BORN in Youghal, I was educated there by the Christian Brothers, but then went on to University College Cork to study engineering.
The bright lights of Cork City were too much of a distraction, however, so I did not complete my degree at UCC. Indeed, I knew more about the inside of the city’s theatrical venues, than I did about lecture theatres, so I joined an acting company, touring the country. One of the first venues we played was in Kilmallock, with the Struank-Robertson Company. I, later, joined the Dublin Repertory Company and we did a four week season in the old City Theatre in Limerick. That same year, (1954), we did a two-month Summer Season in Kilkee. From there, I went to Dublin, and eventually joined the Abbey Theatre, where I stayed for five years.
When I married in 1963, we lived in London, where I was playing in a television comedy series, called The Larkins, starring Peggy Mount and David Kossoff.
We rehearsed an episode for a week and recorded it before a live audience on the Sunday. I, also, played in the famous The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and recorded that before a live audience, for the BBC, as well. One of the Z-Cars episodes, I did, was also transmitted live, which was really scary. I don't think that any drama is done ‘live’ now. I certainly wouldn't be able to cope with it today.
Having had the same theatrical agent all of my acting life, I don’t, (at my stage of career anyway), urge her to go out and get me continuous work.
If someone wants me, and I can cope with the part, that's great. In this regard, I particularly love playing to Limerick audiences, because they are so perceptive. In the past, I have played with the Irish Theatre Company, Gemini Productions and Godfrey Quigley's Globe Theatre Company, in the Belltable Theatre, and in the cast of The Chastitute written by John B. Keane, in the University Theatre. In 2014, I played in Sive, (also by the same author) with the Abbey Company, in the lovely Lime Tree Theatre. Having played in Sean O'Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, at the British National Theatre, I was, later, offered a role in a very ‘starry production’ of The Threepenny Opera, at the Prince of Wales Theatre. The cast, there, included Vanessa Redgrave and Barbara Windsor. Other actors I have known down the years have included Aidan Gillen, and Hugh Bonneville (of Downton Abbey fame). I have, also, been involved in a few productions on location in Ireland such as Ballykissangel .
The Quiet Land, currently on a national tour, is a lovely piece of writing.
Originally, Des Keogh was offered the part and instead asked me to play the character of the other farmer with him. I, gladly, accepted with Director Bairbre Ní Chaoimh creating a sensitive and insightful production. Both Bairbre and writer Malachy McKenna, who wrote it, have treated the subject of aged farmers, living on their own, with great love and understanding. I adore playing in it and I know Des does too. Without giving too much away the storyline centres on, friends and rivals, Eamon and Nashee, who meet at a gate on a remote hillside one day, but the confrontation that results, tests their friendship to the very limits of its endurance.
The theatrical scene has changed so much since I started out in the business.
Now, there are theatrical schools, academies and university facilities, with many new graduates emerging from them every year. Of course, there are not enough parts for all of them, so unemployment is a great problem. It is estimated that up to 90 per cent of our actors, at any one time, are unemployed. That said, the job of being an actor, has been very good for me. Over the years I have been very lucky to be offered parts in television, radio, theatre and film. While theatre is still the most satisfying medium, the money is really in film. Television can be equally satisfying, but for a series like Fair City, for instance, learning lines can be a bit of a problem.
In the past, I have played with the Abbey in Paris and in Australia.
I, also, did a lecture tour of the USA and Canada, and played with The Druid Theatre Company in Minneapolis, New York and Tokyo. I, even, made a film in Malta and on Gozo (an island in the Maltese archipelago), and toured all of Britain and Ireland, even visiting Inis Meáin. Indeed, I have played at the Edinburgh Festival on many occasions.
A young assistant director I knew, once had a brain wave to help the cast of a play, to get to know one other.
The twenty actors were, instructed to form a circle, and in order to get to know each other, they should run across the circle, and tip their opposite number on the shoulder, while reciting that person’s name. However, after about an hour of that nobody could remember anybody's name. In fact, it was only when we went to the pub afterwards, that the matter was rectified, at least for a while anyway.
There is no theatrical background at all in my family tree.
And indeed, our two children and four grandchildren, have never expressed any desire to tread the boards. In fact, my son was asked, when he was still a teenager, would he like to become an actor? He replied, as a matter of fact, that he didn't know any actors who drove a Mercedes and wanted to drive one. Now, he does and I don't!
‘The Quiet Land’ comes to Friars’ Gate Theatre, in Kilmallock, on Friday 11 March @8pm Tickets €15/€12. For more information please see: www.friarsgate.ie