Thursday, February 21, 2008

Don Wycherley is a Fool for Love

"Shepard is a real man's man: there's testosterone all over the play!" says Don Wycherley, of his latest role, as the no-good, two-timing cowboy at the centre of American dramatist, Sam Shepard's Fool for Love.

In fact, Shepard's play is so drenched in males hormones, it seems, that its writer was rather surprised to hear it was to be directed by Annie Ryan. "'He was kinda incredulous..." says Wycherley, dropping rather smoothly into a cowboy twang "'There's a woman directing the play!!?' But they met after that and they got on great…"

As it happens, Wycherley sees Annie Ryan's directorial style, an extremely souped up and modernised version of the comedia del'arte made famous by the director's Corn Exchange theatre company, as pretty close to ideal for performing this play. "The play is very heightened theatrically, so that is exactly what it needs."

"In this play there is a lot of turning on a sixpence as far as an actor in concerned, flipping suddenly from tears to anger, and Annie's style is ideal for that. Flip now! And again! I'm loving it, but my body is rejecting it…"

On stage with Shepard is proving it seems, far more of a physical challenge that the film and television work which Wycherley has been doing a lot of lately. Ever since his appearance as the likeable loser in Batchelor's Walk, it has been pretty much illegal to make an Irish movie or TV drama without Wycherley. Everything from Showbands, to Shrooms, The Running Mate and Garage, have benefited from the West Cork-born actor's particular charms.

His first serious television gig, however, was on the dearly departed Ballykissangel. "That was a couple of years on BBC money, which was quite extraordinary. Money has actually gone down since then," says Wycherley, keen to scotch the rumour that if your face is seen as often as his on TV, you must be 'coining it'.

Next up he will be on the Abbey's main stage, in Conor McPherson's directorial debut, a five-hander, set at Christmas time (though opening in May) and marking the return to the Irish stage of former Druid director, Maeliosa Stafford.

But until then, Wycherley will be engaged in trying to apply the correct volume testosterone to Shepard's cowboy.

"I met Shepard for a coffee over in the pub when he was over doing Kicking a Dead Horse. And I just sort of sat there like an awestruck drama student. He said: 'how's the ropin' goin'. And I produced the rope I'd been practicing with from my bag, and he said: 'That's not the right rope -- you can't rope with that, you need a 16 ¼ inch rough chord…' Well, I went and got the right rope now. And It's a grand piece."

So, did he not do any lassoing back in West Cork, then?

"God no, we just asked them out…"


Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Wednesdays Nominated for an IFTA

if you havent heard (and why on earth would you have) The Wednesdays was nominated for the IFTA award for short films. Nice, eh. Even better than that (possibly) it won the Audience Award at Clermont-Ferrand Festival of Short Film, which im reliably informed is way cool all in itself...

As for the IFTA, who knows. That's Sunday, and a hired tux away....


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Ben Hennessy's Boy Soldier

Theatrical lineage can be very direct sometimes. Take Ben Hennessy's play, Boy Soldier, which tells of a group of Waterford lads who, for various reasons found themselves fighting in the First World War.

That scenario might instantly bring to mind Frank McGuinness' Observe the Son of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, which covered similar events from an Ulster perspective. Well, the connections between the two plays is more than skin deep.

"The idea for Boy Solider really first came back in 1990 when we did a production of Observe the Sons..," says Hennessy, who is also Artistic Director of Waterford-based, Red Kettle Theatre company. "Sean Lawlor from the cast had done a lot of research on WW1 and told me about John Condon, the youngest allied soldier to die in that war."

As Red Kettle had hired eight WWI one uniforms for McGuinness' play, the company even took time out to make a short film about the subject. Hennessy has since essayed the story in a play for children, a radio play, and finally in 2006, premiered their full scale stage contribution to the mini-canon of Irish world war one plays.

"I think lots of people would be aware now of the Ulstermen's contribution there, but other Irishmen who fought were, for various reasons, left unacknowledged. For us it wasn't just acknowledging John Condon, but equally about acknowledging all the Irish soldiers who fought in that war."

And there were many. When Hennessy and his company took a research trip to Flanders, they discovered that as many as 12 men from Waterford had died on the same day as Condon. "And when we went to the Irish Peace Park our Michael Power found eight other Michael Powers inscribed there."

The Flandres grave marked John Condon, giving an age of 14 years, is, Hennessy says, the second most visited grave in the world; topped only by that of the unknown soldier. There has been much debate, however, about what age Condon actually was, and even if he is buried in that spot.

"We cover that debate in the play," says Hennessy. "But in a way, I'm not sure that it matters if that is where he is buried or not, or if he was indeed 14. John Condon, from Waterford, has become famous as the symbol for child soldiers all over the world."

And particularly in Waterford?

"I think there is definitely a much greater knowledge of John Condon in Waterford now than there was even two years ago. A plaque has been put up, and there was a move to put up a monument. But that met with some opposition. Y'know, a statue with a British uniform…that still hasn't happened."