Delicious O’Grady – finding comedy in The Great Hunger
By Charlie Mcbride
THE IRISH Famine may seem like the last subject to write a comic play about but performer Colm O’Grady has pulled off this singular feat with his acclaimed one-man show Delicious O’Grady which comes to the Town Hall Theatre on April 4 at 8pm.
Delicious O’Grady is a tragicomedy set in the time of the Famine. Inspired by the satirical works of Flann O'Brien, this circus/theatre piece is a story of love, loss, and potatoes.
Few artists tackle this still painful subject but O’Grady has found a way to depict the story of his imaginary ancestor with irreverence, wit, and high level physical skills. He brings to life characters who may have lived through the blight, or died of it, and presents a show that is touching, hilarious and uplifting.
“I was interested in The Famine from an early age when I started learning about it in school,” O’Grady tells me over a morning phone call. “I wanted to take this subject which is very serious and look at it in a lighter way while at the same time respecting the fact that there was a Famine here.
“Audiences see there is suffering but they enjoy themselves at the same time. Everything I do has a comic edge to it and I feel there’s no better way to find healing than through laughter.
“It’s the story of the demise of one family during the course of the Famine and is based upon the story of my own family,” O’Grady continues. “During the Famine my family moved from Louth to Dublin to escape it so it’s loosely based on that and on stories my great uncle told me. I play six characters in the show; a version of myself, three family members, and two characters who affect the family.”
Born in Dublin, O’Grady began his career as a street performer and later worked as an American TV show stunt man to pay for his studies. He started his training as a classical actor at the Dublin School of Acting. From there he studied in London with L’Ecole Phillippe Gaulier for two years in clown, mask, bouffon, and physical theatre, developing a distinct personal style.
He has since toured the world extensively, performing on five different continents with numerous solo and duo shows and touring with theatre and circus companies. He is currently based in Belgium as an “artistic refugee”.
He has described himself thus: “If I were a sandwich I would be one of those sambos from Scooby Doo. Squashed between two slices of theatre and circus; there would be a generous, overflowing filling of clown, cabaret, and comedy with a smattering of music, no onions, and a bit of mayonnaise. Tasty!”
Comedy fans will also be interested to note that Delicious O’Grady is directed by Cal McCrystal from The Mighty Boosh.
“Cal McCrystal is Irish himself, he was born in Belfast,” O’Grady reveals. “He was really interested in doing a show about Ireland and the Famine so he was happy to come on board and it worked out well.”
The show has met with enthusiastic reactions from critics and audiences alike.
“I’ve had a great response, a lot of people appreciated that I was approaching the subject in the way I did,” O’Grady enthuses. “You recently in Galway had Tom Murphy’s Famine which is a really stark play, but the way I do it is more accessible.
“I’m used to seeing plays at the Abbey and a lot of them are very similar, very Irish. I’ve been there and seen people fall asleep and I think to myself ‘That’s not the kind of play I want to make’. I want to do a play that touches people, makes them laugh but also makes them think about what we did go through.
“ I’m coming from more of a European approach which is more open. It does show the suffering and I have had audiences tell me they cried during it but also they laughed.
“It’s circus theatre so I’m using those skills to tell the story. For instance when one of the characters is starving to death I use a circus newspaper-eating routine to show that, it’s very visual and strong but it’s also light at the same time so it’s double-edged and I love the double edge and to be able to do something that is both joyous and sad at the same time.
“For me the show is a celebration of Irish culture and Irishness. As someone who lives away from home you really feel your Irish identity when you’re abroad even more so than when you’re in Ireland.”
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie