Tonight is opening night for a play that I am appearing in this week. It is a comedy called ‘Everyone’s a winner’ and it has been written by the writers’ club of the theatre group of which I am a member. It is the age old tale of a Lotto syndicate which wins a massive jackpot, only to lose the ticket. Dublin City descends into chaos as people franticly start upending dustbins in a desperate attempt to find the ticket. I have a small role as a sour-faced Ukrainian road-sweep called Jakkub. It is on at Players’ Theatre in Trinity College at 8pm from Tuesday to Saturday and it’s a bargain at only 12 euros (the price of a cinema ticket, and with the added bonus of going for beverages with the cast after the performance – we’re narcissistic that way).
Of course my electrifying rise to the bottom rung of the showbiz ladder is a many storied tale. About twelve years ago a Scottish colleague and I decided to attend the Christmas party of an English language drama group in Amsterdam. The party started at 8pm. We finished work at 5pm. To pass the time we went for some Christmas beverages. By the time we reached Café Dante (or the Peak as we nicknamed it) we were rather tipsy and had no idea what any of the group looked like. It was clearly not our time to shine.
A few years later I began attending workshops for this group. Within a few months I had been cast as a male gigolo in a short play called ‘The rental’. I played the rental – obviously – hired as a birthday gift for a woman named Sonya. I had never appeared on stage before. It was a complete rush.
The only way was up right?
Wrong. For my next role I played a corpse in ‘The real Inspector Hound’ by Tom Stoppard. I was on stage longer than any other cast member during this show, but playing a dead body seen by the audience but not by the other cast members didn’t exactly require a lot of emotion. Added to this it was the coldest February in years, with sub-zero temperatures, and I had to spend the entire time flat on my back on a cold concrete floor. If I’d been in a union I would have demanded my rights. As I wasn’t I settled for a mattress, the colour of which matched the stage floor. My non-moving part could be described as ‘wooden’ I suppose. Except for the evening I got into a fit of sneezing, while playing dead.
I think the aforementioned role was the reason I was cast in my next play – an original piece written by some members of the theatre group called ‘Deaf on the Nile’. This was the last time I played a good guy, and the only time I have ever been a romantic lead. I played a British civil servant in Egypt who falls in love with a diplomat’s blind daughter, before being killed and returning as a mummy. This was a fairly unpleasant production for me – the play was funny and most of the cast and crew were lovely. I say ‘most’. All other conclusions can and should be drawn. I remember attending the theatre each evening with a sense of dread thinking ‘why am I doing this?’ as I’d go home each evening feeling wretched at some of the possibly well-intentioned, but in reality incredibly undermining criticism.
It was this show that alerted me to the jealousies and melodramas and backstabbing antics that can happen in a theatre show, and to be alert to it in future, and to avoid it, if at all possible.
From then on my rise to the bottom was inexorable. I played the wizard Rincewind in Terry Pratchett’s ‘Mort’. I played Jonathon Brewster – the facially disfigured serial killer in ‘Arsenic and old lace’ – one of my favourite roles because of the elaborate makeu. I played Bas in Noel Coward’s ‘The Astonished Heart.’ That was a fun production with some lovely people but challenging due to the fact that my role was originally written as Barbara – a 1930s housewife whose husband has an affair. Updated to 2012 I played one half of a same sex couple so the 1930s housewife dialogue struck me as slightly unbelievable. This show earned me my first ever negative review – the words of which are still seared onto my brain – at least one of them. That word was ‘unconvincing’. Burn!
I played an alcoholic prison chaplain in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess where I got to scream abuse at the audience to the sound of Bach, while swaying (pretend) drunkenly. That was enjoyable.
My final role in Amsterdam was the pinnacle of my career to date – Joxer Daly in Sean O’Casey’s ‘Juno and the Paycock’ – a workshy, drunken layabout living in the tenement slums in Dublin during the civil war. When a play contains writing that good, half your work is already done for you, so convincing are the words.
This February I wrote, directed and starred in my own short play called ‘Back to life’ as part of a showcase with the group doing this week’s show. It was my first time on stage on Ireland; and a relief to know that with a bit of searching you can get involved in the melodrama of drama, regardless of where you reside.
I hope this week is a success. Ukraine deserves this victory.