Arriving at the Town Hall theatre to meet Rod Goodall for this interview, I find him hunkered on the steps outside and feeding bits of sandwich to a hungry young gull flapping eagerly around his feet. It could easily be an image of Faith Healer’s Teddy, the cockney showbiz agent who Goodall portrays in the play, auditioning a new performer. Teddy, after all, informs the audience that his roster of talent has included a bagpipe-playing whippet and a woman who can speak to pigeons, so a sassy seagull would fit right in. And Goodall’s convivial ease with the bird mirrors the sociable warmth of Teddy’s character.
Goodall has been entertaining Galway audiences for over 30 years, intially with Footsbarn, then with Macnas and, latterly, as a freelance actor and director. As we settle down in the dressing room to conduct the interview I ask him when did he first get into acting. He laughs heartily and replies “As Teddy would say, ‘I swear to God this is no lie’, I started at 18 months of age! I was spotted as a bonny bouncing baby and started doing modelling shots for knitting patterns. That led me to be taken on this agency’s books and a few years later, I became the first child ever to do a TV commercial. It was for Brown & Polson’s Rice Pudding. In my teens I had a lot of problems at school, I was the classic class clown and I was always in trouble. Eventually I left school and went to an acting academy. I was like a sponge absorbing everything, I can still recall those brilliant teachers; I was taught stage-fighting by a wonderful man called Paddy Crane, who was Irish, and who’d worked as Errol Flynn’s stand-in.”
Goodall was born in the London borough of Chiswick. His father was a racing journalist with the Greyhound Racing Association and he would often take his young son along with him to dog meetings. “I spent most of my evenings at White City and New Cross Stadium,” Goodall recalls. “I have these really distinct memories of Senior Service cigarettes and the smell of gin on people’s breath and I’d be poked in a corner with this awful fizzy orange juice”
He resumes his account of his early days as an actor. “Once I was launched as an actor I got an agent but there was no work. I was living with a girl at the time called Katy Manning and she got this fantastic part as Dr Who’s assistant Jo Grant. I thought this was great but it soon separated us because I was still out of work. I then decided I wanted to be a mime artist and I heard about the Jacques LeCoq school in Paris. So I worked and saved all I could and got enough to enroll. I had one of the best times of my life there.”
Soon after graduating from LeCoq, Goodall joined a a troupe of actors on a boat, a “ship of fools” as he calls it, and they sailed all around the world. After injuring his cartilage in Tangier Goodall had to return to London to convalesce. Then one day he saw an ad in Time Out saying Footsbarn were looking for actresses. “I picked up the phone anyway and asked about the role,” he reveals. “They said they were looking for a panto dame and I said, ‘Don’t you know dames were traditionally played by men?’ and they said, ‘Oh really?’ and I said ‘I’d be perfect for it!’. Next thing I’m being met at their local train station. I only planned to be there for three months but I became engrossed. It was fabulous, we were poor as church-mice again but great people and we were doing stalwart work, the kind of work that had you thinking, ‘Yes, this is why I trained to be an actor!’. We were playing all around Cornwall. Then we started going further afield, to London, Amsterdam, Germany. Then we were touring so much we decided we wouldn’t come back so we set off on a world tour complete with wives, kids, teachers, cooks. We were back and forth to Galway a lot in those years, I think I played here five times.”
The friendships he made during those Galway visits would lead to Goodall becoming a key figure in the establishment of Macnas. “I’d been with Footsbarn for 12 years and I thought maybe it was time to do something else, my parents were getting on and I wanted to be able to see them a bit more,” he recalls. “I wrote to Ollie Jennings asking would he like me to direct anything for the Arts Festival and he said, ‘Not for the festival but we’re forming this group called Macnas’, so I came over and we did The Game . I only intended to be over for the one show. In the meantime my father had died so I asked my mother to come over and join us and we set her up in a caravan in Fisheries Field and I remember as we were leaving she suddenly said to me, ‘You’ll be back here’ in a very knowing way. Sure enough, the next year and the following year I was back and then I was offered a full-time job with Macnas and came over permanently. That ran for six years, I didn’t even take a holiday in that time. It was a fantastic time, it’s all about people, Galway is just full of so many wonderful people. Then that all fell apart so I rejoined Footsbarn, until 2001 when it was time to make a decision should we sell our house in Ireland or what, but I didn’t want to leave Galway permanently so we decided to come back and it’s the best move I ever made.”
In Faith Healer, Teddy is described as having a ‘showman’s verve and perkiness’, a description which equally fits Goodall. His eyes light up as he talks about the role; “This part is so close to me, I can’t describe how close it is,” he declares. “Especially at my age now, the parts you wait to play are King Lear and Teddy. I’ve been waiting to play Teddy for so long. It is so beautifully written, all three of the roles are, Brian Friel has crafted this piece. In my opinion it’s one of the top three Irish plays ever written, this is a play that you will still see being done in 50 or a 100 years, it’s timeless. There’s so much depth and different levels to all three characters and the situation that they’re in. It’s a very difficult play, it’s not as easy as I thought it was going to be when I first read it when I straightaway thought, ‘yeah, I could do that, I can do a Cockney accent’, but there’s a lot more to it than that and Andrew Flynn is teasing all these elements out that are necessary to make it a wonderful experience. I think if it works, if we do a good job on it, it could be one of the best shows seen in Galway for a long time.”
Goodall describes the challenge posed by the play’s monologue-driven structure; “It is very odd because we don’t see each other until the curtain call,” he observes. “There’s obviously a lot of backstage camaraderie going on but we don’t work with anyone else, the only thing you’re working with is that energy that the other actor leaves onstage with the audience just before you come on, that’s the only link you get between you –what has happened before you join that energy on the stage. I’ve never done anything quite like it before, I’ve done monologues myself before but always as a solo actor so I don’t quite understand how it is going to work but it is going to work. It is terrifying! You’re on the middle of the stage all on your own for some 45 minutes. It’s not easy, it’s a challenge but also a joy. It’s such a privilege to be working on a Friel show with such fine actors as Ali White and Lalor Roddy.”
Faith Healer runs at the Town Hall from Thursday August 25 to Saturday September 3.