ONE OF the definite highlights of the current Town Hall Theatre season is Decadent Theatre Company’s new staging of Conor McPherson’s Port Authority which starts a five-night run next week.
The play introduces us to Kevin, Dermot, and Joe, three generations of Irishmen. Set against the backdrop of contemporary Dublin, each man’s story is a beautifully woven tale of failure, loss, and the elusiveness of love. With great wit and compassion, McPherson expertly exposes the heart of common man. Port Authority is a beautifully observed drama about the also-rans of life
Directed by Andrew Flynn, Decadent’s production features Phelim Drew, Carl Kennedy and, in the role of Joe, the play’s oldest character, Garret Keogh.
A long-established acting stalwart, Keogh’s theatre credentials include appearances in premieres of signature plays by Hugh Leonard, Tom Murphy, Frank McGuinness and Bernard Farrell. In recent years he has also shown himself to be a very capable playwright with such works as Dog Show, premiered at Galway Arts Festival, and Setanta Murphy.
Born and raised in Dublin, Keogh’s introduction yo acting came about by accident when an uncle happened to show him a newspaper ad for the Abbey School of Acting. After completing training, his breakthrough role on the Abbey stage was as Johnny Boyle in O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, in a cast which also included Siobhan McKenna, Marie Kean, and a young Liam Neeson.
A production that made a big impact on his development was John Arden and Margaretta Darcy’s six-play cycle, The Non-Stop Connolly Show, staged at Liberty Hall in 1975.
“That was a watershed experience,” Keogh tells me during a break from Port Authority rehearsals. “We were young and enthusiastic and very unformed and we worked with phenomenally great writing.
“John Arden would go outside and sit on the steps of Liberty Hall while we were rehearsing and would re-write and 10 minutes later come back in with these beautiful lines of blank verse. The experience of working for three months rehearsing these plays, that dealt with history and politics, that used blank verse, parody, masks, farce, and did things that were not really known in Ireland at the time, such as making your props from found objects, and making our own soundtrack with live music, introduced me to extraordinary new ways of making theatre.”
That experience led directly to Keogh’s next phase of work.
“Among the bunch of people who were around that show we began our own theatre company called The Children’s Tea Company which involved people like Neil Jordan, Peter and Jim Sheridan, Vinnie McCabe, Ruth McCabe, and we made up our own plays and brought them to schools and that’s how we lived for a couple of years,” he says. “We did work in schools, on beaches, up mountains, in playgrounds, and all sorts of places and a lot of that came from working together on The Non-Stop Connolly Show.”
Moving on to Port Authority, Keogh shares his observations on the play.
“It’s a very funny, lyrical and poignant piece of theatre,” he says. “It’s deceptively simple in its presentation and style. It packs an enormous punch. It deals with the memory and stories of three different people and in all of their cases there is a failed or a might-have-been love that is central to each of the stories.
“Overall, it deals with how the male of the species handles, or mis-handles, emotions and love and women. They all share what were maybe missed opportunities or maybe that was just the way life took them, which is something anybody can identify with. It relies on a beautifully wrought story-telling narrative. The language is very important, it seems natural and realistic but has been heightened, not unlike the way O’Casey would take the ordinary language but concentrate and ratchet it up.”
The play depicts men at different stages in their lives and it could be said to charts a progression of views or reflections on love as we pass through each of their stories. Keogh shares his thoughts on this aspect of the play.
“Joe is more resigned about love,” he says with a laugh. “At the moment my take on it is that for Joe, it’s not that he has ‘sorted it out’, it’s that when you get to a certain age there’s a kind of necessary perspective on things; you can’t turn back time. We all regret things we did or said but as you get older you don’t have the same dilemmas about these things as when you were younger. And I don’t think it’s a question of getting any better at it, I think it’s an acceptance of life.”
This time last year Keogh appeared in Andrew Flynn’s production of McPherson’s The Seafarer and he is relishing teaming up with him again on Port Authority.
“I first worked with Andrew a few years ago on a very good production of Juno and the Paycock and the following year we did Martin Lynch’s Dockers at the Lyric, then last year we did Seafarer,” he tells me. “We toured with Seafarer and my only regret was that it was so good it was a pity we didn’t get to do more with it. I remember saying to Andrew and the cast that it’s not often you get good material with a good cast and it’s done well and that show really worked with audiences. Now, here we are a year later doing another McPherson and, touch wood, the gods will smile on us again!”
Port Authority runs at the Town Hall from Tuesday October 9 to Saturday 13 at 8pm nightly. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie