Portrait of the artist: Enda Walsh, playwright

'I've never had to punch anyone, but I know I won't regret it if I do'

What got you started?

Having Roddy Doyle as an English teacher. All our school plays were adaptations he had written himself. He made theatre seem like a laugh.

What was your big breakthrough?

Staging my play The Ginger Ale Boy in Cork. I'd spent four years producing appalling work. This was still flawed, but it got me noticed.

Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?

Pleasure in theatre. When I watch a play, I notice all its flaws; I can't switch off.

If someone saw one of your plays in 1,000 years' time, what would it tell them about the year 2007?

That it was no different from 3007. My plays don't exist in a specific time; they're about the small mystery of getting up in the morning and living a life.

What one song would feature on the soundtrack to your life?

What a Fool Believes by the Doobie Brothers. I first heard it when I was 10. I couldn't believe that white, bearded men could sound so cool.

Have you done anything cultural lately?

I spent an afternoon in a sports bar in Rhyl in north Wales recently, reading about the once-great seaside town's history. It was heartbreaking to see how the life had been sucked out of it.

Are you fashionable?

No, I'm hugely unfashionable. As a playwright, you can't be anything else, because most people hate theatre.

Do you suffer for your art?

Yes, on my opening nights. It's one thing having a play on the page, and another having 500 people in a theatre looking at it. The shock is appalling.

What's the greatest threat to theatre today?

A lack of courage on the part of artistic directors and critics. We need to wipe the slate clean and produce new work to remind us why theatre is so alive, visceral and important.

What advice would you give a young playwright just starting out?

Give yourself five years; if it doesn't happen, give up. If it does happen, work hard, and pitch yourself against the best.

Describe your best Edinburgh festival moment.

I arrived with my play Disco Pigs in 1996 and understood the scale of the festival for the first time. I found a load of dud shows among the hundreds being performed, but there was still something inspiring about so much creativity.

What work of art would you most like to own?

Any landscape by New Mexican painter Andrew Dasburg. His work is gorgeous.

Complete this sentence: At heart I'm just a frustrated . . . Misanthrope.

What cultural form leaves you cold or confused?

Modern jazz. I find it impenetrable.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

An actor once told me not to be afraid to punch someone who really annoys me. I've never had to do it, but I know I won't regret it if I do.

In short

Born: Dublin, 1967

Career: Worked with Cork-based theatre company Corcadorca. Won three awards for his 1996 play Disco Pigs, which was made into a film starring Ciarán Hinds in 2001. His new play The Walworth Farce is at the Traverse Theatre (0131-228 1404), Edinburgh until August 26.

High point: "Finishing The Walworth Farce and knowing it would get a great audience reaction."

Low point: "Seeing one of my plays on stage and I realising I could have done it better."

Contributor

Interview by Laura Barnett

The GuardianTramp

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