JON KENNY, of D’Unbelievables fame, is touring with a new play, Crowman, that comes to the Town Hall Theatre on Thursday January 24. Written and directed by north-Cork writer Katie Holly, the play received standing ovations every night during its inaugural run in Cork Midsummer festival last year.
In Crowman, Jon plays numerous characters, but the primary one is Dan, a man in his fifties who is living alone. He feels himself an outsider looking in on the community but discovers during the play that he is not as much an outsider as he thinks. When he hears about the passing of a dear friend, he is forced to look back on his own troubled youth and face up to his demons.
The play is at times poignant and tragic but also has a warmth and humour as Jon slips seamlessly in and out of the many uproariously funny characters. The people he depicts are surreal and humorous but tinged with tragedy, and Jon plays each with his amazing ability of character acting and hilarious humour. During a brief visit to Galway last week, Kenny sat down with me over a coffee and talked about the play.
“The thing I like about Katie’s work is it is very immediate to me,” Jon began. “She is near to the area that I am from, that Cork/Limerick border, and a lot of what she does catches the mood and character and language of that. It’s lovely for me to pick up a script and feel I know its people and dialect. This is her third play, she previously wrote a one woman show Marion and another play, Sharon.
"Katie is in her late twenties so looks at the world slightly differently than I do and that is a nice perspective as well. It is a universal story though; it affects anyone no matter where you are from. I’d worked with Katie previously onstage in The Field and Mags Mell and we’d written some songs together also. I’d said to her we’d have to do something else together where she was writing and I’d be performing so she met me one day and outlined the idea of Crowman and it grew out of that.”
'Dan is not just obsessed with crows, he is dealing with loneliness, and he has carried that isolation through his life'
Jon expands on the play’s central character, Dan, and its main themes. “Katie was fascinated by the way that in rural Ireland some people have a love/hate relationship with crows," he says. "Some people find them freaky and evil, and others think they are incredible birds, which they are. So the play is about this guy who is tormented by them and the play reveals why he feels antagonistic toward them. It is because when he was a boy he had a pet lamb and grey crows attacked it and took out its eyes, and crows also feature in other tragedies in his life.
"Dan is not just obsessed with crows, he is dealing with loneliness. He is on his own and feels isolated. He is special in the sense that he looked at life differently; he was smart and an intelligent young man growing up and preferred to be immersed in nature rather than going off playing hurling with the other boys. He absorbed lots of books growing up, you can see he had different interests in life rather than the obvious ones you’d expect from being in rural Ireland.”
'The play highlights how harsh life can be for people who become isolated, yet it is funny as well as moving'
“All that isolated him and he has carried that isolation through his life,” Jon continues. “The audience finds him at a stage of life where he is pretty much a loner. He does go out but can’t fit in but there is a whole world going on in his head. He is a keen observer of life. He does most of his ‘socialising’ internally, in his head and the audience sees him acting out conversations he imagines having with people, which is often funny.
"In the play he learns an old friend, Sheila, has died and she was one of the few people who befriended him. She was a local girl who was married and always was kind to him, and you get the sense that in his own way he was in love with her, he certainly had huge affection for her. When he discovers she has died it brings out other things in his past.”
While Crowman and the character of Dan is imbued with pathos and poignancy, the play also packs plenty of laughs. “There is huge humour in the show, in Dan’s attitude and observations.” Kenny asserts. “He’ll talk about local table quizzes, why people fell out with other people, local feuds. He takes the piss out of chat shows like The Late Late Show and calls it The Too Late Show because everyone that is on it are the likes of retired hurlers pushing a book or some boyband he thought had split years ago. ‘It’s never too late for The Late Late’ he says. He has lots of humour about characters like the local gravedigger and local priest both of whom he is fond of. The play has been going well so far, every night people have given it a standing ovation; people have been very touched by it. It highlights how harsh life can be for people who become isolated yet it is funny as well as moving.”
Tickets for Crowman are €20/415 and are available through 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie