend to be more dynamic and seem to drive their husbands. They also seem more pragmatic and mundane. Are you implying something about sexual politics? It’s hard to generalize. Jenny is an alcoholic and, to a certain extent, a dreamer, living on illusions and dreams, but deeply depressed: About her marriage? About aging and childlessness? About alcohol? Who can say? Marion is much more as you describe, I think, but she is absorbed by motherhood (even though she is working). Her other concern is that her husband doesn’t lose some essence she believes he has – or should have – and which she thinks of in terms of poetry. Equally, I think Richard could be described as pragmatic and mundane, but he acts against his own type, I think to keep his wife interested, or satisfied – a hopeless task under the circumstances. I think the relationships between men and women are always more complex and more interesting than anything that can come under the heading «sexual politics.» Kevin is a romantic and his death is tragic in a romantic sense. He seems to feel out of place in modern times. I think he’s a lost man, acting in a way he thinks is correct, but can never satisfy him. The tragedy is that he goes right to the brink, though he could have come back, given time, but then he stumbles and falls. Maybe I was trying to look at the sense of purposelessness men sometimes feel today when women do so much of the work they used to, and when God no longer seems to hear their prayers. Do your heroes in «Shiver» embrace the mainstream approach to success? I wanted to look at the contradictions inherent in letting your dreams be defined that way, at the stresses caused by the absence of religious faith, and at the simple difficulties of achieving any kind of «normal» life – owning a house, raising children – when property prices are so high that everyone has to work non-stop to have a family they don’t see. At one point Jenny is very negative about distinctive Irish characteristics that seem to undermine her global, new-economy project. Jenny has on the one hand a proper sense of forward-looking, international culture concerned with the next big thing, with what’s going to happen in the future. But she neglects art, which is almost always local first, even if it is informed by international or eternal values. I think embracing internationalism need not be at the expense of native culture; there’s nothing worse than excluding everything foreign as «impure» – that’s xenophobic and reactionary. Is Richard’s mother a reminder of universal values, of the need to please and love? Richard’s mother is a has-been/never-was and a faded beauty and an alcoholic – the comparisons with Jenny are hard to deny. She is part of the system of capitalist/Hollywood culture in which you’re either a success or a failure. And her key song is «Alone Together» – a chilling song about the qualified joys of waking up suddenly in the middle of a marriage and wondering, «Is that all there is?» Cynical people like Jenny and Marion are thought to be realistic and strong. How do you feel about their cynical approach and especially about the way they understand companionship? I don’t think they are cynical, and I don’t think they have very much in common. I think they are struggling to survive, as women, as individuals, struggling to love and work and share a dream with their partners. I don’t see them as cynical at all – flawed, yes, and in the grip of circumstances, but acting for the best as they see it, with men who don’t always seem equal to them. Do you see yourself as an Irish writer, working in a strong tradition? I see myself as a writer who happens to be Irish – in the sense that the Irish tradition has been pastoral and rural and local, rather than urban and international. I think my generation of writers and younger – I was born in 1963 – are influenced by UK and US TV and films, and by Anglo-American culture, more than we are by any sense of Irish tradition. On the other hand, I think my use of and attention to language is quite Irish. And I’m increasingly drawn thematically to the notion that we are all prisoners of our past, which is very much an «old world» Irish theme. «Shiver,» directed by Fotis Makris, is on at Theatro Technis until January 22.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.