CORK BASED Meridian Theatre Company is in the Town Hall on Monday November 16 at 8pm with its touring production of Billy’s Roche’s new play One Is Not A Number, featuring The Clinic’s Gary Lydon.
Set in a salty corner of Wexford town, “where the sea holds sway”, One Is Not A Number is a haunting, romantic, savage, tale of life-long loneliness and longing as Matty Larkin, the club-footed outcast, learns to adore Imelda - the girl with the “secretive smile” - from afar.
Celebrating love in all its complexities One Is Not A Number has all the trademark qualities of Roche at his best as it coaxes epic drama out of mundane encounters with the melancholy beauty and wit of The Wexford Trilogy.
Meridian could hardly have found a more suitable actor than Gary Lydon to take on the role of Matty Larkin. Lydon’s association with Roche goes back more than 20 years and he has appeared in many of his major plays, including the trio of early plays that became known as ‘The Wexford Trilogy’ - Amphibians, Cavalcaders, and On Such As We.
Lydon was born in London and moved to his father’s native Wexford at nine. “It was an upheaval moving back,” he recalls, speaking by phone ahead of his Galway performance. “I went to the Christian Brothers school and I remember finding it quite intimidating - though it was a good school. I had to start learning Irish very quickly. It was a big change.”
It was while he was at secondary school that the acting bug first bit for Lydon when he appeared in a production of the Whitehall farce Dry Rot.
“I got a great buzz out of that and I had a feel this was something I could do,” he reveals. “After doing that I went down to the Wexford Theatre Workshop and asked if they needed anyone, which they didn’t at the time, but not long after they came back and asked me to be in a production of What The Butler Saw. They were quite cutting edge, they did stuff like Equus, Fire Raisers, Fool For Love - I was in all those. And I would be doing street theatre, etc, during the day and helping out around the place.”
It was at the theatre workshop that Lydon first met Billy Roche.
“We used to have various budding writers around the place and Billy was one of those,” he says. “He dropped in with a play he had written, he had just recently left his group the Roche band and was getting more into writing. So I got a part in the play.
His play was put on by Patrick Sutton in Wexford Arts Centre and then it was put on at the Bush in London. The director Robin Lefevre came over to Dublin to cast the play and I got the part for the run at the Bush, so Billy and his play was my ticket into the world of professional theatre.”
Roche’s three plays at the Bush - A Handful Of Stars (1988 ), Poor Beast In The Rain (1989 ), and, Belfry (1991 ) not only established his reputation as a major playwright but paved the way for the wave of Irish plays which would feature strongly on the London stage over the next decade.
Lydon appeared in all three of those landmark Bush productions. “They were three massive hits,” he recalls. “Billy was a big thing in London then. You did have a sense of something special at the time, and they were brilliantly directed by Robin Lefevre who had a very good affinity with Billy.”
Lydon also has a strong affinity with Roche, having appeared in so many of his plays since that initial meeting at the Theatre Workshop.
“I get on well with Billy, and being from Wexford gives an authenticity to my work with him,” he notes. “I know the accent and the territory and I get the humour of them. Because the plays are about my hometown that gives me that extra degree of passion for them.”
How would Lydon describe Matty Larkin, the character he plays in One Is Not A Number?
“I think he is darker than most of Billy’s characters,” the actor observes. “ He’s funny but there’s a darkness underneath, he’s a kind of wounded animal. He’s almost stalking this woman, Imelda, he has an unhealthy obsession with her. The way he has been treated by society and family have made him nasty in some ways, or some people would see him that way perhaps - I don’t!”
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.