'I absolutely hated going to school. Every day I went there I was nervous'

Peter Gowen’s The Chronicles of Oggle comes to Town Hall

MEET PAKIE, an orphan, storyteller, adventurer, and survivor. He may not be the sharpest tool in the box, but he does know the history of his native town, from vicious Vikings to less-than Christian Brothers.

Pakie’s a laugh a minute, but he has secrets. Secrets the God-fearing people of Oggle may not be ready to hear. Written and performed by Peter Gowen, and directed by Donal Gallagher, The Chronicles of Oggle is a hilarious and heartbreaking story of small towns and even smaller minds. It comes to the Town Hall Theatre on Thursday April 9 at 8pm.

Gowen’s last appearance in Galway was in October when he delivered a typically strong performance in Decadent Theatre Company’s production of Stuart Carolan’s Defender of the Faith. Now he returns with his critically acclaimed solo show set in his own hometown of Youghal, from which derives the ‘Oggle’ of the play’s title.

“The play’s action is set on the shore on the opposite side of the town,” Peter tells me. “It’s very rooted in my childhood experiences of east Cork. Pakie has had to fight for inclusion in society. He hasn’t been socialised. Because he’s been taken away from his family and traumatised in the orphanage he doesn’t have the same filters that a person from a loving family would have.

“That allows me, as a writer, to ask questions because, Pakie does wonder, and there is a potency in his questions, because they do come from an odd angle. They are couched in this funny way of looking at the world, yet there is also a parallel horror that was created by the Catholic Church in making its institutions.

“The awful damage visited on people who were in orphanages can transform normal kids into people incapable of taking part in society. Pakie has been through that and is desperately trying to catch up and be part of things. Although it is a story of my childhood, it is also a look at modern Irish society; why this society was complicit with the Catholic Church in neglecting people, and in the brutalisation of children in the school system. The play is a comedy first of all, but it has those dark elements.”

Peter’s impressive acting CV features major productions at the Abbey, Gate, Druid, London’s West End, and Broadway as well as TV roles in Love/Hate and The Tudors. Remarkably, The Chronicles of Oggle is his first time doing a one-man show.

“I’ve never done a one-man show before. The closest was Enda Walsh’s two-hander, Bedbound,” he says. “It’s been a lovely experience doing it. There’s a crossover between stand-up and theatre, and this show is in that territory because Pakie is standing opposite the town and he is talking to his friend Davy who has committed suicide at that spot. Pakie has come there to cope with his grief. It is a device whereby he can tell these stories and be in conversation, and it allows me to address the audience directly, and engage with them, and I think people find it compelling for that reason.”

I ask Peter did he write the play as a vehicle for himself to perform? “No, and I didn’t envisage it would be a one man show either,” he replies. “When I first wrote the story it was very dense but Pakie was in there and there was something about the tone of his voice. Myself and Corcadorca’s Pat Kiernan were fishing for bass one night on Ballyquin Strand and he suddenly said, ‘That script you sent me, I think there is something there.’

“I was initially wary of it being a one-man show but then I thought I’d just bite the bullet and do it that way. I wasn’t going to do it myself but once the writing process was finished Donal O’Kelly, who produced it, asked me would I consider doing it myself so I did. I didn’t write it as a piece for myself to perform. I started writing it in 2005 after my father died. I went through a neurosis you might call it going through grief and loss, and the only reason I could cope with it was through writing.”

Peter reveals the play draws on raw personal elements. “I felt there was something about the experience of growing up and the photographs you’d see of us all as schoolchildren smiling and laughing with the clergy,” he says. “The actual reality was that these people were the tormentors, and there in these photographs we were the tormented standing in front of them, but there was this pressure to be genial and to present a picture of delight. I absolutely hated going to school. Every day I went there I was nervous, I couldn’t concentrate therefore, I didn’t do well academically although I am no eejit. As a teenager, I began to resist it, so all of my intelligence and creativity went into that rather than learning and that happened to a lot of boys.

“I didn’t get a good Leaving Cert but my attitude was that I had put one over on them, what a bloody waste. That’s not to say all the teachers were bad, there were some very nice ones. But what was unforgivable about them all was that they used corporal punishment on kids who were much smaller than them.

“Then there is the emotional and psychological damage done to a teenage boy having an older man humiliate and brutalise you, the whole thing was nasty. The great irony was that when Ignatius Rice started his schools he explicitly wrote down in the founding charter that no corporal punishment should be used on the children but somewhere along the line it all got twisted.”

Tickets are available from the Town Hall through 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie

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