The collected interviews of Jim Mulligan

Lobbing Stones at a Skyscraper

The bleak truth is that Monique knows she can never have a rich boyfriend or posh house and is going to be stuck for the rest of her life with fuck-all.

Pass It On comprises four plays with very little action and only one piece of furniture: a garden swing. These are not plays in which ideas are discussed; rather they are plays where real characters talk about the things that matter to them. The dates of the action are significant.

1971 was just after internment was introduced in Northern Island and we were moving from a period that combined political activism and environmental activism. Then the hard left and the environmentalists diverged. 1982 was when we had the Falklands War. 1997 was the Labour landslide and the final scene in 2004 is set in Iraq. When I got to the end I realised I'd written a play to a large degree about war without really meaning to - war in the militaristic sense and the class war. It's a play with small lives but with large reverberations.

Play One is set in the garden of a smart detached house. Sarah is sitting on a child's swing, agonising over what we are doing to the environment. The swing in Play Two is in a child's playground. Monique is swigging cider. Play Three takes us to the garden of a large detached house in the ‘stockbroker belt’. Becky is sitting on a rope swing hanging from a tree, rolling a joint. Finally we are in the rubble-strewn front garden of a house in southern Iraq. A child’s swing apparatus lies on its side.

A swing is a symbol of childhood and the ability to be carefree. By the end of the play it's been smashed. This isn't physical theatre. I'm just trying to take a tiny segment out of the lives of these people and put it under the microscope. I don't see anything wrong with that. I think there is an internal logic to the way I write that makes it easier to act than it looks on paper. If you understand the emotional rhythm and the rhythm of the language you will get to the rhythm of ideas. I write musically, and in Pass It On we have a series of riffs around a theme that come together to make a whole. The swing helps to give continuity and direction.

The logic that runs through the four plays is that war impinges on all of us and class divides society.

Nev believes that the past is crushing Catholics in Northern Ireland, and until that stops there will not be a future. It has to be fought for. But that is theoretical when compared to the reality of the class divide between Nev and Sarah. His dad is a milkman and hers is a property developer, so that's the end of that relationship.

The father in Play Two came back from a tour of Northern Ireland a zombie. He beats his wife and neglects his daughters. He is now on his way to the Falklands. The bleak truth is that Monique knows she can never have a rich boyfriend or posh house and is going to be stuck for the rest of her life with fuck-all.

Just in case we should get too involved in national conflicts, Giles reminds us in Play Three that war has been going on almost without stop since 1945-in South and Central America, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, El Salvador: ‘If some jumped up little squirt wants to start a union and shout about workers' rights, cart him off somewhere, rip out his fingernails, stick a cattle prod up his arse and blow his brains out.’ And Play Four gives us visual and verbal evidence of how war brutalises the participants.

I think everybody agrees these days that the environment, after international terrorism, is the most important question that faces us. In the Second Play we see the knock-on effects of war in the family. The fact is that if we are violent and brutalise the enemy, we brutalise ourselves. I don't like the word Brit. It was first used in the Falklands War. It's a word with a shaved head and a tattoo on its arm. I believe at that period we were faced with a choice: were we going to be a skinhead nation or a peaceful one? We chose to be skinheads, and I despair of our mass culture. It is superficial, shallow and manufactured. There is a horrible, violent viciousness in our society that wasn't there before. It's as if we feel we have a God-given right to be a martial nation.

It will be difficult for people to take part in this play or watch it without having to examine their attitudes towards war and class; to see the dreadful logic that goes from supporting terrorists in Northern Ireland because you believe their cause is right to blowing innocent women and children to bits; to see the connection between the snobbery of Sarah and the complacency of Giles – ‘Let people keep their money then decide how they want to spend it. Chances are they won't want to spend it on single mothers and benefits-scroungers.’

The characters in this play have to give the illusion that they don't know at the start of a scene where it will end. And the audience certainly doesn't. So, for 15 minutes, everyone finds out where they’re going. Most of the questions are left unanswered. I have very strong ideas and my plays reflect that. I know many people who share my ideas and many more who do not, but that's what theatre is about. That doesn't bother me. When people say my plays are a bit one-sided I feel as if I'm lobbing stones up at a very big skyscraper and all those powerful, wealthy people are looking down saying, ‘How dare you?’ Well, I'm lobbing a few stones in this play. My hope is that people will go in thinking one thing and come out thinking another or at least being prepared to re-appraise what they think. It's a slim hope but I do my best to make the experience of entertaining a challenging one.