A unique account of the recent tour of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man from a unique member of the cast.
You saw the show, now hear about the shenanigans…
Saturday March 1st 2014, Tralee
Hello all, here I am on the road again, first time since I took part in a not-insignificant European Tour with a not-insignificant production under the umbrella of a not-insignificant English classical Production Company. I’m used to touring, I find it exciting and exhilarating, a different stage every few days, a different audience eager for entertainment, see the world, one venue at a time, splendid. At least, that’s the way it used to be…
I am invited to, and indeed I do, come out of retirement for an adaptation for the stage of James Joyce’s seminal work A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I was head-hunted for the role which comprises several parts and I was intrigued by the prospect. Nobody has ever successfully staged Portrait and I was curious to see if it could be done and, if it could, eager to be part of it. In June of 2013 we packed out the New Theatre in Temple Bar for two weeks, the adaptation worked and the show was a storming success. The young cast was very impressive, we had a terrific dynamic but I must have intimidated them all with my vast years of experience treading the boards as not once was I ever invited to join them for drinks and shenanigans after the curtain fell.
This photograph shows yours truly as a Priest taking the confession of a young Stephen Dedalus, played by Lauren Farrell. I think I look quite gaunt here.
The photograph is courtesy Al Craig, taken for the New Theatre and was taken during the original June run of the play.
In late February we began a quick re-rehearsal of our Portrait and on the last day of the month we began our travels. I was dispatched to Tralee with the Crew! The Crew! Oh yes, there were all sorts of placatory explanations given as to why I was given this honour! They wanted to respect my advancing years by keeping me from having to take the train with the others, and to ensure that I arrived earlier than the other cast members so as I got the pick of the dressing rooms. They wanted to enjoy my company on the way down! ‘Oh Finnegan’ they said, ‘please don’t be angry about travelling in the Van (yes! the VAN!), we only did it so we could hear some more stories of your years on the stage’ Well, I suppose the van is quite comfortable, a large and roomy wagon that, it turns out, was to become my home for the next month!
Our accommodation in Tralee was quite adequate although I couldn’t in all conscience recommend the scrambled egg for breakfast, stick to the rashers if you want my advice! I realised as I ate my breakfast in the company of the crew (when did it become the fashion to chew and speak at the same time?!) that it was Saturday and only nine o’clock in the morning, what an uncivilised hour to have a get-in! The theatre seemed to feel the same way and we sat in the sunshine for some half an hour before anyone arrived to let us in! Though it is nice to sit outside in the early morning once in a while and Tralee is quite picturesque. Nell and Cathy offered to show me how to cut gel for the stage lanterns but I politely declined, I am an old dog and I have no wish to learn any new tricks.
Here I am sitting by the loading dock at Siamsa Tire, I’m grateful it did not rain on us as we unloaded the van (I say we, but my days of heavy lifting are long behind me).
Instead I supervised the entire installation from a comfortable seat in the front row, a much more satisfactory position for a thespian of my age.
I was in the Green Room resting my eyes when the rest of the cast arrived. They made such a racket they could have woken the dead! At first I was quite grumpy at having been disturbed in such a rambunctious manner but their enthusiasm and excitement was very contagious and soon I was being swept along by it. Very soon after that the Director arrived too and we were all caught up in getting ready for our technical rehearsal.
Due to the furore of getting this first show up, there was very little time between the technical rehearsal and the opening. I begin my role onstage even before the house doors open so I took my position and then I waited. Our audience was respectable, the show was well received and I could hear them hanging on my every word during my scenes, feeling the emotion of the piece and laughing heartily when the script called for it. The others did well too. I am quite put out by Mr Fay’s decision to leave me out of the curtain call. He says it is simply because I can no longer bow due to my age and a chronic back complaint but it is lonely standing behind just watching.
Back at the hotel I began to feel my old bones were very weary indeed so I bade goodnight to my fellow entertainers and to the crew and took myself to bed where I now sit, cup of tea on hand, as I write this. Tomorrow will be another long day and I have need of my sleep, I am no longer as young as I once was.
