Emma Martin

THE creator of a play based on the infamous Listowel sexual assault trial after which people queued up to shake the hand of a convicted offender has said her work is a study of small-town communities and not a retelling of the crime.

Debut writer/director Emma Martin, whose Absolut Fringe play Listowel Syndrome launched on Friday, said her own background growing up in a small community inspired her to dramatise the events.

Last December, an otherwise unremarkable court case sparked controversy when a 50-strong queue of people waited to shake hands with convicted offender Danny Foley before he was jailed for five years.

The incident triggered a public backlash – particularly given that even a local priest had lent his support – and the victim said she felt forced from her home town.

Now it forms the basis for Martin's stage play, a work partly inspired by the strong sense of rural community that stood out after her return from five years of dance training in Germany.

"The production is not specific in terms of trying to convey the actual characters and the people involved, but it's alluding to what happened and how the community reacted," Martin said.

"It's like any close-knit community. It's not just Listowel."

Dancing makes up around 80% of the show with the choreography designed, at least in parts, to represent how groups act collectively in certain situations.

While its creator believes the case was an ideal example through which to explore the wider theme, she did anticipate a varied reaction to the idea of dramatising such a contentious chapter in small town life.

Although contacted by several newspapers and by the Last Word on Today FM, Martin felt it prudent not to provoke further debate on a play whose actual message could have been lost amongst the hysteria.

"I think people went straight for the obvious (assumption) that it was a restaging of the assault on stage which it isn't," she said. "It's certainly alluded to in the piece but it's not the focus of it. The focus is the community reaction.

Listowel Syndrome plays at the Project Arts Centre tonight with a final performance tomorrow.