AONGHUS ÓG McAnally brings his award-winning one-man show Fight Night to the Town Hall Theatre next Wednesday at 8pm as part of a nationwide tour.
Written by Gavin Kostick and winner of both Best Actor and the Bewley's Little Gem Award at last year’s Dublin Absolut Fringe Festival, Fight Night is a gripping journey charting the comeback of Dan Coyle jr, a failed amateur boxer from a long line of accomplished fighters.
Living in the twin shadows of his overbearing father and his brother’s Olympic success, Dan lets his training slip in favour of girls and booze. Then, an incident with his father minutes before a crucial bout sunders the family and exiles Dan from the ring.
It is not until the birth of his own son years later that his competitive fire is reignited, and he takes the first tentative steps on the road to redemption. This fast-paced and engaging solo performance combines intense physicality with a classic Dublin wit in a storytelling experience that will have audiences enthralled and exhilarated.
McAnally is the son of broadcaster Aonghus McAnally and grandson of actor Ray McAnally. His mother, Billie Morton, and grandmother, Ronnie Masterson, were also actors so it comes as no surprise to hear that Aonghus Óg always wanted to act.
“It’s all I wanted to do from an early age,” he declares, speaking by phone from his Dublin home. “It wasn’t a case of being pushed into it by my parents. I was in my first film aged 15, Nephew, with Pierce Brosnan. Then when I was a bit older I went to drama school.
“When I was a kid my classmates used to think it was kind of weird for me to have a grandad who was in films but it felt normal for me because that’s the way I was brought up. I thought it was weird that someone’s dad might be a bank manager. I can recall sitting at home every Saturday morning and watching my dad on TV doing Anything Goes.”
Does McAnally have any special memories of his grandfather, the great Ray McAnally?
“I was only eight when he died and for the past few years of his life he was often away in other countries filming so to an extent I didn’t really know him very well as a child,” he replies. “But as I got older and started acting myself I got out all his films and watched them and he was a phenomenal actor.
“He was one of the finest actors Ireland ever produced; he shared screentime with the likes of Robert de Niro, Jeremy Irons and Daniel Day Lewis and more than held his own with them. Watching him is like getting an acting masterclass. He had such a commanding screen presence, which is the kind of thing that can’t be taught, he just had it innately.
“I’m naturally very proud to be his grandson. The one abiding memory I have of him from my childhood funnily enough is a painful one. I was a huge fan of The A-Team as a kid and Ray was once offered a role as a villain in the series but he wasn’t able to get a green card so he had to decline the part. I was gutted not to get to see him in that!”
Moving onto Fight Night, McAnally reveals that preparing for the show was a gruelling experience.
“It was a physically punishing process,” he says. “I lose 3lbs every night during a performance. I’d never done any boxing before and I wasn’t ever a massive fan of it but I knew I would have to really get into shape to be able to do the show properly. So I embarked on a three month training camp before doing it – which is twice as long as a fighter would normally do for a professional bout.
“I trained six days a week and went through huge amounts of scrambled egg, fish, chicken, and pasta. I had this brilliant trainer called Cathal Redmond from Portmarnock who had a real sense of the theatricality of what we were doing.
“He understood there is a difference between getting an actor ready to portray a boxer onstage and getting a boxer ready for an actual fight so it was great to work with someone like that who had that grasp of exactly what it was we needed to do.”
The show is effectively an hour-long boxing workout with a monologue woven through it. McAnally skips, jogs, does press-ups, and shadowboxes while simultaneously relating Dan’s story. Yet for all its gruelling physicality and realism, boxing itself is not the play’s main theme.
“I put on half a stone of muscle working on the show but it’s not primarily about boxing for all that,” McAnally says. “It’s much more a story about family and about Irish men not being able to talk about their feelings.
“When the story commences Dan hasn’t spoken to his father for some six years, and he has a two-year-old son that his father has never even met. The play takes Dan and the audience on this brilliant journey; he is at a low ebb at the beginning but it builds more and more momentum as the story progresses.”
One reviewer noted that on entering the auditorium audiences could detect a faint smell of sweat, lending the venue an authentic whiff of the gym.
“That’s very much a deliberate ploy,” McAnally reveals. “Brian Burroughs, the director, believes in theatre engaging all the senses where possible, so you can watch, hear, taste, smell, feel.
“Before the show starts we spray a can of Deep Heat in the auditorium which gives it the kind of smell you get in a gym. At some venues we also gave out jellybeans because they’re one of the very few treats boxers are allowed to indulge in while they are training.”
As well as central character Dan Coyle, the play requires McAnally to portray the other people in the story. “I play everyone; there is one scene where I have to portray myself, my dad, my girlfriend, and my son, so it gets kind of hectic at times!”
Fight Night may be hectic but it is also utterly compelling, to quote The Irish Times: “McAnally and Kostick deliver a knockout blow...extraordinary...exhilarating and cathartic.”
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie