Review by Angelos Sofocleous
There’s a certain characteristic that older people have when they talk about the past: something that allows them to take their audience on a trip many decades back in time and make listeners experience their stories. On October 7, the audience at Gala Theatre Durham, joined Roddy Doyle, author of Smile, on a trip back to his school years.
The 60s and 70s in Ireland, when Doyle grew up, were periods of intense religious involvement in education. This resulted in ‘a lot of violence, chaos, and eccentric teachers’, Doyle said, wanting but resisting to talk clearly about corporal punishment and sexual abuse in Catholic state-run schools. Doyle referred to afternoon wrestling classes that one teacher undertook with a selected number of students, and also to one of his teachers who used to consistently tell Doyle that he ‘can’t resist his smile’.
What he found interesting, however, about the concept of memory while going back in time, was that he noticed that people’s memory about events differs in intensity. There is, nevertheless, an apparent collective amnesia when it comes to the events relating to verbal and sexual abuse at his school and in state-run Catholic schools in general.
Despite the evident negativity of the discussion, Roddy Doyle encountered everything with a smile, as is his book’s title, and it looks like this is the general stance he keeps in life. Referring to his father’s funeral, he described it as ‘brilliant’. ‘Laughing during a tragedy is something common in Ireland’, he said. ‘Humour is a great weapon. It needs to be used. It’s silence that normalises the abnormal’.
Doyle’s fascinating talk ended by commenting on expression in modern times. He argued that ‘language is so restrictive nowadays’, adding that ‘our surrounding is like a landmine of words and phrases we can’t say’, revealing that he feels restricted in expressing himself as a man and maintaining relationships, claiming that ‘women are much better at this.’