Tuesday, March 4th 2014, Cork City bai!
Hello once again from the road. I am in Cork today, tonight is our second show here in the ‘Everyman’ and I’m finally getting to sit down with a nice cup of tea in a lovely cafe and share a few more of our moments with you.
After a nice night’s sleep in Tralee we moved on that morning to Kilmallock, Co. Limerick and to Friar’s Gate. Kilmallock is a small town and very sleepy on a Sunday morning but we were able to get into the theatre immediately and begin the magic.
Here I am onstage in Friar’s Gate, I was obliging Cathy and helping with the focus of the lanterns. I think she just likes to have a reason to speak to me.
Unfortunately I did not get to see very much of Kilmallock as we ran from the Van to the door in the pouring rain and with my delicate constitution I wagered it was better not to go out again. Hence I spent the day battling Patrick for the good spot at the heater in our dressing room.
The show was well received again. I was brilliant as usual and the rest of the cast did not show me up which was nice. We did not stay overnight in Kilmallock, instead moved directly to Cork after the performance. The get-out was done quite quickly but I must admit I fell asleep in the van on the journey out. The boys have been ribbing me about that ever since.
Yesterday morning I awoke in Cork City I was still a little tired and so elected to put it off the sightseeing until Tuesday and go and find a quiet spot in the Theatre. This did not quite go according to plan either however as I found myself caught up in the get-in which was conducted at a very encouraging pace. This house crew is second to none! We had the pleasure of a nice audience too and a classy bunch as they never failed to react to my performance. I did not join the cast and Mr Fay for the question and answer session afterwards in the bar, instead opting to go back to the hotel and rest up.
This lovely note was left for us backstage at the Everyman, what a nice gesture; the small details mean so much.
This morning I allowed myself a lie-in at the hotel and I must confess I got a little carried away at breakfast, ordering three helpings of scrambled eggs! The waitress was most kind and delivered each plate with a pitying look as if she thought I was half-starved or something. I was so full of scrambled eggs that I made it no further than this coffee shop, a mere step across the street from the hotel but the Barry’s tea is delicious and they have a splendid display of buns and cakes so I may just have to leave my explorations of the city until tomorrow after all.
I’m afraid the photographs do not do justice to the beauty of the Everyman. The theatre is beautiful, an old-style horseshoe shaped auditorium with a balcony and two boxes either side of the stage. It puts me in mind of the Grand Opera Houses and Royal Theatres of my youth, I am left breathless by it.
Saturday, March 8th 2014, Dublin
Hello to you all again. Our first weekend is upon us, time for some much-needed down-time after such a hectic week.
Our second and third performances in the wonderful Everyman Palace went down very well with our audiences. There was some controversy in Cork with some of the patrons objecting to the Hell sequence. We had a person leave on our first night and another lady on our second night. On the third night Mr Fay decided to implement some cuts to the sequence and we lost nobody on Wednesday.
The photograph shows the Christmas Dinner scene where I play Uncle Charles with great aplomb.
Charlie’s performance as the Hellfire Priest is something special. On our second night in Cork I watched a lovely, older couple in the first few rows really squirming and fidgeting, simply terrified as he moved forward, as if he was going to single them out! The poor lady was doing all she could to hide behind her companion’s arm for protection. What a performance for somebody who is really nothing short of a gentleman!
We had a casualty during our final performance in Cork as poor Parnell took a tumble from his shelf as Marcus came onstage during a blackout. I could hear the breaking of the glass from my position but I could not see what had been broken, Nell told me at the interval. Marcus was unperturbed by it, replacing Parnell and covering the glass with our large green blanket before Lauren entered barefoot mere moments later. Very quick thinking and not a sign of it in his delivery, a consummate professional!
Here is a photograph of yours truly on stage in Cork for the final time this tour. I had a lovely time in The Everyman Palace and was sad to leave it. You shall be pleased to know that I finally got to see the city on our last day but I fear I wore myself out in doing so and again I slept soundly in the Van the entire way back to Dublin.
