A “blistering new drama” about gay paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, set to the mnusic of The Smiths? Not a premise you hear every day. But so it goes with Still Ill, which is on at the Lantern this week as part of the ongoing Homotopia programme.
To obtain the rights to perform any Smith’s song in a dramatic piece of work is extremely rare – in fact it may never have been granted before, according to the PRS. However, founder members Morrissey and Johnny Marr gave their permission Still Ill to use fans’ favourite, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.
Still Ill explores the legacy of the peace process in Northern Ireland. It is written by award-winning playwright Billy Cowan, directed by Joyce Branagh (sister of Kenneth, no less), and is described as “a tragic love story between ‘the jumped up pantry boy’ and the ‘boy with the thorn in his side’” .
Cowan said: “I can’t believe it. PRS told me it was highly unlikely that permission would be granted and that I should think about how to stage the play without the song. This was heartbreaking as the song is so crucial to the storyline and to the characters at the centre of the love story. Plus the fact that it was the Smiths that made me want to write the play in the first place. When I received the email with the good news I literally started to bounce off the walls with joy. Knowing I have Morrissey and Marr’s blessing is an amazing endorsement of the play and I will be forever grateful.”
In 2010, Still Ill won the International Playwriting Award run by Warehouse Theatre in Croydon, and it also received a special commendation at the Verity Bargate Award. The play is also being published, with a foreword by the National Theatre of Wales artistic director John McGrath.
Catch Still Ill at the Lantern on Friday and Saturday (November 21 and 22). For more info, see the website.