The Irish playwright and screenwriter talks for the first time about the subtle but deeply rooted Catholic themes that run through his work
How often do you see Christian Brothers represented in popular culture? There certainly exists in the public mind such a strong image of a generic and usually malign Christian Brother that it causes people to say, if I let slip that I went to a Christian Brothers’ school, “Poor you”. When I add that I am, on the whole, grateful for the experience, they look at me as if I must be mad.
But what about a fully-rounded Christian Brother character, warts and all, in film, television or stage, to rival the memorable portraits of, say, Jesuits in The Exorcist, The Mission and Silence? They’re nowhere – until now. Enter stage right Brother Baxter, principal of Synge Street Christian Brothers’ School in an off-Broadway stage musical adaptation of the hit 2016 film Sing Street, currently playing in New York. In the big screen version, Br Baxter had been a minor, two-dimensional player. But in this new production, thanks to its writer, the London-based, Dublin-born playwright Enda Walsh, he is “elevated up”.
“Sing Street is set in 1982, and that was a really interesting time Church-wise in Ireland,” recalls 52-year-old Walsh. “The Pope had come to Ireland in 1979. I was a kid and was extraordinarily excited to go with my family and parish to see him say Mass at Phoenix Park for a million people. For decades, the Church ran the country and controlled it, and the people, but it had become just too strong. And even in 1979, with hindsight, there was a sense that in the urban areas of Ireland there was the start of that move we see today towards a secular society.”