Sober enough to survive the drink - new show to portray the highs and lows of alcoholism

Play tackles Carrigart man's addiction to alcohol

Sober enough to survive the drink - new show to portray the highs and lows of alcoholism

Director, Kieran Quinn, actor Keith Lynch and author, Martin Jim McFadden, discuss the play Don't Go There which is on at the Balor Arts Centre, Ballybofey, tonight, Thursday, October 3

You can't remain neutral. You can't be unaffected. You can see the funny side of being drunk and while you smirk thinking there but for the grace of God are reminded that this is a man's life we're dissecting, methodically slicing 56 years so we can try to analyse, study, inspect and probe exactly what made this man drink.

Watching recent rehearsals of Don't Go There in the Balor Arts Centre in Ballybofey throws up many challenging moments. Do you laugh? Do you feel sorry for him? Do you cringe? Do you cry?

Martin Jim McFadden is a genial character. A native of Carriagrt he's now married to Liz from Strabane, a pioneer, who he describes as his guardian angel. The couple met in the Parting Glass, Raphoe, after Martin was getting over what he called a "three-year bender" during which time he blew €90,000 compensation he had received after as a 23-year-old on August 25, 1986, he had been run over at a place called Cashel, not far from Doe Castle while walking home between Ards and Carrigart.

He was struck when a driver unknown ran into him and drove on. Then, as if his luck wasn't bad enough, a second car ran over him but this time the driver stopped and oddly possibly saved his life. 

After surviving against all the odds, Martin, in his own words, lived life like a ‘wild man’ all over the world with both hilarious and devastating results. Three years later, Martin was penniless, in the midst of the horrors and had reached rock bottom.

"I was haunted by demons, demons that would not let me rest. I couldn’t settle in a job, a relationship, or even a place. I was on the run all my life and fuelling my paranoia with alcohol, I would walk away from someone I loved in favour of a drink," he recalled.

He stayed sober for eight years when the money ran out and after getting detoxed in St Conal's Hospital in Letterkenny he met Liz who steadied his life and they were married. With a job as a porter in Letterkenny hospital Martin figured he was over the worst but the desire to drink struck again and he returned to the life he thought he had left behind. That binge lasted until February 2006.

After several years sober Martin decided to write his experiences in the form of a book and in 2008 he published, Sober I Am Not Afraid, which gives an excellent insight into the dark reality of addiction and how alcohol controlled him, damaged him, almost killed him and did kill many of his friends.  He wrote a second book, Don't Go There, which completed his story and his battles against drink and his redemption..

He was encouraged to develop his story into a play and approached Conor Malone from the Balor Arts Centre who asked to see his script. When he told him it was all in his head nothing written down, Conor invited him to act out a few scenes for himself and local director, Kieran Quinn.

"Given the subject matter – Martin’s battle with alcoholism – I expected something heavy, dour and depressing. I wasn’t prepared for just how downright hilarious some of the stories were. Don’t get me wrong – the pain and depths of despair that alcohol can carry a man and his loved ones were clearly conveyed but some of the things he got up to while on the batter had me in stitches.There was definitely something to work with.

"Over the weeks Martin would put his story on paper and e-mail it to me piece by piece. I’d rejig and reshape it and hone it into a finished script. Working on someone else's story was a new experience for me. In one way you’re limited by having to stick to the facts you’re given, in another way focusing purely on telling an existing story instead of creating a new one of your own was kind of liberating and relaxing," said Conor.

Director Kieran said Martin Jim's story showed there were many paths out of addiction.

"He's living proof that sometimes it goes the scenic route and nothing is predictable. There was a lot going on in his head and translating all that on stage in a one man show is challenging but rewarding.

"The storytelling is in the truth, you are asking questions of the audience and they are challenged and engaged too. Although the story is sad, it's hilarious too," he said.

Keith Lynch who plays Martin Jim in the show is also looking forward to getting on stage. A professional actor for the past seven years, Keith has been in a number of shows, mainly in his native Derry and made his TV debut back in April in the BBC drama 'Ups and Downs.

"I've done shows in the Balor, as has my fiance, Orla Mullan, so I like what they do here. This is my first one man show but it's a great story and there's a lot of information in it. It's tragic and funny but does hold your attention," he said.

Rehearsals have meant Keith mastering a 40-page script but he's not daunted.

"If I can do this I can do anything," he said.

The finished play, performed by Keith Lynch and directed by Kieran Quinn will be performed at the Balor Arts Centre, Ballybofey tonight, Thursday, October 3 as part of The Donegal Bay and Bluestacks Festival.

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