Abbie propelled by sense of danger when writing Pumpgirl

Playwright Abbie Spallen.
Playwright Abbie Spallen.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

Newry-born playwright Abbie Spallen, whose powerful work, Pumpgirl, returns to Galway next Tuesday, May 14, in a new production from Decadent Theatre Company, has “a head-full of storylines” right now. She’s in Spiddal, working as part of a team who are developing plotlines for the next series of the Irish-language TV drama, Ros na Rún.

This is a learning curve for the award-winning writer, as she explains over a chat about her breakthrough play, Pumpgirl. Abbey is a dab hand at writing plays and film scripts and has won awards on all sides for that work, but developing “storylines for a whole village and keeping them in your head”, is a different skill, she says of the Ros na Rún experience.

Pumpgirl is the play that propelled Abbie into people’s consciousness as a writer. The three-hander premiered in 2006 at the Edinburgh Festival before being staged at the Bush in London and the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York, eventually making its Irish premiere in 2008, when Andrew Flynn directed it for Belfast’s Lyric Theatre.

Andrew is also directing the current production for his company, Decadent Theatre, and it’s visiting Galway as part of a national tour – the company presented it here in 2017 as part of that year’s Arts Festival.

Pumpgirl is set in a small garage in South Armagh, just north of the border – a business being worn down by border issues, including fluctuating currency.

The pumpgirl of the title, works in the garage and thinks she’s one of the lads. She becomes obsessed with local racetrack star ‘No Helmet’ Hammy, who is married to Sinéad. A mother-of-two, Sinéad has been left nursing a stomach like ‘a bag of onions’ after two pregnancies while her husband spends his nights racing with the boys.

The play consists of three interwoven monologues from the Pumpgirl, Hammy, and Sinéad as it as brings the audience deep into the characters’ thoughts and darkest desires. There’s a fourth person too, Shawshank, who doesn’t appear on stage but has a major impact on their lives.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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