Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Bernard Field: Shroud

By | Published on Friday 11 February 2022

Coming up at London’s Playground Theatre is the staging of ‘Shroud’, a piece that tackles the very difficult issue of child abuse perpetrated by members of the clergy, who all too often have been shielded by the Catholic Church.

The production comes from an Irish company, Hawtheatre, and the play is authored by Bernard Field, who also appears in the show. 

I spoke to him, to find out more about the play, and the writer behind it. 

CM: Can you start by telling us a little about the narrative of ‘Shroud’? What story does it tell?
BF: ‘Shroud’ tells the story of a priest who wants to come clean about his deviant behaviour and the response from the church authorities to this ‘crisis’ in its midst.

CM: Can you tell us about the central characters? 
BF: Well, they are all clergy. Two priests and a bishop plus a ‘minder’ who does the bishop’s bidding. In the story they all have their own personal motivations which revolve around attitudes prevalent in the church to the conflicting priorities given to the welfare of children and how this rubs up against the interests of the church. 

CM: What themes does the play explore?
BF: I suppose the main theme is the contradiction between the ethics which govern civil society and the quite different ethics that appear to govern the church’s understanding of right and wrong and their placing of that ethic – Canon Law – and the protection of their church above all.

CM: What was the inspiration for the play? What made you want to tackle this story and these themes?
BF: I’m curious about spaces we have no access to. Whenever we hear the church speak on the issue of child abuse we are in the room too, because they are talking to us and answering our questions. But what do they say when we’re not there? We can never know but from their actions we can certainly impute some things.

CM: Can you take us through your creative process when writing a play like ‘Shroud’?
BF: Unfortunately I don’t think I can. This issue is everywhere and Ireland has had a belly full of it. But it’s never really been deeply explored. What makes people do such awful things? I really don’t know how writing plays works as each play seems to demand a completely unique technique and response which either comes in the writing or it doesn’t.

CM: Can you tell us about the cast and creative team involved in this production?
BF: We have a great director in Jim Ivers, whom I’ve worked with previously on my play ‘The Early Hours’. That was a great experience. We have a group of committed and experienced actors – Michael Irwin, Fintan Kelly, Annabel Cleare and John McDonogh – whose talents and bravery in doing these roles I am in awe of. Plus an innovative and highly original lighting designer in Colm Ivers. I couldn’t ask for more to be honest. 

CM: Can we talk about you now? Did you always want a career in the arts and how did you go about forging one?
BF: I fell into it to be honest. I started acting in the early 90s just as a pastime, and then one day I was looking at an opera in the Piazza of Covent Garden – where you didn’t have to pay to watch! – and got the hair brained idea that maybe I could take all the music out and write a play instead based on the story. Needless to say it was dreadful but I realised I enjoyed the process of dreaming other lives and it just kept on going.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
BF: I’d say working with the late great Mick Lally on my play ‘Last Train From Holyhead’. Mick was one of the greatest actors to ever come out of Ireland. 

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
BF: I’ve written fourteen plays and still have a few ideas for others, so maybe ending up with 20 plays is a bit of an ambition. Getting them on more frequently and not losing my shirt in the process would be good too.  

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
BF: I’m not sure at the minute. I have nine plays that have never been produced so I might look at doing one of them. I’d also like to do a revival of one of the plays that only ever had a short run.

Shroud’ runs at The Playground Theatre from 21 Feb-5 Mar. See the venue website here for more info and to book.