THERE CANNOT be many plays which revolve around the Honda 50 but Seamus O’Rourke’s hit comedy-drama Ride On! does and it’s revving up for a visit to the Town Hall Theatre next week.
The play introduces us to five members of the Drumkarren Honda Club who are sitting in a run-down shed in Cavan ready to embark on a Honda 50 bike-ride for charity. They are waiting for the other 20 club members (seemingly ‘stuck’ in a pub in Killeshandra ).
Their host is Cavan farmer, Victor Maguire, who eats grapefruit for breakfast and knows a thing or two about getting out of a tight spot. As the action unfolds we find that a lot can happen in a shed in Cavan on a wet day with a Honda called Hilda.
As well as providing plenty of laughs, Ride On! offers a vivid portrait of Ireland’s rural communities, before, during, and after the Boom, as Seamus O’Rourke explains over an afternoon phone call.
“The play shows five characters stuck in this location and friction arises between them,” he says. “It’s really about Rinso Sullivan, who is the local barber. He didn’t get caught up in the Celtic Tiger and wants to try and get their little community back to the way it was 10 or 15 years ago. It’s about the social change that happened in Ireland between the boom and the bust and where we got to with our big houses and all sorts of extravagance. Rinso represents the old world and he wants to get back to some more social activity. It’s about the whole social fabric of rural life.”
It was at the height of the boom that O’Rourke had his initial inspiration for Ride On!
“It started out in the middle of the Celtic Tiger years when I was working as a carpenter in Cork,” he recalls. “We were working from seven in the morning until nine at night; you’d get home, grab a bite, then go straight to bed.
“One night I remember being woken at 10pm when I was trying to get to sleep by a load of Honda 50s. It so happened they were all from Cavan, not too far from where I come from myself as a Leitrim man. I thought that would be a great idea for a play, to get a load of people from different walks of life in a shed and have some reason to keep them there for the duration.”
A writer, director, and actor, O’Rourke has had a long, and very successful involvement with the amateur drama scene, primarily with the Cornmill Theatre Group from Carrigallen, Leitrim. He has appeared in the All Ireland Drama finals in Athlone on 15 occasions and has won awards for Best Director, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.
O’Rourke first aired Ride On! in an amateur production in 2008 then, last December, Cavan’s Livin’ Dred Theatre Company took the play on and gave O’Rourke his first professional production.
“I knew Livin’ Dred director Padraic McIntyre from the amateur scene and he would have known of my work,” O’Rourke tells me. “He asked to send him something that hadn’t been round the amateur circuit and I had only done Ride On! at the Cornmill. I was surprised he wanted to look at it rather than some of the ones I had more success with.
“We workshopped it for a weekend and changed it a little bit structurally. Padraic, being a Cavan man and from a rural background like myself, had a great understanding of the play. That was where the idea of doing a professional production was born and we happened to get a great cast for it.”
The play indeed features Aaron Monaghan as Rinso Sullivan. The company also includes John Olohan, Deirdre Monaghan, Pa Ryan, Clare Monnelly and, as farmer Vincent Maguire, Seamus O’Rourke himself.
“When you get a couple of actors just back from DruidMurphy and to see them in your play it’s amazing,” O’Rourke enthuses. “And Claire Monnelly is just after doing Moone Boy with Chris O’Dowd on Sky. It’s a really good cast and it’s lovely to see them enjoying the play’s comedy and it being a new rural play rather than going back to John B Keane and that sort of thing.”
Interestingly, the Vincent Maguire character has featured in three of O’Rourke’s plays.
“Vincent first appeared in the 2008 version of Ride On!” he says. “There was a very inexperienced cast so I thought that rather than have to come in and watch the show for five or six nights I’d a write a nice little part for myself that wouldn’t be too difficult to do and I could keep an eye on things that way. Little did I know that the character would turn out to be so popular – he was the character everyone was talking about.
“People were telling me he should have his own play so I wrote a play called Victor’s Dung which was all about him and he just took off. There was a sequel to that one called Victor’s Dung (The Second Cut ). People would ask me who he was based on and he was based on about 20 different rural characters that I knew; he was colourful and he just seemed to strike a chord with a lot of people. I found him very easy to write because I knew these guys so well.”
O’Rourke concludes: “Ride On! is very much based in the here and now and in the real world, albeit that’s a very strange one at times. The response to it so far has been great; it has that sense of holding a mirror up to rural Irish people and they see themselves and their neighbours and can’t help but laugh. But it gives people something to think about as well, it’s not just flat out comedy from beginning to end.”
Ride On! plays the Town Hall this Monday and Tuesday at 8pm. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie