MUCH of the talk about the Traverse Theatre during this strangest and most tentative of Edinburgh festivals has, understandably, been in relation to it hosting, as part of the Edinburgh International Festival, the great Irish writer Enda Walsh’s extraordinary new play Medicine. However, as the theatre’s Fringe programme nears its end, there will be another new play by a writer from the island of Ireland.

The drama, set in the late 1990s and ironically titled This Is Paradise, is by Northern Irish playwright Michael John O’Neill. The author has been based in Scotland for some years.

His new work is a monologue in which a young woman called Kate (played by Irish actor Amy Molloy) goes through tumultuous events in her private life. As she does so, the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which brokered a ceasefire between the major combatants in the Northern Ireland conflict, reverberates in the background.

The play will run live at the Traverse between August 24 and 29, and be available to watch online from late August. It finds Kate “at a key moment in her life”, O’Neill explains. She and her partner are trying for a baby, but, for a variety of reasons, Kate is full of trepidation and doubt about the ability of her body to go through a successful pregnancy.

READ MORE: Alan Cumming reveals lonely Edinburgh Festival nights before stardom

Meanwhile, the writer continues, she is “suddenly given this reason to go looking for her ex-partner, who she is aware is in danger”. The problem is, the past relationship in question was a very difficult one.

For a start, Kate was too young to be in the relationship, and her ex-partner was considerably older. Moreover, the writer explains, her ex was, and no doubt still is, a “mad bastard”.

Kate, now in her 30s, receives a call from the new partner of her ex, who is worried that he might be about to kill himself. She asks Kate to go and find him.

What O’Neill calls Kate’s “journey” into this crisis also involves her reckoning with her longstanding difficulties in relating to her own body. She has a sense of new life within her, but, worryingly, she is also in physical pain.

The positive political developments on the island of Ireland are, O’Neill says, “kind of a contrast” to the situation in Kate’s life. She is full of uncertainty and regularly refers to herself as “breaking”.

That personal uncertainty feeds through to the way that Kate thinks about the Good Friday Agreement and its attendant “peace process”. She wonders, the writer explains, “what ‘peace’ means, what its boundaries are, what kind of peace is on offer, and by whose definition”.

The political dimension of the play is, O’Neill insists, “churning in the background”. “It’s not like Kate’s stopping to give commentary on it every five minutes, but it’s something that’s definitely there in the mix.”

READ MORE: Edinburgh Fringe shows taking kids to the moon and back ... from a safe distance

That “mix” of the personal and political is nowhere more potent than in the context of Northern Ireland. Kate’s feelings about her past relationship with the older man speak, the writer says, to “an idea of Irish identity at this moment [in 1998], particularly when you have all these people from the South, from England and from America coming to Northern Ireland to make peace happen.

“There’s this endless feeling of people in the North being savages that need fixed, of Northern Ireland being a post-colonial state.”

The outcome of Kate’s internalisation of this personal-political metaphor is, O’Neill suggests, that she “marries her low expectations of herself” to a similarly bleak view of the people of Northern Ireland and the prospects of a lasting peace.

Interestingly, discounting last year’s Covid-cancelled Fringe, this is the third year in a row that the Traverse’s Fringe programme has included a Northern Irish play. David Ireland’s excoriating comedy Ulster American (2018) and Meghan Tyler’s blistering dark farce Crocodile Fever (2019) will both live long in the memory.

O’Neill, who until recently lived in Glasgow, knows Scotland well. Is Edinburgh, I wonder, an easier city in which to put on new plays about Northern Ireland, as compared with Glasgow?

The National:

Rehearsals for This is Paradise are underway as the Traverse Theatre prepares to debut Michael John O’Neill’s latest work. Photograph: Lauren McLay

There is, the writer thinks, something in that idea. The concept of “distance”, be it “distance in terms of time, or [physical] distance from the epicentre”, is significant, he says.

It’s true, he continues, that saying certain things about the politics of Northern Ireland in Glasgow might be considered “more inflammatory” than saying those same things in Edinburgh. However, he adds, it’s also the case that Edinburgh, in the shape of the Traverse, is “where new writing happens”.

That last comment is an important one. It raises a question about the Traverse’s self-declared status as “Scotland’s new writing theatre”.

OF course the Traverse doesn’t have a monopoly on new theatre writing in Scotland. Glasgow’s lunchtime theatre A Play, a Pie and a Pint produces more new plays each year than the Traverse does; although, of course, they are all, by necessity, less than an hour long. Glasgow’s Tron theatre, among others, also produces new work.

Nonetheless, for a nation of fewer than 5.5 million people to have a self-designated “new writing theatre” in its capital city has, it seems to me, an indisputable psychological impact.

READ MORE: Janey Godley to lead star cast of Scots in pantomime this festive season

There’s no doubt that there has, over the years, been a phenomenon of writers having their new work rejected by Scottish theatre companies on the grounds that the plays should be “offered to the Traverse”.

I have long believed that the Traverse should return to its original remit, when it was the Traverse Theatre Club, of staging modernist classics, and combine that with staging new plays. That would break the sense that the Traverse is, almost exclusively, the place “where new writing happens”.

Be that as it may, the Traverse deserves credit for bringing the likes of Ulster American and Crocodile Fever to the stage. Let’s hope that O’Neill’s contemplative new play proves to be another Northern Irish success story for the Edinburgh theatre’s Fringe programme.

This Is Paradise is at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, August 24-29: