'I desperately want to be involved in theatre that widens the demographic of people who go to theatre," says playwright Stacey Gregg. "My own parents aren't theatre people and they are always the audience in my head."
At 28, Stacey is younger than most who can boast a commission for the Abbey Theatre. She's part of a new wave of young but brilliant playwrights in Ireland. "I can't quite believe I am here," she enthuses during a brief break from a gruelling rehearsal schedule.
She may be small and slight in stature and very youthful looking ("I still get ID-ed when I go out"), but Stacey has a unique dynamism. She's smart, forthright and, on brief inspection anyway, very much her own person.
Not only has she written Perve, which opens in the Peacock next week, but she was also heavily involved in the casting process (a cast including Andrea Irvine and Ciaran O'Brien). "I hope that it is a play about maturity, and I hope it is a sophisticated argument," she smiles. "I was interested in the moment when you realise that you knew you shouldn't have done something, but you don't want to admit it to yourself -- so it's quite a complex, abstract idea and I just started playing around with it.
"The title came after I had written the play. Then I realised thematically exactly what I was getting at. Compared to the stuff I usually do, it's very compact and it's very sparse, and that's part of the aesthetic. It was really healthy and fun for me to write like that -- because the play I had just worked on was big and messy and busy."
Stacey was born in Dundonald in East Belfast, into what she describes as a "working-class background". "I am a bit of a postman's child," she jokes, referring to the lack of theatre genes, "which is fine because I have been left alone to get on with it by a slightly mystified family. They're pretty much all nine-to-fivers."
Almost all of Stacey's family still live in East Belfast. At the moment, she is loath to refer to anywhere as "home" because she is "bing-bonging" between Belfast, London and Dublin. But she is hoping to move to Berlin soon, mainly because she loves the vibrant theatre scene there. "One of the biggest influences was when Rough Magic took us to see the Theatertreffen. It opened my mind. I got to see a lot of the stuff that I had only read about. So that kind of expressionist, visual theatre really appeals."
Not only was Stacey the only one in her family to go to college, but she was accepted into one of England's most prestigious universities -- Cambridge -- where she studied English. "I remember the first time it was suggested to me, I was bamboozled. It was so romantic but I went into it pretty clueless," she recalls.
This relative naivety almost got her expelled. "It was like I got off a desert island; I got involved in everything. There were a couple of terms where I didn't hand in any work. I really had to grow up. I suddenly realised the stakes involved."
Also, Stacey found herself surrounded by people of a different social standing, which, she tells me, resulted in her feeling resentment and being defensive, but she says, in her mildly diluted Belfast accent: "I learnt to talk the talk, walk the walk a bit. It was an interesting and very f***ing useful journey."
It was in Cambridge that she was first exposed to "amazing theatre". Following that, she received a scholarship to study a masters in Documentary by Practice from Royal Holloway. She nearly got thrown out of that too. "For love," she explains, laughing. "I stayed living in Cambridge and commuted two and a half hours on the motorway. My attendance was so awful."
Since then, theatre has been Stacey's main focus. She has written for Tinderbox Belfast and The Bush, London. She was previously on attachment at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, and is currently on attachment at the National Theatre Studio. She also writes for screen -- her credits include an episode of Raw, and she is developing a TV series for the BBC.
"It has been tough," she says. "The stuff I write has often not been naturalist and the predominant taste in theatre is so naturalist -- particularly in London. I am not from a theatre or artsy background -- it has been quite a learning curve. I was very lucky, because the first job I landed in London was assisting Dominic Gould of the Globe Theatre, and only retrospectively do I realise how much I took in."
Speaking about her aims as a playwright, she says: "I believe in the political -- with a small p -- and I believe in being rigorous and being challenging. I want so much to put something interesting out in the world." Something tells me, with Perve, she's about to do just that.
Perve runs on the Peacock stage until June 25. Tickets are priced €13 to €25. Tel (01) 878-7222 or visit www.abbeytheatre.ie