Daily Ireland

Right stage – wrong man

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If anyone had told Danny Morrison that he would be a bestselling author and scriptwriter just ten years after being released from jail, the ex-IRA prisoner would probably have laughed out loud.
Yet that is exactly what has happened to the former Sinn Féin director of publicity, whose book The Wrong Man has been adapted into a stage show and begins a three-week run in London’s Pleasance Theatre later this month.
The novel, which follows the hunt for a suspected informer within the IRA, was partly written while Morrison was still behind bars and received huge praise when it was published in 1997, with one critic describing it “as one of the most important books of the Troubles.”
“The Wrong Man takes place two years after the hunger strikes, at a time when there was great paranoia over the role of supergrasses within the IRA,” explains Morrison.
“Audiences are a lot more broadminded now as a result of the ceasefires and more increasingly keen to find out more about the North’s situation”
Danny Morrison

“In the book, rumours surface that there is an informer within the organisation but as the story unfolds, it begins to ask why an IRA member would betray his comrades and risk execution?”
Opting to rewrite his novel for the stage was a natural progression for Morrison whose other works include West Belfast and On The Back Of A Swallow.
“I decided three or four years ago to adapt The Wrong Man for the theatre,” says Morrison.
“Several people had told me that The Wrong Man’s dialogue was its strongest point so what better way to showcase that than through a play? I had already written some scenes for the Dubbeljoint Theatre Company in Belfast so the process of converting the novel into a script was already well underway.”
While the adaptation remains faithful to the original book, there are some scenes which had to be rewritten due to space and time constraints.
“There are several big incidents that happen in The Wrong Man - car crashes, explosions and the like - that simply aren’t possible to do on stage,” says Morrison.
“I had to change those events so that they happen off-stage.
“I also added some extra characters, including two RUC officers, to provide some comic relief and to emphasise the feeling of claustrophobia that the main player, Todd Malone, experiences.”
Morrison says that while he has had to give some control over his creations to the play’s director Sarah Tipple, the production remains faithful to the book’s lead characters.
“Obviously, there was a certain amount of interpretation when the actors – Chris Simpson and Tony Devlin – got the script,” he says. "Between them, they play eight or ten different roles so it’s a tough job for them to take on."
“Chris in particular, who plays Todd Malone, has been integral to the show’s success and pushed for The Wrong Man to be staged because he believed in it so passionately.”
By comparison, theatre companies here in Ireland weren’t so keen and it is ironic, given Morrison’s own controversial political background, that his theatre debut should receive its premiere in London.
“I couldn’t get the show on stage anywhere in Ireland but in England, the press and public have been talking about it non-stop,” he says.
“But apart from one reading in the Peacock Theatre in Dublin, everywhere I went here, from the Lyric Theatre in Belfast to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, I was met with closed doors, making me feel like I was banging my head against a brick wall.”
Luckily for Morrison, The Wrong Man looks set to be a hit in London, where strong ticket sales have already secured an extra week’s run until April 3.
Once the curtain goes up, it will officially join other Northern-based plays, such as Geraldine Hughes’ Belfast Blues, which are packing in theatre audiences around the world.
Morrison has his own explanation for the success of shows such as his.
“Audiences are a lot more broadminded now as a result of the ceasefires and more increasingly keen to find out more about the North’s situation,” he says.
“That in itself has created some powerful subject matter for writers, giving them plenty of material to get their teeth into.”

The Wrong Man runs at the Pleasance Theatre in London from March 12 to April 3. For tickets,
call 020 7609 1800.

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