THE TOWN Hall is a constant hive of activity this week as preparations gather pace for the epic staging of Patrick Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn which opens on Tuesday.
Two of the leading roles in the production are taken by Barry Hopkins, who plays Tarry, and Mary Monahan, who plays his mother. During a break in rehearsals they sat down to talk about the play.
Mary Monahan is a long-time stalwart of Headford’s Pegasus Theatre Company and has also acted with local companies like KATS and Heads or Harps. She won an AIMS award for best actress in a Telecom Éireann production of The Sound of Music in the 1980s.
She was also awarded the role of Pegeen Mike in a Gay Byrne radio production of The Playboy Of The Western World in 1992, performed, for one night, on the stage of the Abbey.
“That was quite an experience,” she recalls. “There were auditions held all around the country, I went up to Claremorris to audition and I made it through. It was interesting because we had two directors, Seamus Hosey did the radio side of it and John B Kelly directed it for stage.”
She is now relishing being part of Tarry Flynn. “It’s a great experience because you don’t usually get big casts like this show,” she says. “It’s wonderful because you have a sense of being part of something very big. It creates a great buzz. My husband and son are in the show as well.”
Mary goes on to describe the character of Tarry’s mother.
“She’s a tough lady, a widow with three daughters and a son in 1935,” she says. “She’s trying to get the daughters married off to free up the house for Tarry but he isn’t all that interested in the farm, he’s more into reading and books.
“She’s worried about him and how he will get on. In her heart she doesn’t mind that he’s a dreamer but she’s worried about how society treats him; he gets blamed for little scrapes he gets into. She keeps telling him he should stay away from the crossroads where everyone meets.”
Barry Hopkins, who plays Tarry, recently completed the Moneenageisha drama course and also trained with Galway Youth Theatre. This is his first major role.
“Tarry is a lovely character to play,” he observes. “I can identify with him on lots of levels, I come from a farming background and grew up in the country like he did. And we can all understand the notion of someone with their own ideals and dreams that are somehow held back whether it be by family or society or whatever.”
He describes Tarry’s relationship with his mother.
“Our relationship is very important,” he says. “Tarry’s father has died and he wants to do his mother proud. She tries to help him along but she is smothering him too. She’s trying to control him because she thinks he’s too much of a dreamer. Yet she knows that’s part of his life and she can’t take it away and she loves him for it as well.
“Conall Morrison, who did the adaptation, says the rest of society know that Tarry thinks of all this beauty but they don’t want to hear about it in case they can’t handle it, so they make him like the village outcast and his mother is trying to protect him from that.”
“It really shows what life was like in the 1930s, and it’s so different from Ireland today,” Mary Monahan adds. “We can romanticise it looking back but it was a very harsh life.
“This woman is a widow with three daughters. The only way they could support themselves was to get married or go nursing in England. In those years they were recruiting nurses from Ireland to England and you would be paid while doing your training whereas you had to pay to train in Dublin and they couldn’t afford the fees.
“If the mother couldn’t find her daughters a job she had to try and find husbands for them. In the play she’s trying to get one of the daughters married to a local farmer who’s a good bit older but the mother has to dampen down how she feels about that.
“She knows she can’t afford the luxury of waiting for some knight in shining armour to come for her daughter. That’s what life was like, people didn’t have options, people just had to survive. Maybe that makes it a good play to put on now where we’re finding ourselves in that situation again.”
Tarry Flynn runs at the Town Hall from Tuesday August 3 to Sunday 8 at 8pm nightly. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.