Thursday, April 19, 2007

We, Keano

As Roy Keane's star seems to be rising once more, it only makes sense that his doppelgangers too are encountering a new purple patch. Not only is the touring version of I, Keano currently criss-crossing the land, taking in dates in Derry, Belfast, Limerick and, of course, Cork, a new theatre production based on the earlier life and times of the Sunderland manager is also warming up on the touchline.

Roy: A Footballer's Tale is a new one-man show written by journalist-turned-playwright, Alec McAllister and directed by Red Kettle's Jim Nolan. It stars Myles Horgan, the Rochestown-born actor, perhaps best known from Ken Loach's Irish civil war drama, The Wind The Shakes The Barley.

"Anyone who has seen me knows I'm not a Keano lookalike. I'm blonde-haired and blue-eyed," says Horgan. "So it was never going to be about doing an impersonation. There would be very little margin in an impersonation to put over the stuff we are interested in. It's about a very serious moment in his life, not setting him up for gag after."

McAllister's version of the Keano myth is set in the dressing room as Roy, having left Manchester United under a cloud, is about to take the field for Celtic. Saipan is part of Keano's past, but like many other episodes from that past, it refuses to stay in its place. So, Horgan not only plays the man himself, but also the myriad of ghosts that continue to haunt him, from Brian Clough, to Alex Ferguson and Mick McCarthy.

All these characters help to unpick the central enigma of Irish life, according to Horgan: "What nobody knows except those who were actually there, what never came out in the press, or in the books, is exactly what happened in that dressing room in Saipan. And that is what we are interested in…"

Ok, that's a mystery. But an equally intriguing mystery is why exactly so many people think that the best way to explore that mystery is in the theatre.

"Well, people are interested in that question: was he a hero or not? Was he stubborn or very brave? People like to see brave people. As I researched the play, I become more on his side." Which is presumably the only place to be if you are about to tour he country, playing Keane.

Roy: A Footballer's Tale had a short run in Wexford (where playwright McAllister is from) but is now getting ready for a national tour, which kick off in Cork next month. "yes, I suppose it will be different doing it in Cork, with people who knew him, or know him there. They'll have a completely different take on the accent…"

How good is your Keano accent? Would you ever do a little bit for me?

"What! So that you can say 'I heard the accent and it's shite. No way. Come and see the show if you want to hear it…"

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Keano III (and other news)

Well, another year, another Keano. This time Denis Foley dons the ceremonial white kacks, replacing Pat Kinevan, who, of course, took over the role from Mario Rosenstock.

But this time around, the question is not how much Foley’s version of Roy Keane will differ from that of his predecessors. Instead, the real debate is around how much the Roy Keane of the present day resembles the figure portrayed in the musical. After all, Arthur Matthews and Co’s Keano is based on the heroic figure of the midfield general of Manchester United, a footballing warrior, a loyal and obedient servant of the great chieftain-god-dolphin, Alex Fergusson.

But that Keane doesn’t exist anymore. Instead, we have a heretic Keano, one who has denied the great god, Fergie, a fallen idol whose feet of clay are now all too visible. The sort of athlete, in short, who’d play for a team that gets knocked out of the Scottish Cup by lowly Clyde.

According to a spokesperson for the latest production, there are indeed some script changes in the latest instalment of the story. With previews starting next week, however, details are still sketchy. We know, however, that one Brian Kerrus has been airbrushed out of the story, while a new character, resurrected from the mist of footballing prehistory, will once more stalk the land, or at least the stage at the Olympia. This time around the dramatis personae for I, Keano will be swollen by the addition of the towering figure of somebody called “Big Jack”.

It was a long time coming, this one. Paul Mercier, whose stage productions have been one of the most enduring features of the capital’s theatre life, ever since the foundation of his Passion Machine theatre company in 1984, is finally opening a play on the National Theatre main stage. That company states its mission as creating “wholly indigenous populist theatre that depicts, challenges and celebrates the contemporary Irish experience” which might be a good aim for the new Abbey administration.

As it happens, the new director at the National Theatre, Fiach MacConghail, will most likely be familiar with Mercier’s views on Irish culture, having produced several films with the Dublin writer, including a version of the Passion Machine’s landmark production, Studs, which will be released later this year with Brendan Gleeson in the lead.

There will be Irish interest at a challenging-sounding opening night when a stage version of the JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings opens in Canada in March this year. The show is produced by Dublin-born impresario, Kevin Wallace, a protégée of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful organisation, as well the producer of Dublin shows, such as the Abbey’s revival of Eugene O’Brien’s Eden. The stage version of LOTR has a budget of C$27m (just over €19m) and modestly bills itself as “most ambitious theatrical event ever staged” No word yet on the running time…but it’s bound to fly by in any case.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Pat Kinevan gets the Keane nod

“I went to see him when he was playing for Cobh Ramblers in about 1989,” says the Cobh-born actor and playwright, Pat Kinevane, of Roy Keane, the legend he will portray when I, Keano returns to the Olympia later this month.

