Award winning playwright Lizzie Nunnery is making a name for herself creating atmospheric pieces that are inspired by historical events but make pertinent points about we never seem to learn from mankind’s seemingly endless capacity for hate and violence.

Lizzie’s last play Narvik focused on World War Two sailors setting out from Liverpool on the dangerous Arctic convoy runs to supply Russia that she based on her grandfather’s wartime experiences. This time round her new play To Have to Shoot Irishmen goes a bit further back in time to an event that still has real resonance for the Irish diaspora.

“It’s inspired by a true story set in Dublin in 1916 during the Easter Rising which is, of course, a huge historic event for Irish People, but is surprisingly not very well known over here,” says Lizzie.

“In simple terms it triggered the Civil War in Ireland and a serious path to freedom for that country. My play is focused on the murder of a man called Francis Sheehy Skiffington who was a pacifist and a feminist, and way ahead of time in all his ideas. He was murdered by a British soldier during the events of that week.

“It unpicks how it happened and why it happened. It tells the story from the point of view of his widow Hannah who was also a political activist and a suffragette.”

All well and good, but how does writing about a failed uprising across the Irish Sea over a century ago impact on today’s audiences who see sectarian violence on their TV screens or smartphones 24/7?

“It resonates beyond the history so hopefully this is a story that links to conflicts we are living with today. It makes an audience think about British military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and that basic question of what happens when an army decides to invade. Ripples are put in place that can’t be controlled.

“There is always this false idea that the military intervene with a specific purpose, but actually all that ensues is a kind of chaos, so the play follows that chaos with four characters who are caught up in the whirlwind of that.

“Building on working on Narvik it is definitely another play about how people are transformed by being part of an army, and in the case of Narvik it was about someone being in the navy and going on that extreme violent journey.

“There are similarities with this story, so there is a British soldier who is 18 who ends up being involved with these extreme events, and the execution of this man. It’s something that the soldier never anticipated, and to some extent out of his control, so it is absolutely not about condemning any of the individuals involved. All four of them are real people and through the research I came to really love and respect them in different ways.”

The Stones Roses are notorious artistic slowcoaches, who still haven’t delivered their much promised third album, but this play has been taking shape in in Nunnery’s mind for nearly seven years which makes the Manchester rock legends look pretty damn quick. In fairness it has been a process that had many twists and turns, but Nunnery’s dogged determination has seen it finally get performed.

“It was getting it to the stage that was the hard part as initially I’d researched it for about a year on and off,” recalls Nunnery. “It was a commission for an Irish theatre company called Druid, who are based in Galway, so I did a lot of work with them over there in 2007/8.

“We had a reading that went really well, and also went to Washington which was great, but ultimately when Druid decided not to produce it then it became something I took on myself. I loved these characters and was almost haunted by that real story that I felt deserved to be staged.”

Nunnery is also a well-respected folk singer and composer so as well as writing the words for To Have to Shoot Irishman she has created the original score. The doomed nobility of the Easter Rising rebels has always been a fertile subject for Irish songwriters, but Nunnery has found a new way of introducing some very familiar anthems into this production.

“I’ve worked with Vidar Norheim, who I perform with really regularly in a folk duo, and I worked with him on the music for Narvik. We have some original songs and compositions, but we’ve also taken a few traditional Irish folk songs and rearranged, twisted and transformed them. They will sound really fresh even to people who have heard those songs before.

“I just think music is such an amazing tool onstage for creating atmosphere and intimacy for the characters. It is another way of telling story especially for Narvik which was a memory play.

“This play explores real life characters who are all dead now kind of coming back together, so they are like being resurrected, and music almost acts as a spell to bring the story back to life. There is a dream like quality that makes a lot of sense with using folk music. For me it would to odd to deliberately leave music out of my playwriting as it has become so fused together.”



2nd – 20th Oct

Omnibus Theatre, Clapham

020 7498 4699

25th – 27th Oct

Liverpool Everyman Theatre

0151 709 4776

30th Oct

Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

01227 787787

1st – 2nd Nov

Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury

01743 281281

5th Nov

Anglia Ruskin University

01223 352932

6th Nov

Edge Hill University

01695 584480