Fascinating and complex: Kelly Shatter the playwright daughter
‘When I was 9, some boys egged our side door and wrote “Scabby Jew”. It hurt’
Published 13/09/2015 | 02:30
Camden Street on Thursday night in Dublin is electric. Perhaps not quite as electric as Kelly Shatter who arrives into the pub at 9.10pm straight from rehearsals of her new play Big Bobby. Little Bobby with Camille Lucy Ross.
The 32-year-old bounds into the pub looking like a young Patti Smith. She is wearing boots straight out of Waiting For Godot over her jeans that are half way up her leg. For the next two hours, she doesn't stop talking and has me roaring with laughter. In truth, I had been warned.
Prior to meeting Kelly, her father Alan had informed me thus: "Kelly is outgoing and enthusiastic and passionate, and absolutely loves her life. She is accomplished at comedy improv having performed in Dublin, LA and New York. She also teaches comedy improv and drama."
Young Kelly had plenty of source material for comedy, and indeed drama, during her time in Los Angeles in 2012. When I ask her, half seriously, was her mother Carol hoping she would meet some nice young man out there and come back married, she laughs. "I did the looking-for-a-Jewish-man-in-LA thing. I was totally looking for a Jewish man in LA! I just felt like it might be a nice thing to try! I went on some dates. I wasn't interested. It was nicer in theory."
What did you expect?
"I guess a lot of singing around a table with candles. Which didn't happen, funnily enough, on our first date! I do remember once I went to some Jewish night and there was a handsome man across the table. He was Irish. 'I was like, wow, what are the chances of this?' It turns out he was related to me! I nipped that in the bud!" she laughs.
Joking aside, Kelly can remember when she was nine years old in Dublin and some boys in her brother Dylan's year at school "egged our side door and wrote 'Scabby Jew' on it. It hurt. This was my first and thankfully only real encounter with malicious anti-Semitism". Looking back now, Kelly says she can remember thinking: "This isn't about us. They must be insecure. Maybe their parents passed it on to them. I didn't judge. I just felt sad about their ignorance."
When Kelly was 15, she was given a writing assignment at school. She interviewed her grandmother Betty about being an evacuee during the Second World War. That's when Kelly realised, "retrospectively, I wanted to be a writer. I only know that now. My grandmother had incredible stories. Being off the bus waiting to be chosen and this woman pushed everyone out of the way and said: 'I want the darkie.' My grandmother spent a year with this woman who didn't really know how to show any affection or love to an eight-year-old".
When she was 26, Kelly wrote a play When The Curtains Are Drawn. "It was about a girl who became so obsessed with her ex-boyfriend that she started sleeping rough in the lane by his house. It was dark comedy, and not autobiographical!" Kelly laughs. "I also write poems. It's short," she adds, reciting it thus:
The 'what might have
beens' will choke you/
Thin snake around soft
Curling slowly upwards
till there's no more air/
Just the gentle hum/
Of the life you would have
If you were fully there.
Kelly laughs about awkward moments. "Being in New York on a high rise rooftop with a group of hippy Jewish folk that are howling at the moon and then praying for peace and getting into a fit of laughter. Very serious - laughter not appropriate!"
As you can see, she is a fascinating, complex, entertaining, even brilliant young woman. Her favourite films are Harold And Maude and Cinema Paradiso. Her favourite books: The Little Prince. The God Of Small Things. Lolita.
In terms of Big Bobby. Little Bobby, which opens tomorrow night at Smock Alley Theatre as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe 2015 - co-written and starring Camille Lucy Ross of Callan's Kicks and Republic Of Telly - Kelly says: "This show has been my most exciting writing experience to date. Myself and Camille seem to be exactly on the same page, which is extremely hard to find. We're both weird but pragmatic. We want our work to be grounded in truth. Enda Walsh is a major influence. Disco Pigs was the play that I wanted to write as a teen.
"Big Bobby. Little Bobby is about confronting your inner demons," she continues. "It's a great balance of comedy and pathos. Bobby is trying to make a life for herself on her own but she's very aware that Mammy's not doing that well since she moved out.
"In the quiet of her new house, she starts talking to her inner child, Little Bobby. The problem is Little Bobby begins to call the shots."
As for her own mammy, Kelly describes Carol Shatter as "wonderfully silly. I get my crazy side from my mum. She is very sociable. She sees the best in everyone. I think I do that. I am a good listener. I care about people. My mum is everyone's confidante".
What was it like to grow up with a famous politician as a father?
"I'm actually writing a sitcom for TV about that. I have changed it massively. There is a Minister For Arts. . . the main character's mother is the Minister For Arts. It's in the early drafts stages and it might become that it is not about politics. I think I might prefer that.
"For me as a child, it was very normal because everything you are used to is totally normalised. It became more difficult as a teenager when you are aware of the outside world and it is not nice when people are not onside, and of course they can't be. Everybody can't be onside with your dad, but it can be difficult."
That must be much more difficult when you see incidents like last week when a man was convicted of sending disgusting anti-Semitic emails to your father?
"Yeah. I mean, obviously, at the point where there is death threats and envelopes of anthrax being sent to the house, that was the point where I actually stopped writing. Strangely enough, before there was a real life version of that [hate being sent through the post] I had written it into comedy and then it started happening.
"I wrote about a skull graffitied on a door. They graffitied death threats on the front door. But once that was happening in reality, it is not funny.
"You are dealing with it from two aspects. The person who understands that this is just the way life is, and this is how politics is, and then you are dealing with it as a daughter," Kelly says perhaps in reference to when her dad resigned as Minister for Justice following receipt of the report by Sean Guerin into allegations made by Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
"So you're protective. He's your father. You don't want people saying shit about him. It's as a simple as that.
"He's taught me to work hard for what I want, to see things as they can be and to fight for that instead of accepting things as they are. The stories I tell try to do that, to shed light.
"I remember going to garden centres on Sunday afternoons with him when I was a kid. I'd look at the pets and the plants but really he just held unofficial council hours as he'd have people coming to him with their questions/concerns the entire time. I am thinking 'I'd hate to not have my own space to look at these pets', but he didn't seem to mind.
"I think he is a very integral man. I am very proud of what he has done for this country. The stuff I'm very proud of, that sticks out for me as a woman, as a feminist, is the stuff that is socially liberalising. Divorce. Abortion. Gay marriage. I am very proud of him.
That love and pride flows both ways. "We have a very close relationship," Alan tells me. "Carol and I are very proud of her."
Big Bobby. Little Bobby by Camille Lucy Ross & Kelly Shatter, Smock Alley Theatre, Boy's School, September 14 to September 19. Bookings: www.fringefest.com. Fringe Box Office 1850 FRINGE (374 643).
Kelly Shatter talks to Barry Egan about her new play, her love for her late grandmother, her experience of anti-Semitism as a child in Dublin and what it was like to grow up with a famous father in politics