DECADENT THEATRE Company unveil what promises to be a highlight of the Town Hall Theatre’s autumn programme next week with Defender of the Faith, the debut play from Stuart Carolan, writer and creator of RTÉ’s Love/Hate.
Defender of the Faith is a tense and brilliant thriller set on a farm in Armagh in 1986. The play tells the story of a family, entrenched in paramilitarism and under the constant watch of British forces. When a visitor arrives with the job of rooting out an informer, paranoia grips the farm. Joe, his son Thomas, and long-serving farm hand, Barney, all fall under suspicion. The isolated farm becomes the setting for the electrifying exploration of a family tested by loyalty to their cause and each other.
The finest Irish actor of his generation
The play is both blackly comic and chillingly real, with an atmosphere taut with tension. Among the cast is Belfast native Lalor Roddy (pictured above ), hailed by Fintan O’Toole as the finest Irish actor of his generation. Roddy provides a connection with the premiere production of the play in the Abbey 10 years ago in which he also featured, then in a short cameo, now as the farmhand Barney.
“At that time the shit was hitting the fan with how many high-ranking IRA people were actually informers,” he recalls as he thinks back to that first production. “It was a really contentious issue at the time and it left everyone in Northern Ireland very uncertain. It was a paranoid time, that period raised a lot of unanswered questions and the play taps into that. It was also the discovery of a new writer and there was a lot of hype and excitement about it. It’s a terrible pity Stuart’s been taken up in TV recently, there is a mighty play in operation there, it’s quite brilliant.”
Lalor was in his thirties when he made his first, fateful foray into acting. Two of his siblings, Andrew and Ethna, had already preceded him onstage, and theatre was part of their formative years.
“Theatre was very much part of our upbringing and the cinema as well,” he tells me. “My mother was associated with the Lyric Theatre in its early days in both a managerial and performing capacity back when they were in Derryvolgie Avenue. We were dragged along to the theatre and I never lost a love for it. It was a magical experience where you were transformed to another world. My mother’s father managed cinemas in Belfast, in the Falls Road and the top of the Shankill, and he would have brought me along on a lot of Saturdays to the matinees and that filled me with a similar love, so that love was always there despite me taking another route in life.”
“I was a psychologist before I was an actor. My sister who was an actor is now a psychologist. My brother Andrew, who was known from Glenroe, is now a musician living in Donegal. My path into theatre began when I was seconded by the Eastern Health Board to Trinity and while doing that I joined the Teachers Club, I did some work with them, they were a well-known amateur drama group in Dublin. Then I took a year out from my job and co-founded Tinderbox with Tim Loane, and Tim and I used the early years of Tinderbox to train ourselves.”
‘Barney is a scapegoat’
Roddy’s earliest professional roles were with Tinderbox, but he then landed a key role in the Lyric’s staging of Arthur Miller’s Over the Bridge. Shortly afterwards, the Royal Shakespeare Company cast him in Billy Roche’s Amphibians and he also featured in John Crowley’s Shadows, as well as a brilliant staging of three plays by JM Synge and WB Yeats. Roddy was also cast as the Provost in Michael Boyd’s highly praised Measure for Measure in the RSC’s main house. Patrick Mason then cast him in his landmark Abbey Theatre production of Frank McGuinness’s Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme.
The Abbey also cast him in the world premiere of Gary Mitchell’s scorching play about Belfast loyalists, In a Little World of Our Own, for which he won the ESB/Irish Times Award for best supporting actor.
“Gary and Stuart are coming from different perspectives of course but very similar voices in a way,” he observes of the playwrights’ perspectives on the Northern Troubles. “Neither of them are afraid to be critical of their ‘sides’”
Lalor previously featured with Decadent in the iconic role of Francis Hardy in Brian Friel’s classic play Faith Healer. “I can’t think of Frank without thinking of Michael Diskin,” he tells me. “It was one of his last productions. He showed great courage to all of us and he was a great credit to Galway theatre.”
“Barney is a scapegoat,” Lalor tells me about the character he plays in Defender of the Faith. “He is set up before the play begins as the fall-guy for the higher echelons and the authority figures within the organisation. It is still a very sensitive subject.
“People like Jean McConville were very like Barney, scapegoats to cover up the higher-up figures in the IRA and that’s still extremely controversial to this day. What Barney represents, there is nothing innocent about him, he’s child-like but he’s guilty in the sense that he’s involved.”
One intriguing aspect of Barney is that he has a warmer relationship with Thomas than the gruff cursing father Joe.
“I see Barney as the missing mother,” Lalor observes. “He is the only allowance that Stuart gives to femininity and that notion of caring and men being affectionate. I always thought there was that feminine aspect in the Barney and Thomas relationship within the family dynamic. He represents that missing mother I think.”
Defender of the Faith features some of Ireland’s best actors including, as well as Lalor, Anthony Brophy, Diarmuid De Faoite, and Michael Ford-Fitzgerald. The play is directed by Andrew Flynn and runs at the Town Hall from Thursday October 2 to Saturday 11 at 8pm, with the first three shows being previews.
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie