Arts Festival hit The Quare Land returns to Town Hall

Des Keogh to take lead role in John McManus comedy

ONE OF the hit shows of last year’s Galway Arts Festival, John McManus’ comedy The Quare Land, returns to the Town Hall next week for two nights only prior to embarking on a national tour.

Gnarly old-timer Hugh Pugh, a sort of Cavan Steptoe, is taking his first bath in four years when he receives a visit from developer-on-the-make Rob McNulty, desperate to buy “a field in Laytrum”.

Loot and avarice feature prominently as themes in The Quare Land as Hugh owns the land which McNulty lusts after in order to construct a big-money development. A caustic-tongued tussle of wits ensues between the duo which escalates to an epic finale as both men try to reason each other into submission.

The play marked the stage debut of Cavan author John McManus, a former plasterer who won RTÉ Radio’s PJ O’Conor Award with his first play in 2005 and also featured in the Druid Debut series of staged readings 2008 with A Lock of Fierce Roars.

The Quare Land was then accepted by the 2009 Galway Theatre Festival for a public reading. The response to it encouraged Decadent Theatre Company to give the play a full production and it went on to enjoy a two-week sell-out run at the Galway Arts Festival.

Decadent put together a first rate team for that production and they’re reunited for this welcome revival; Des Keogh as the hygienically-challenged but wily Hugh Pugh, Frank O’Sullivan as the covetous developer Rob McNulty, and director Rod Goodall.

Talking about the play ahead of its upcoming tour, Goodall reflected on the experience of doing it first time around.

“It was exhilarating,” he says. “It’s always wonderful to work with a good script, good actors, and a good production team and we had all those elements in The Quare Land. Des Keogh was charming and so talented, he brought a different dimension to the role of Hugh to what we had seen at the play’s initial reading. Frank as an actor is solid as a rock and he knew exactly what the part of the developer required.”

Irish Theatre Magazine, describing The Quare Land as “an extremely funny play”, also suggested that it would “readily remind viewers of John B Keane”. Goodall only partly agrees with that assessment.

“Des Keogh has done a lot of John B Keane so there would be that association there,” he says, “and Keane has influenced so many Irish writers in different ways, but I don’t feel he was a specific source of inspiration for John McManus when he was writing the play. It’s certainly not something that ever came up as a topic of discussion when we were rehearsing.”

Talking about the play to the Galway Advertiser at the time of its run last year, author McManus observed: “In The Quare Land, Hugh is greedy insofar as he keeps asking for more money but in another way he’s not really. He doesn’t really want the money at all, he just wants to get the better of Rob. My starting idea for Quare Land was just to set a play in a bathroom because most plays are set in a kitchen and I had this image of an old man about to have a bath and then someone barging in on him.”

The Decadent production of The Quare Land came at just the right time for McManus. Having endured the disappointments of rejection slips from a number companies he was on the cusp of giving up writing altogether when The Quare Land got the green light for a Galway run, and that run was a huge popular success.

“We had packed houses all the way and every night was a zinger,” Goodall recalls fondly.

The play’s success affirmed McManus in his writing aspirations and he’s been working on several other scripts since that initial run.

“He has three or four scripts he’s been working on,” Goodall reveals. “He doesn’t feel any of them are quite ready yet to be sent around but we’ve been talking about giving one of them a reading. I always think that’s something that’s very helpful to a writer in progressing a script, but he’s keeping busy and still writing, that’s the main thing!”

Goodall and co are all looking forward to this revival of The Quare Land, especially as the tour will visit the locations mentioned in the play.

“We’ll be going to Cavan itself and Leitrim so that will be great” Goodall says, relishing the prospect. “It was important that the actors wanted to come back and do the show and they did; Des Keogh only arrived here at the weekend from New York where he just finished a run in a Tom Kilroy play. He was very keen to do The Quare Land again, as are the rest of us.”

The play seems set fair to replicate the success of its inaugural run and, as an added bonus, tickets for the Town Hall performances are priced at a recession-busting €10 which should ensure packed houses at the venue.

The Quare Land plays the Town Hall on Monday March 21 and Tuesday 22 at 8pm. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie

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