“I wasn’t even a huge football fan, but you could see then he was something very special,” says Kinevane, on a break from rehearsals. “It’s funny, when I moved to Dublin after that people would be saying, ‘oh, Cobh, that’s where Roy Keane’s from’. And I knew he wasn’t, he just played for Cobb. He was from the city.”

Kinevane says the fifteen odd miles between the city and his own birthplace makes for quite a different variety of Cork accent. “Mine is country. He definitely has a city accent, it’s a bit more pronounced, a bit more guttural. It’s the kind of accent I’ve been known to get after a few pints…”

Imitation is not, however, the name of the game according to Kinevane. “I didn’t see the original production and I’m delighted about that. There wouldn’t be any point in tying to recreate that. It’s much more interesting to arrive fresh and create something fresh from scratch.”

After Saipanistic disagreements among the first cast, Kinevane will be doing his creating alongside Conor Delaney, who takes over the part of Quinnus from Risteárd Cooper and Susannah de Wrixon, who plays Quinnus’ wife, Surfia (that joke has to go!). Gary Cooke’s epileptically funny Dunphia, happily, survives into this production, as does Dessie Gallagher’s extravagant assassination of Mick McCarthy.

Should things among the cast and crew get fraught this time, Kinevane seems unlikely to indulge in any Keano-styled rebellion: “I tend not to get involved in rows. I just go away and have a cup of tea if things are getting tense…”

Part of the reason, perhaps, that Kinevane missed the first run of I, Keano, was that he was busy rehearing and performing at the Gate, where he played the spookily camp manservant of an English gentleman in Brian Friel’s The Home Place.

“I just finished up in the Gate in the Friel and they are heading off to the West End with that, but I just didn’t want to go away for the Summer. I’ve a four and a half year old son, Kez, and I wanted to stay around with him this summer…I really hadn’t anything, and then I got this phonecall…”

The call could scarcely have come at a better time, not simply because it allowed Kinevane to stay in Dublin, but also because he was more than usual primed to take on the role of a sporting hero.

“As it happens, I’m very fit now. I put a lot of effort into getting myself fit before and after Christmas, doing a lot of yoga, just because I wanted to…And I’ve got good legs. I was filming King Arthur last year, playing a Roman so I was sure I was going to get to wear a tunic, but I had to wear a long, flowing gown and I was jealous of the rest of them. But, now I’ll get to wear it. Funny how things work…”

So did he like his “I, Keano” Photoshop job in last week’s Herald? “Sure them weren’t my legs at all, boy, though he has good legs too…”

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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

REVIEW: I, Keano (The Olympia, Dublin)

When a bust up with his manager during the final preparations for the 2002 World Cup saw Ireland and Man United's Cork-born midfield general, Roy Keane, head for home before a ball had been kicked, it also provoked a fissure in the Irish nation. That collective sense of hurt and confusion was all the more acute because had Roy Keane lead the team, Ireland would have, without even the faintest trace of doubt, won the World Cup.

While Keane headed for Cheshire and his team mates for Japan, back in Ireland, the why of it all became the source of a relentless dispute -- on TV and radio, in newspapers, on buses, in taxis, down dark alleys. If it did not quite oust the Civil War from national memory, it certainly made that violently divisive struggle seem like a minor, off-season friendly.

It was never a debate in which anybody struggled too hard to see both sides, and as such offers excellent dramatic material, jammed with epic clashes and ancient themes, almost classical in their clarity. But it took one more ingredient to produce I, Keano, Arthur Matthews and Michael Nugent’s masterfully-executed musical comedy on the events of that notorious Summer.

It is a curious fact of Irish life that the country possesses a standing army of comic actors who derive their notoriety almost exclusively from impersonating soccer stars. The manoeuvres of this legion have clearly not gone unnoticed by Nugent and Matthews (sire of Father Ted) who have leveraged all this formidably comic talent and energy into the funniest sports musical you are ever likely to see.

As it happens, they have also created a bristlingly intelligent, sophisticated show about masculinity, celebrity and the hall of mirrors and prisms that is the contemporary media. That they have done all this by transposing the Keane-McCarthy feud to ancient Rome, adding a touch of panto and some dangerously funny song and dance (with the help of songwriter, Paul Woodfull) makes for an even more remarkable achievement.

Even if belly laughs are the cherished prizes here, the writing is usually richly layered, with every gag apparently embedded in at least two more. A scene, for example, in which Keano (Mario Rosenstock) is enticed by Dumphia (gloriously played by Gary Cooke as Keane's "biographer," Eamon Dumphy, transformed into a wood nymph) turns into an unworldly love duet sung by a biographer and his subject. A creature called "Fergie" appears in the form of a dolphin, given to Gnostic pronouncements delivered in an impenetrable Scottish accent, pronouncements that leave the usually implacable Keano in transports of gurgling delight. (A mischievous homoerotic charge runs through the entire show).

I, Keano is just a little bit smarter, a little bit more resonant, a little bit funnier than anyone had the right to expect. Would that the soccer team had surprised Spain in quite the same way. As it happens, Ireland did not win the 2002 World Cup. But now at least one, fine, true thing has come out of that sad debacle. Now, at last, the healing can begin.

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