The collected interviews of Jim Mulligan

‘Lord of the Flies’ in a chat room

There is a horrific magic, a fairytale quality to the disappearance, and we can speculate all we want on what happened, but the simple truth is that Jim never saw his father again.

It is an unusual idea to place on a stage six fifteen-year-olds who constantly talk and clearly can see each other but, because the drama takes place in chat rooms, the actors must convince the audience that they cannot see each other and do not talk to each other face-to-face. Five of the characters live in the same town. This is essential for the dramatic climax of this black comedy.

The problem facing the actors is that with scarcely any physical action and using only a bag of simple props they have to make the audience believe that they have locked themselves away in their bedrooms. They are freed from all adult supervision and are not connected emotionally to the actor sitting next to them. They are editing the role they want the others to believe in and there is no guarantee that what they say is the truth. As the play develops it becomes apparent that William and Eva, apparently spontaneously, but then with callous planning try to convince Jim that he should kill himself.

These two are sophisticated and dangerous. Lord of the Flies had a massive influence on me. That story tells me we are only moral because of the strictures of society. Take them away and we revert to something primitive. I wanted the play to have that edge to it. We have a group of young people learning from each other and they end up speaking with the same voice. As a writer I have to believe that we all have the potential for evil and we are all capable of doing anything.

Music is an essential part of the play. It creates a framework for each scene and gives the audience a break from the words, allowing them to reflect on the progress of the play. Enda Walsh expects directors to select their own tracks but they must be in keeping with the raw aggressive tracks he himself has suggested. It might seem that the language of William in particular is stylised and artificial. What 15-year-old is going to say, "I was thinking that maybe your depression allows you to see things clearer than us. You've been neglected by your family and friends so that maybe your isolation represents perfectly the average teenager's plight. It's like a metaphor,"?

I'm not sure the language is stylised. William is just very clever. And really smart fifteen-year-olds do exist. In Chat Room I try to avoid lengthy monologues – there are only two for Jim - and I've kept the dialogue short and rhythmic. I decided I would allow them all, but particularly William, to be über- smart. Jim, the only normal one, is caught in this maelstrom of really clever young people who attempt to undermine him.

Enda Walsh is not interested in William’s history. The play lasts for an hour and we only know his character in that time. He allows William to say, "By the age of ten the damage is done. Well, it was to me." But Enda Walsh has not speculated on the nature of that damage although, after visiting chat rooms to research this play, he probably could.

I found the experience revealing and depressing. You hear kids talking about wanting to commit suicide and some are apparently about to. Some chat rooms suggest the best way of doing it, what tablets to take, and in some there are people trying to counsel the seriously depressed young people. It's devastating. Some of them are really ill and there are some who will undoubtedly kill themselves but there is nothing you can do.

Jim is the only character who has a past history. He gives an extraordinary account of how he was abandoned at the age of six in the zoo. His father went to get an ice cream and is never seen again. There is no explanation. There is a horrific magic, a fairytale quality to the disappearance, and we can speculate all we want on what happened, but the simple truth is that Jim never saw his father again. Jim also tells them of a hilarious scene in the parish Passion play. He is playing the part of a gay John, the beloved disciple, and steals the show by weeping real tears. But the tears are not because he is distressed by the plight of the Virgin Mary but because his mother is playing the part and he realizes he has no relationship with her. We’re also told of his mother's bizarre behaviour and how she takes her frustration out on Jim because she has come down in the world and has to work in as a petrol pump attendant.

Jim takes decisive action to bring Chat Room to a close that should have the audience oscillating between tears and laughter. After being goaded to kill himself, he commits social suicide, by standing on a table in Mac Donald's dressed in ridiculous cowboy gear that doesn't even fit him, playing RawHide, and having the whole thing videoed. In so doing he reclaims himself and also Laura, the one person who is really in danger of killing herself. Jim sends the film to Laura, and this act allows her to connect with him.

I see this as a very positive play. Jim has decided that he will not take his life and he leaves us with hope. I just hope the performances are real. It is up to the actors to make the audience believe in them. It will be great for teenagers to see people who are like them and for adults to see what some teenagers are really getting up to. A lot of times we don't look at teenagers, but the theatre gives us a chance to do this. I would direct it with a few days to talk about the play, the background and the arc of the characters and then just get them to do it. No lights, no nothing. Just do it. You don't have to tell untrained actors to speak louder or be more angry or be clearer. Just let them get on with it. And they'll be brave enough to do that.