Writing a new play and venerating the dead.

once more yeh

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down to write anything. It’s been even longer since I’ve sat down to write with any purpose. Not that this is one of those times; but it will be soon. Soon, I will be rewriting and hopefully staging a version of my Dad’s play ‘Once More For Toby Jugg’. He passed away two years ago and asked me to finish it. So that’s what I plan to do.


My Dad wrote many plays over his lifetime, some with small success, others with none. Now, you could ask, (as if out of the blue) ‘What is the measure of a piece of Art; is it at the say-so of a publishing agency? Is it the acclaim? Is it Van Geoghian interplay of suffering in life and the subsequent success in death that makes this measure? At very least, a reasonable reply from a publisher would have sufficed but very few, if none of those measures were applied to his plays. His short stories and poems featured in a few publications. He won a few awards as a young man as far as I know, but the big one, the full-length piece of work that should define him; that never came to fruition.


One of his earlier plays was titled ‘The Honour of Sorcha Daly’; it dealt with the theme of forgiveness. “Forgiveness is the Cruelest act of all” he would say. This was the theme, the message, the mantra he would recite; tapping away at the keys late at night as I was coming home from school. It must have been around the time of my leaving cert as I remember him searching for one of my History text-books under a dead-sea of yellow note pages. “Forgiveness is the cruelest act of all Eoghan”. “ OK, cool Dad”. It was an interesting juxtaposition and probably a catchier title than what he ran with. The last words of a woman killed in a brutal fashion sparks a religious movement when she asks God to forgive those who had slayed her. “Forgive them father for they know not what they do”.


That was a tangible and reasonably interesting plot to run with. I always quoted the Sinead O Connor Parody, ‘Niamh Connelly’,  from Father Ted, when he mentioned it; “ I love the use of crude religious imagery”. At very least I could have envisioned the blurb in red serif font standing boldly beneath the poster title; debating with the promoter whether or not to include some blood dripping from the wing tip of the ‘F’ in Forgiveness. It had an accessible, if not inverted allegorical quality to it.


‘Once More For Toby Jugg’ will not have as catchy a blurb, mainly because I’ve yet to fully comprehend what the play is about. Some detective work has been needed, piecing together the fractured strands of the play, very much a mosaic of his own life and thoughts; It’s a strange thing to reach that far into your parent’s psyche, to rummage around inside their past and their ‘then present’ state of mind. For all that uncomfortable searching, I still appreciate the opportunity that I have to see in writing the truths of the world, as my Dad would have understood them.


Personally, in my own humble way I very much believe that Art is truth. The truer something is, the greater a piece of Art becomes. And consistent with that line of thinking I believe his play to be a great piece of Art. Like hieroglyphics in tombs I’m reading my dad’s words; I’m deciphering what he must have meant, what it could mean.


One of the main reasons ‘Once More For Toby Jugg’ was never published (I believe) was because of the phases it went through. It was a play, then a screenplay; it was a commentary on fundamentalism with a strange splashing of the occult. It was morphed and altered so often that its many versions began to take off in different routs, and the venom of its purpose became diluted. The stand-out consistency in it was the elements of himself, within it; it was, at very least, consistently true.


Some of the versions I remember were mired in his own bizzare fascinations. Researching genuine Satanic bookshops in the leaky backstreets of London to purchase a book of spells to quote[1]. His search for authenticity was quite relentless. I remember he wouldn’t allow me to read the book of Grimoires that he had bought for fear of (his words), “evoking something beyond our control”. I sort of enjoyed messing with his own ironic faith in the power of those books. I partially read a passage once, having taken it without him knowing and he nearly fell off his chair as I read the biblical babble as convincingly as I could. I’m still unsure whether or not he feared what finishing the ‘spell’ might have actually manifested, or if he was more afraid that nothing would have come of it. Living half-way between knowing what they could do must have allowed him to believe that they were true. Words, mere written words, can take serious control over you if you allow them to, and I guess, at the heart of it, that is one of the things the play is trying to say.


This may be the most convoluted, and ultimately unsuccessful piece of promotion you have ever read, but I guess you could call this a warning. I plan to finish the play and have it staged. This is what will happen. It will because I have to; I just hope you might follow me as I do. At very least monitoring my struggle might give some fodder to the anthropologist of the future, studying our weird veneration of the dead.



[1] From the more reasonable comfort of his desk, I must mention