Feb 28, 2024

In Conversation With: Lucy Bruton and Caoimhe O’Farrell

Discussing experimental theatre and interactive storytelling, Laura O’Callaghan sits down with the writers and directors of Pinstripe.

Laura O'CallaghanTheatre Editor

Pinstripe, an interactive and semi-improvised theatrical experience transformed the Samuel Beckett stage from February 21st to the 23rd. In Pinstripe, the divide between audience and action blurs, we all have decisions to make in the space created by writers Lucy Bruton and Caoimhe O’Farrell. And here’s the first choice, red or blue? Though there are distinctly fewer folks walking around Pinstripe’s Dublin of 1989 in cyberpunk, floor-length, black trench coats, a choice must be made all the same. Can you hear the laughter on the other side of the curtain? Do you think they’re having more fun than you? Do you care what they think and should you? Regardless, curiosity and anxiety are bound to knot. 

The University Times, struggling to figure out how the library pod booking system worked, eventually made it to a sit down with Pinstripe’s collaborative writers and directors Bruton and O’Farrell to deep dive into their debut show. 

Bruton describes the premise of the show as “an immersive show set in 1989, it follows several characters in their early twenties and the pressure to know what you want to do with your life and where you want to go and who you want to be with…As the play progresses it kind of becomes more about nostalgia and we look at an older generation looking back on their life at this age. It sort of encompasses that idea of looking back on your life and reflecting, regretting or not regretting and how you feel when you remember”.


From the outset, the play marks itself as unique with a curtain dividing the theatre into two halves of one whole. O’Farrell explains: “In terms of our staging, the actual theatre is split in half so the audience at the start of the play are forced to make a decision whether to pick red or blue. So if you pick red you see a different show than if you pick blue. There are two shows happening simultaneously…and then they merge together in the end.”

Bruton explains their reasoning for devising Pinstripe in this way, “because it is about decisions and making choices and the audience have to make choices and be brave”. These themes bleed off of the script and directly impact an audience member’s experience, another implication of this unique decision is the curiosity and envy it inspires throughout the audience. O’Farrell expands on the intentionality behind that result, “And because it’s happening simultaneously in the same room, basically there’s only a curtain blocking it so you can hear murmurs from the other side. So it plays into that idea of ‘did I make the right decision, does it sound better over there, are they having more fun over there?’”.

On commenting that the play reads like a social experiment, both Bruton and O’Farrell reassure that that is the exact reception that they encourage, “we want to see how people are going to react… And it’s the grass is always greener right, so you’ve made your decision and you have to sit with it”.

O’Farrell and Bruton went on to describe their unique, collaborative devising process during which their cast of actors created much of the story from the themes originally posed by the writers, “It’s a creation from all of us”, Bruton stressed, “the cast were really involved in it, and one exercise that we did is we got all of our cast members to interview someone who was in their twenties in Dublin, 1989, and that infomed alot of our plot… What was so important was getting those references right, bringing up people who were famous at the time and people who were the talk of the town”.

When asked about the difficulty found in distilling down Pinstripe’s broad themes of existential regret and nostalgia into specific narratives, O’Farrell called on the cast yet again, “once we had the cast, things started to narrow down… We knew the type of people we wanted in the cast, so people who were open to explore, people were confident because of the whole immersive improv thing. And then once we had these people in front of us we were able to narrow things down, like that’s the kind of character this person could play”.

O’Farrell expanded on the benefit of not having a set vision and a static script when it came to realising Pinstripe, saying “We haven’t had any conflicts really because I guess we both really care, there’s no ego in it… We just want what’s best for the play. Also the whole play is collaborative so it has bits from the cast that they wrote, and just being open and not being set on a vision from the start when you’re directing is helpful because you’re never really going to create that image in your head. So it was really liberating to come into the process open”.

With regards to the setting of the play, Bruton explained the importance of finding points of relevance within the characters’ lives in their Dublin of the 80s for a 21st century audience to resonate with, to “Have a story that now in my twenties I can see myself having a similar experience to”. O’Farrell added “also something to keep in mind was that people in their twenties back then had more expectations in a way, they kind of aged faster than us. They got engaged earlier than us, they started working earlier than us, so those were some things we needed to factor in. We did ask people older than us what it was like”.

The characters’ personal histories in Pinstripe extend beyond the parameters of a more traditional play, O’Farrell and Bruton explain, “we have loads of little subplots in our play…and that’s what’s really exciting about it being immersive, the audience doesn’t get the full story. So some members will know things that others just don’t. There are little hints of things…There’s a small love story in it between the piano player in the bar and the barmaid and only a few audience members will know about that because our actor will go up to an audience member and say ‘I have a crush’ and talk about their whole relationship”. 

The bookends of storytelling aren’t clean-cut in Pinstripe, and so its characters can exist outside of Bruton and O’Farrell’s script. How better to deal with the question of the effects of life decisions on our psyche and lived experience than to build room for audience investment in the form of their personal relationships with the characters?

Lastly, when asked whether people will walk away from Pinstripe with the secret to internal validation and achieving success, Bruton answered with a definitive and sobering “No! I really don’t think so. I think the idea is that you might not ever feel like this was the exact route you were supposed to take and that everything went exactly right, but life will still turn out okay, and if things change, then that doesn’t mean that you’ve failed”.

O’Farrell agreed with Bruton, saying that “Towards the end, an older actress comes in and she’s supposed to represent one of the actors at present day. She’s quite an optimistic character, she comes in and says, ‘Look, things didn’t go the way you thought they would, it’s still fine, and I’m still happy’. The interview came to an end with both Bruton and O’Farrell expressing a hope that the audiences will leave Pinstripe with the reassurance this character embodies, and will carry it into their own lives.

Sign Up to Our Weekly Newsletters

Get The University Times into your inbox twice a week.