THE INIMITABLE Des Keogh makes a welcome return to the Town Hall Theatre next week with his much-feted one-man staging of John B Keane’s The Love Hungry Farmer.
Adapted by Keogh from Keane’s book, Letters of a Love Hungry Farmer, the play dramatises the many romantic struggles and setbacks of John Bosco McClane, an ageing and frustrated bachelor farmer in 1950s Ireland.
As well as John Bosco, the show portrays such memorable characters as world-weary priest Fr Kimmerley, ladies’ man Silvester Brady, who brings the farmer to the RDS, and tireless matchmaker Dicky Mick Dicky, who does his utmost to find John Bosco the woman of his dreams.
While it touches on serious subjects such as loneliness and isolation, above all The Love Hungry Farmer offers a hilarious depiction of the potholes and pitfalls that strew the rocky road to love.
The current tour of the play marks two notable personal milestones for Keogh. This year sees both the 10th anniversary of Love Hungry Farmer’s first production and it is also the 50th anniversary of Keogh’s debut as an actor.
“My first professional engagement was in an open-air production of Twelfth Night in Blackrock Park, in which I played Feste,” Keogh recalls. “Strangely enough I didn’t do any more Shakespeare in the intervening years until last year when I played King Lear in a workshop production in Kilmallock Abbey.
“Looking back now, one of my favourite roles was in Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser at the Gate where I played the part of the dresser, Norman. Some of my favourite roles have not been seen in Ireland at all, they’ve been in America where I had the opportunity to act in plays by O’Casey and Friel and Frank McGuinness which I never had the chance to do in Ireland.”
Speaking of America, it was there, at New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre, that Keogh premiered Love Hungry Farmer, in 2003. He explains how the it came to be first staged in the US.
“I was very friendly with the two directors of the Irish Repertory Theatre, Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O’Reilly, and had done a number of productions with them,” he says. “When I had the idea of doing The Love Hungry Farmer, in 2003, John B Keane had just died the previous year and there were a lot of his productions being done in Ireland at the time. So I had the idea of opening my show in New York because I thought if I opened it here it might get a bit lost amid all the other John B productions.
“I asked Irish Rep would they be interested and they were and they mounted the production, with Charlotte Moore directing. Happily it was a very big success there, it opened in their studio theatre but subsequently transferred to their main stage where it ran for four months.”
The play has also enjoyed successful runs in Britain and Australia and it has proved a perennial favourite with Irish audiences over the past decade.
“I’ve played the production in nearly every theatre in Ireland,” Keogh notes. “I’ve done it in at least 35 venues around the country. Everywhere I’ve done the show it has been very well received and people have related to it in a big way. It’s certainly one of the favourite shows I’ve ever done. It has a wonderful storyline, great characters, and a blend of comedy and pathos because John Bosco is a sad character as well as being funny.”
Keogh expands on the character of the lovelorn and luckless John Bosco.
“He’d very much like to have a wife to share his bed and his house but if he can’t achieve that the next best thing for him is to have a sexual experience, which he has never actually had because he always seems to botch things up at the last minute,” says Keogh. “The poor man has none of the social graces and is not at his best in the company of women. But he makes every effort to meet women and find somebody who will make a suitable wife for him and he enlists the help of the local matchmaker, Dicky Mick Dicky.
“Dicky goes through all sorts of episodes meeting women and trying to achieve his great object in life but unfortunately things never work out for him. There is a great deal of humour in the show but I also like to think that John Bosco is not completely a figure of fun or a caricature, he’s a lonely man and he has his dignity and I like to bring that out as well.”
The Love Hungry Farmer is on Friday January 18 and Saturday 19 at 8pm. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie