Modern Love? |

6 mins

Modern Love?

A fascinating and exciting upcoming play looking at modern romance in the queer community is about to hit Dublin’s Project Arts Centre. Elliott Salmon sat down with its writer and star to get the lowdown on its inspiration.

When I first heard about Boyfriends, a new play by Ultan Pringle in association with LemonSoap productions, I was intrigued. As a self-proclaimed theatre enthusiast myself, I had never come across a play as unique-sounding as this one: “Following a three-month affair between two anonymous men, Boyfriends charts the ups and downs and roundabouts of a modern situationship. As they swing through four million one hundred and ninety one thousand possibilities of what they might mean to one another, through time, sex, Madonna songs, nightclubs, period dramas and calorie counting, Boyfriends asks us to ponder on that age old question: what the fuck is romance anyway?” It’s no wonder I was immediately hooked.

I was lucky enough to sit down with Ultan who not only wrote the play but also stars as one of the leads alongside Emmanuel Okoye.

We immediately jumped into how this play came about and why Ultan wanted to write about bigger bodied people. “I have been spending a long time trying to work out how to write about bodies and make it interesting because I think it's a really hard thing to dramatise,” Ultan shared. “I decided that maybe this play talks about bodies in that they never talk about bodies in it and by them not talking about it, it's constantly on the mind.”

In order to convey what other people say and what they think about bigger bodies in this play, Ultan utilises another character played by Emmanuel who is given the name A. This character is a little more built and carries a lot of internal and external prejudice towards bodies that are not.

“It's what other people say and do, and it's what images and thoughts and their perceptions of my body that they put on it, that kind of creates your way of living. I was really interested in Emmanuel’s character as the Trojan horse to get all these thoughts into the play.”

Ultan explained that A is the person who is thinking out loud, verbalising his prejudicial and insensitive comments towards character B about his body, and how unusual it is that he would be interested in someone with a bigger body than his.

“He's the one who constantly says things like, ‘Oh, you're not my type…there's something about you’ or ‘my eating is not a comment on yours’all these little tiny things that get across that this is something both of these men are thinking about.”

Emmanuel spoke about coming in on the other side, playing the biased character - “Just to reference a conversation that Ultan and I had previously, and this wasn't even about the play, it was just about characters and how characters are actions more so than words, I think that underscores what Ultan is trying to do.”

He further discussed his scene partner’s approach to writing: “He doesn't really talk about body positivity, or negativity, or neutrality explicitly, He does it through the characters actions, which I think is just the more believable way of how it would play out in the real world.”

When sourcing inspiration to further enhance these characters and their duality, Ultan was immediately reminded of an experience he had when he was on his first-ever date, aged 18. They both went to TGI Friday’s (which he jokingly stated was the worst part of the story), but it’s what happened on the date that really opened not only his eyes, but my own, when understanding this play further.

“We're in TGI Friday's and this fella who was lovely, very lovely, he started hyperventilating… and then he says ‘Sorry, I have to go to the bathroom,’ and he got up and he goes to the bathroom and I was sitting there being like - ‘this a bit weird’. He came back and he sat down and he went, ‘I'm so sorry, I was having a panic attack, because I just think you're so unattractive. So not attractive to me and I just feel I have to say it.’”

What motivated Ultan to amalgamate conversations about bodies, and the often cruel actions of other people, came about through his own personal experiences with romantic partnersthese partners that were processing his body more than who was as a person.

“I think what interests me about bringing it onto the stage was, I've often felt with romantic partners that they're wrestling through my body themselves and that's something they're dealing with. This idea of telling me, ‘Romantically and spiritually you're everything, physically you’re not’ and I find that wild.”

The structure of this play is equally as fascinating as the synopsis. There are 17 scenes that make up the 75-minute run time but eight or nine of these scenes have different formal inventions to them. Both characters go from a Samuel Beckett piece, to the world of Jane Austen, to the movie Casablanca and so many more interesting eras in this play.

“One of the scenes is inspired by Happy Days, which is my favourite Beckett play, where my character suddenly is like ‘the thing, the thing, the thing, that I think about.’ I can't wait to do that! And then there's one scene that jumps through maybe four-and-a-half million possibilities of what they could have been to one another towards the end of the play, and suddenly they're digitally uploaded into computers as the world has ended. Then suddenly they're in the movie Casablanca recreating scenes.”

The meaning behind the sudden change in scenes comes from the relationship between character A and B, their personalities and their likes and dislikes that are effortlessly intertwined into the play.

“It's all rooted in their relationship. So Emmanuel's character loves Pride and Prejudice and he makes me watch it one night, and then suddenly later on in the play, we're in Pride and Prejudice and next, we're speaking in Jane Austen language. It's telling the story of them through all these different possibilities and formal inventions of what they could be.”

When Emmanuel read the play for the first time, he had a very guttural, personal reaction to his character. His first impression of A was that he was quite mean, but upon further inspection, he realised that A is like most people in society today.

“The first time I read it, or the first few times, maybe this was with the awareness that I was going to be playing (character) A, it just felt very mean and nasty. But through conversations, and then after the table read, I realised that it's not nasty in an unrealistic way. It's an unconscious way that is so ubiquitous in culture, and it's just how most people talk about individuals, people who are fat, and just fatness in general.”

He explains the process of removal and separating himself from his character and understanding that he himself, is nothing like A in real life. “I had to remove myself and be like ‘Just because this is not how I talk and this is not how I view other people doesn't mean it's not how a lot of people do’ and I think that was certainly a thing that I had to learn from the first time that I read it.”

What makes this play different, and what makes it worth visiting is exactly what makes it unique. It’s not interested in answering questions, it’s interested in creating conversations about who we are as people, and who we are in society.

“I think the play is thinking about things and I don't think it answers questions,” Ultan continued. “Sometimes I feel theatre is boring when it says – ‘here's all the answers’. It's sometimes a little bit more interesting to go here's thoughts and hopefully interesting, nuanced thoughts on where we are.”

Boyfriends runs in the Project Arts Centre from June 26 – July 6. For more information and to grab tickets, be sure to check out

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