Tackling the silence around tough issues

Ronan Dempsey in The Words Are There. PHOTO: Tom Maher Photography
Ronan Dempsey in The Words Are There. PHOTO: Tom Maher Photography

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

The Words Are There, a compelling and timely piece of physical theatre that explores the largely unexplored story of male domestic abuse, will be staged at Galway Theatre Festival next week.

“It’s a story of male abuse, but it’s also a human story of the development of a relationship and the decline of one,” says the play’s author Ronan Dempsey, who also acts and directs the 60-minute piece, which was first presented last year in association with Dublin’s Theatre Upstairs.

Domestic abuse towards men isn’t a subject that’s often dealt with, but it happens and this drama grew from a discussion Ronan had with a friend who was the victim of such abuse.

His friend who “got out of the relationship eventually, confided in me over a few drinks one night”, says Ronan, adding that without alcohol, that man probably would never have shared his story of being abused.

Ronan advised the man to go to the Gardaí, but his friend didn’t. As far as Ronan knows “he never told anybody else”, which shocked the playwright and drama teacher and provoked him to addressing the issue in the way he knew best – by writing about it.

“I was interested in what made men silent in certain situations,” Ronan says.

In a flat in Bettystown, Co Meath, a Man waits for a Woman to return. The audience glimpses his life; a series of fragmented memories and childhood falsehoods as he struggles to find words to tell his story.

The Man has a speech impediment in the form of a stammer.

“It’s a metaphor for not being able to utter the words, ‘I’m in an abusive situation’,” explains Ronan.  And, like anyone with a stammer, when Man is in a pressurised situation, his problem gets worse. For Ronan, it’s a theatrical tool to highlight certain crucial moments in the play.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.