Our return to Dublin was quite triumphant as it turns out. We were to play two nights in the Pavillion Theatre in lovely Dun Laoghaire and as it happens, we were very well received both nights.
I noticed a distinct lag in our crew in this venue; they are obviously beginning to feel the long hours they are putting in. I, on the other hand, was fresh as a daisy and delighted to be performing so close to my home turf.
This photograph shows my favourite scene in the play, the Tundish scene in which I play the Dean of Studies. I get to share the stage with two of the finest ladies I know and I even get to hold Lauren’s hand every evening. This scene always goes down very well with our audiences, as, in fact does the hilarious sequence with the Prostitute in the first Act. I find it difficult some nights to retain my composure as Patrick enters and cavorts around Lauren in his frock; it is high comedy and always receives a good laugh.
I think the loveliest thing about being back in Dublin was how many people came to see the show and just to visit in advance on the first day. Orla the set designer and Fionn the builder of the original set came to help out on Thursday (just as well as everyone else was half asleep), Orla was at the show that night with her father and the following night Mr. Chesterman who wrote the adaptation was in with some friends as was Miss Jane McCarthy and Miss Lisa Krugel, our original Stage Manager. I believe Katie’s young man was in to see us also. It was lovely to see so many friendly faces and a very pleasant rounding off of our first weeks endeavours. The cap on a perfect evening was the reception from the audience, they were loud and appreciative and delightful and the cast made three curtain calls
I look forward to an equally successful second week as we travel to Armagh and to Galway, I’ll ‘keep you posted’ as they say.
Tuesday, March 11th/Wednesday, March 12th 2014, Dublin
Hello again faithful follower, I find myself awake and full of beans at this ungodly hour as I have just returned from Armagh. This was a long day; we travelled up this morning and are just now back having departed the Wild North just after the get-out.
The drive to Armagh was quite boring; I rested my eyes while Anthony and Cathy blathered on about crew things. Nell drove up with most of the cast and Charlie came up by himself, he had the right idea, I believe Patrick has a very serious aversion to the ‘sat-nav’ gismo in Nell’s car, she says it ‘freaked him out’ and that he kept telling it to be quiet the entire way up!
The theatre in Armagh is lovely, very modern and clean. It is narrow and tall as opposed to the great wide auditorium at the Everyman Palace.
The show here was a little quiet but it was a Tuesday, and despite that all who saw it seemed to enjoy it. Anthony told us afterward that the buzz in the bar was very positive and Nell and Cathy had two very enthusiastic elderly gentlemen at the window of the control room complementing us all and asking specifically about Lauren and yours truly.
I was feeling quite giddy after the Armagh show and I was not the only one, here is a shot of Anthony and I striking a pose outside once we’d finished the load out. It’s a pity we could not have stayed around for a drink or two but we had to get back on the road!
Saturday, March 15th 2014, Dublin
Hello again to you all as I kick off my second weekend relaxing between shows. I will be delivering this note at quite lightning speed so I dearly hope that you can read quickly to keep up.
We had a very interesting time in Galway, what with arriving in the dead of night like a bunch of cat burglars to do our get in!
Cathy, Anthony and I travelled to Galway on Wednesday evening to arrive at midnight in order to allow time for a show that was finishing up and getting out. There was to be another show in the theatre in the afternoon just before we opened so an all day get-in was going to be impossible. Anthony built the set Cathy did all her magic with the lighting the night before and we were allowed back into the theatre at 5pm on Thursday, three hours before showtime. Everybody was so cranky!
Despite this, I found my spirit willing but my body unable to join the others in the pub afterward and I made my way out to the B&B and to bed, what lovely sheets they had, really silky on one’s tired old bones. I would have been delighted entirely had I not been wakened from my slumber at a very late hour as the revellers made their way back!
