TO MARK the 70th anniversary of WB Yeats’ passing, Dublin’s Focus Theatre presents a revival of an entertainment on the life and work of one of Ireland’s great creative icons.
I Am Of Ireland comes to the Town Hall next week and will see Bosco Hogan give one of his finest and most accomplished performances in a richly drawn portrait of the poet, mystic, visionary, and man who was Yeats.
Hogan, who played Dr Michael Ryan in Ballykissangel and has enjoyed a long and venerable stage career, first performed I Am Of Ireland in 1988 – though the part was not initially written for him, as he recalls over a morning phone call.
“The play’s author, Edward Callan, was a friend of Vincent Dowling who was an actor and later artistic director of the Abbey,” he says. “Vincent asked him to write a show about Yeats and Ed spent about three years putting it all together, but when he finally gave it to Vincent, Vincent decided he didn’t want to do it. I think he said there was too much poetry in it, which is an odd kind of thing to object to!
“Then director Kathleen Barrington asked me to do it, and we did it as a lunchtime at the Peacock in 1988. In January 1989 we brought it back in a full-length version. So it wasn’t written for me but I was fortuitously asked to do it, I was in the right place at the right time.”
Yeats was a multi-faceted personality, both as man and artist. Does the play focus on particular aspects of his life and work?
“The play gives a general overview of his life,” Hogan replies “It’s all in there; Maud Gonne, his politics, the Nobel Prize. In his own notes about the show Ed said ‘WB Yeats, a man of many accomplishments, storyteller, explorer of occult mysteries, a singer of romantic love, and a practical man of the theatre. A witty talkative man with a lively sense of comedy and an ear at times for gossip.’
“Now that’s not a description that most people would recognise of Yeats - hearing of him having a lively sense of comedy - yet that is one of the things about him that comes out in the show; he did have a comic touch and a great sense of humour.
“This is a man who came up with the one-line short story ‘two very rich fleas retired and bought a dog’ which he uses in one of his plays. The whole play is written entirely using Yeats’ words – from his poems, plays, and letters. Every word is Yeats’s and I think that makes it an authentic portrait of the man.”
Hogan recites many of Yeats’ poems throughout the piece though he was never tempted to replicate the weirdly mannered voice which Yeats himself deployed when reciting his verse.
“Everything Yeats did was very measured, he was fond of beating out a rhythm, but just one poem said in that manner would drive you to distraction, 25 would have you tearing your hair out and running from the building! So we chose not to imitate Yeats in that regard, the show gives a flavour of the man distilled through my persona.”
Hogan also reveals that, as well as Yeats’s own words, the show features contributions from other members of the poet’s family.
“When I first did the play Grainne Yeats, his daughter-in-law, composed and performed the harp accompaniment for it. Five or six years ago I recorded the show for DVD. For that, Grainne recorded the music and she was joined by her daughter.
“Grainne was married to Yeats’ son Michael. When I do the show now I use her recorded music. When we did the recording Grainne got her daughter Caitriona to record the more modern Irish harp pieces so we have Yeats’ daughter in law and granddaughter providing musical accompaniment.
“When I first did the show both Yeats’ children, Michael and Anne Yeats, came to see it and were very encouraging about it, they liked it enormously - Michael actually came to see it about 40 times, which is remarkable.”
Bosco Hogan performs I Am of Ireland for one night only at the Town Hall next Tuesday, October 6, at 8pm. Tickets are available on 091 - 569777.