Arthur’s Dig – a play for our times

Declan Mills in Arthur's Dig.

Declan Mills in Arthur's Dig.

WHEN THE house you are building is falling down around your ears, when all you have worked for is taken away, what will run out first: your money or your wife? Arthur’s Dig is a 21st century drama, exploring the blurred lines that define what it is to be a man in contemporary Ireland.

Written by Mark Wale and directed by Tara Derrington, Arthur’s Dig, which comes to the Town Hall Theatre on Thursday June 11 at 8pm, features a virtuoso solo performance from Declan Mills, who fills the stage with colourful characters as he charts one man’s epic struggle to bulldoze through the crash and build his own future.

Arthur is sacked from his construction industry job after punching his brother-in-law boss, Bill. The fallout from the punch is devastating for Arthur and his wife, Jenny. As they struggle to build a house on their own land, the mounting pressure fractures their relationship, especially after Jenny discovers she is pregnant.

“I’ve known Mark Wale for a number of years,” Mills tells me as he describes the play’s genesis. “We played music together originally - I was a musician before becoming an actor. We then had a couple of projects on the go before I went to London to train and work. Arthur’s Dig was Mark’s idea initially. We then both sat down and wrote the story together over a year and a half. The first draft was about three and a half hours long and then we edited down to an hour. We devised the story together and then Mark wrote the script.”

Arthur's Dig Promo Feb 2015 from Declan Mills on Vimeo.

Mark Wale has written for both stage and screen. His credits include Fair City and he has won an OZ Whitehead award for his play, Bad Sunday, and a Stella Artois award at Galway Film Fleadh for Physical Memory Dump.

Mills enlarges upon the themes and content of Arthur’s Dig: “On the surface it touches on things like the crisis in the construction industry, but it’s also the story of a relationship between a man and a woman under the umbrella of all those things. After punching his brother-in-law, Arthur loses everything except a piece of land he and Jenny got as a wedding present. He tries to build a house on it but it falls down and he tries again. Because of all this pressure the relationship between e and his wife suffers. While Arthur and Jenny are the two main characters, there are nine others as well. Jenny gets pregnant while he is working on the house and in one way he ignores that, but at the end of it he realises where the things of value are regarding family and love. This story is really the birth of himself, this crisis forces him to almost be reborn.”

What kind of a character is Arthur? “Arthur has no siblings and got into this family through his girlfriend. They kind of took him into the family business,” Mills replies. “He was very much like a blank slate and his personality was formed to a large degree within Jenny’s family. He’s been moulded through the industry and through that family, rather than his own biological one. He is a bit susceptible to other people’s opinions and so on. He is the second in command in this construction company to his brother-in-law. He negotiated and struck a lot of deals set up by the brother-in-law. Arthur is a very hands-on guy at the business end and was the link to the construction guys too.”

Mills’ stage credits include The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged with The Reduced Shakespeare Company, and Sir Peter Hall’s West End production of Waiting for Godot. His film roles include appearances in Leap Year with Amy Adams, and George Clooney’s The Monuments Men.

“The RSC’s Shakespeare Abridged is the most successful theatre show worldwide and I was with them for their 20th anniversary tour,” he tells me. “With Peter Hall that was the 50th anniversary of Godot. Peter was fantastic, he’s a genius he could direct three or four things at the same time, he was doing another play and an opera at the same time he was doing Godot. It was a fantastic experience working with him and you don’t get the experience in Dublin to play those houses for six or seven months.”

Arthur’s Dig is Mills’ first time to do a one-man show. “Someone said to me ‘it’s awful lonely up there on your own’ and if you think about it too much it can be,” he notes. “The show is very high energy and unlike conventional plays with this one your dialogue is with the audience, you really have to earn the silences and make sure you are taking them along with you. It’s a new responsibility for me and I find it really interesting. We first did it in Dublin in January 2014, at that time people didn’t really want to hear stories on those surface themes of the construction crash, understandably. But it’s really a story of a man who goes to the end of his mental faculties and manages to pull himself up and it’s a love story about him and his wife, they are the things that people come away with after they have seen it. It’s a redemptive story and it connects with people on that level.”

Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie

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