I got the last laugh the following morning though as everyone was put up for their breakfast and check-out a lot earlier than they had hoped, haha, nobody was terrifically the worse for drink by any means, just feeling the lack of sleep and, dare I say it, sense! (Supermacs at two in the morning!? Good Lord!) I enjoyed my leisurely breakfast and took myself off for a look at Galway before going back to my sofa in the Green Room at about three o’clock.
I had a better chance to look at the lovely auditorium on Friday as we were not so rushed. Though the theatre is older than Armagh and not so luxurious as the Everyman Palace, I think it is comfortable and this opinion is shared by Marcus who tells me he has done a great many shows here and feels it is like coming home.
Our second performance in the Town Hall was much livelier than our first, this new audience seemed to be far more receptive to the humour of the play and my favourite ‘Dean of Studies’ scene was well received! After this second performance Katie stepped forward and addressed our audience. She dedicated our show to Margaretta D’Arcy who remains in prison for standing up and showing the cowardly government of our fair nation what for! This lady was an actor in her time and from Galway. I thought it a lovely gesture as it happens and was proud to be onstage to see it.
After this nice two day run we departed Galway, back to Dublin for some R&R before a full week in Belfast next week.
Until Belfast my luvvies.
Saturday, March 22nd 2014, Belfast hi!
Greetings to you all from Belfast, we have been here now for almost a week and I’m having an absolute ball! What a city, I have been all over, riding the train hither and yon all week trying to see everything and meeting such interesting people. The show has been going down a storm with the audiences here, they love it, they get it, it is wonderful to see such enthusiasm and regard for Mr Joyce’s words and Mr Fay’s direction, and we are all simply ‘buzzing’!
I gave Nell a good scare backstage on the first night as she was doing her Interval re-sets I managed to sneak up behind her without being seen and give her a start! All credit to her at least she did not scream but she did call me a very unkind name! I concede that I probably did deserve it.
I had a long conversation with Charlie on Wednesday. He told me about the antics of the previous night after the show. I was still recovering from the post-Rugby blowout of the weekend and did not accompany the rest of them to the pub, apparently I should have as all sorts of tales were told!
On Thursday, as I waited for beginners I decided to explore some of the theatre, I managed to get all the way up to the control box which is so far away; I had to take an elevator and everything. Above is a picture of Nellie at her station which she shares with Nell of course. Nellie and I have become great friends through this tour as we have both travelled the country together in the van. She is not nearly as uncouth as the rest of the crew, she watches her language at all times and is a complete professional at her job. It is a pleasure to work with such a lady!
We had a bit of a party last night. Marcus and Patrick set about entertaining everybody with their shenanigans. Patrick does a hilarious impersonation of the great Al Pacino, I nearly put out my farl laughing at him, he is wonderful. The theatre in Belfast is spectacular, so very grand and beautiful.
I am looking forward very much to tonight’s last performance here. This marks the last of our stays away too as the rest of our shows are one night stands and we will be back to our own beds soon. Anthony has just arrived again with the van; I must go and tell him about my splendid week.
Oh, PS I realise I have never put up a picture of my chariot for this tour, here is our wonderful van. It is only a pity we could not have gotten a larger sticker, an all over print would have looked tremendous.
Thursday, March 27th 2014, Dublin
Hello one and all from the home stretch. We are nearly at the end of our tour, last night we performed in a small venue in Limerick, there now only remains two further performances!
I’ve had a very nice few days in advance of Limerick too I must say. I hurt myself on the last night in Belfast, something fell on me in the van and I was unable to stand so Anthony invited me to stay a few days with his family and be waited on. I had such a glorious few days. I was so well fed and looked after that I fear I have put up several pounds in weight. The children are delightful, they gave me a splendid makeover to make me feel better and it certainly did the trick, I have not felt so alive in many years.
Anthony took this sneaky snap of me as I snoozed after dinner, I feel my makeover makes me look like a film star; the relaxation has obviously taken years off me!
The venue in Limerick is an Arts Centre and Cathy sang the praises of the house technician all the way down in the van so I was very curious to meet ‘lovely Jay’ when we finally got there.
