Emigrant tales in Cathal Leonard’s Forgotten Me

The milieu of the London Irish and changing face of the emigrant experience form the backdrop to Forgotten Me, a new play by Cathal Leonard which runs at the Town Hall studio next week.

A native of Ballinrobe, Leonard has been a stalwart performer with Mick Donnellan’s Truman Town Theatre, starring in all four of their hit shows, Sunday Morning Coming Down, Shortcut to Hallelujah, Gun Metal Grey, and Velvet Revolution. Leonard now turns his own hand to writing in a poignant tale of lost love and emigration.

Forgotten Me is set in a modern-day London pub where two unlikely characters, Eddie and Edward, engage in conversation that at first seems comic but soon reveals that there’s more to their past than either of them realizes. Edward, played by Gerry Howard, is the burnt-out emigrant who arrived 30 years earlier in a whirlwind of escape and regret. He has spent the time since beating the well-worn path of many Irish men before and since – a tough life on the buildings with little or nothing to show for it in his twilight years. By contrast, Eddie, (played by Leonard ) is a young energetic Dubliner who has just arrived and irritates the older man with his apparent naivety and endless questions. The drama becomes ever more interesting as Edward slowly warms to the younger Eddie and we see flashes of a now archaic, tragic, Ireland that may be gone but is far from forgotten by the old London Irish.

“The play is set in Cricklewood and centres on a conversation between an older Irishman who has been in London for many years and a younger one who’s just off the plane,” Leonard tells me. “It goes into the reasons for both of them being there which are seemingly quite different but as the play moves on they start to realize they have more in common than they first thought. It draws parallels between those who emigrated long ago and those who emigrate now and their respective reasons for doing so.”

“I have lived in London myself and a lot of my uncles and grand-uncles would have gone there for the same reasons but years apart,” Leonard continues. “They typically end up following the road that their forefathers followed. The play tries to look at the differences in the reasons that people go there now but also the even stronger similarities and parallels between the generations.”

With moments of heart-breaking honesty coupled with clever humour, Forgotten Me provides a warm night of drama that deals subtly with the truer side of emigration. Edward and Eddie are not typical clichéd emigrants, but provide us with a human side to the emigration story, one with which every Irish family can identify.

“It’s my first foray into writing so I’m pretty nervous about it,” Leonard admits. “I suppose it follows on from the voice of Truman Town Theatre’s plays which look at modern west of Ireland culture. Forgotten Me kind of follows on from that; it has a lyrical style, it’s snappy and fast-paced, and very dialogue-driven.”

Leonard also acknowledges the input of the JOLT:Volition theatre development programme on which he participated earlier this year; “I found JOLT very beneficial because we were exposed, via workshops and talks, to theatre practitioners and different styles of presenting theatre. As well as giving me the opportunity of realising types of theatre that spoke to me directly it also allowed me to discount styles I felt didn’t suit me. It gave me the confidence to develop the play from a 15-minute piece to a 50-minute work. I probably wouldn’t be doing the play at all if it hadn’t been for the experience of working on JOLT.”

Forgotten Me is directed by a fellow JOLT participant, Danielle Destephano. “Danielle has recently relocated to Galway from Philadelphia,” Leonard reveals. “Her background is in theatre studies and training. I found her to be extremely professional and, even though she is from America, she was very much in tune with the goals of the piece and what it was I wanted to say to the audience. She is the perfect director for the play.”

Forgotten Me runs at the Town Hall studio from Monday August 25 to Saturday August 30, at 8.30pm. Tickets are €10 and are available at www.tht.ie

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