The Arts Centre is pleasant but small. I made reasonably comfortable on stage and gave Nell a hand when she arrived. Cathy was doing her focus at the same time and Nell gave me a head torch so I could see what I was doing, ingenious!
Everything was topsy turvy in this venue, instead of going to the control room like always, Nell and Nellie were both on the side of the stage beside us as we performed.
I got a bit of a speaking to at the interval. Nell gave me a scolding for not freezing during the row in the middle of the dinner scene. She was concerned mostly but a bit cross also. I had gotten a cramp and I was trying to shake it out discreetly and unfortunately this coincided with the moment where we all freeze. I apologized and told her I was feeling ok now and that she certainly was not going to have to massage it for me!
After the show, our quietest ever, although they did like the prostitute, I was able to walk offstage and straight over to sit with Nellie as the others set about the get-out. It was nice to have this time with her; she is a very calming presence. Charlie said his goodbyes and departed quickly (I do sometimes worry about him on the road all alone) and the rest of the cast headed out to the pub, I believe Katie had some friends in the audience and the crew tally-ho-ed into the get-out.
I fell asleep on Nellie toward the end of the get-out and awoke to Cathy gently shaking me. In the van on the way home she told me that she and Anthony had missed me on the way back from Belfast the first night as I am pleasant company. It is so nice to be appreciated.
Monday, March 31st 2014, Dublin’s fair City
Well ladies and gentlemen, our tour is complete, I write this as I sit quietly in the New Theatre before I head for a nice long rest. I have just had a splendid cup of tea and a long chat with the beautiful Miss Kelsey Holmes who has been most complimentary about my appearance and took this lovely snap of me to show me how ‘chilled’ I look. She is far too kind. I look quite content now I suppose but I do notice a few more wrinkles on my old visage than I had when the tour started.
No matter! Before I allow myself to digress any further, I must tell you all about our last two shows.
Friday saw us in Newbridge, Co. Kildare on the smallest stage we’ve played on since our own beloved home boards here at The New Theatre.
I so enjoyed the restaurant, I ate so much, I wanted to sample everything. I am going to have to let out my belt after this tour. I wish I could say that I stopped at the restaurant but alas no, delicious plates of sandwiches appeared at the interval in the Green Room and I devoured several of those too as well as a couple of Marcus’s ‘energy balls’.
Newbridge is quite close to Charlie’s home so for once I did not have to worry like a mother hen about his safety travelling back afterward. He had some family in to see us and he told us afterward that they really enjoyed it. Nell says that the lady at front of house told her that the entire audience liked our show very much but they were so quiet during it that we could not have known.
This photograph shows me on the stage in Newbridge. As you can plainly see it was very cosy, Charlie’s walking forward nearly had him tripping over the front row!
Now we come to our last stop, the Draiocht in Blanchardstown, a triumphant return to the capital for our last performance. This was a marvellously efficient get-in with two very nice house technicians and everything seemed to fly up in double quick time.
I retired to the very comfortable Green Room and spent my day doing a crossword in the paper. We had a lovely leisurely technical rehearsal in Blanchardstown despite starting it quite late, I think this was due to the fact that everything had run like clockwork all day. After that it seemed no time at all until beginners and I was on stage for the last time. We had a wonderful audience here, Miss Fiona Hurley and lovely partner Mark came to see us, as did Mr RJP Wilmot and Miss Jessica Dunne, our wardrobe mistress. The reaction from the crowd was most gratifying and I do feel that Dublin is the place where Joyce is best appreciated; it was simply glorious to finish our tour here.
So here we are, this is my favorite picture from the tour. Iarla, the house technician in Blanchardstown obliged us and we managed to get a shot with the lot of us in (except poor Nellie). Five weeks together (counting rehearsal), we have been to five cities, four towns, two suburbs, eight counties; ten venues all told eighteen performances. After innumerable cups of tea and coffee and miles travelled we are done, we have reached the end… well, until Paris, see you all in Paris for the next adventure…
With much love