I have never appeared in a Brian Friel play and, having admired his work since seeing Lovers as a small boy, I have been a fan. Dancing at Lughnasa is a masterpiece – a magnificent character-driven masterpiece that will always linger in the canyons of one’s mind years after seeing it. The opportunity to appear in a touring production is a complete joy.
Describe the role of Father Jack, the character you play
Father Jack is a gentle complex soul – a people-pleaser whose potential as a human being has never been unearthed. When we first meet Father Jack he has returned, after 25 years in a Ugandan leper colony, to his birthplace in the remote windswept wilderness of Donegal. He’s been defrocked by the Catholic Chrurch for abandoning his Christianity and adoring what the Church regards as false gods. After a year in Donegal, although still relatively young, Jack decides to die.
How do you approach the role?
I try to mould any character I play with the clay of my own personality - Does that sound very “luvvie” ? – well if it does I’m sorry, but it’s true...then I layer the character with quirks and traits that come from a back story I create for the character. Stage is different to television – it’s difficult for someone in the back of the stalls to see your facial expressions and eye movements but the camera reads minds.
Are there any similarities between you and Jack?
Well, I like to think there is. I once entertained thoughts of going for the priesthood and I if I had I most definitely would have become a foreign missionary.
What would you say are the main themes of the play?
I think Dancing at Lughnasa will mean different things to each individual who is lucky enough to see a production, so I feel that to say its themes are specifically this or that would be quite wrong. It’s a memory play – but it’s very accessible and open to interpretation – and perhaps the passage of time creates more memoirs than memories...
How relevant is the play to what is happening in Ireland today?
It depicts an Ireland that is a cultural and economic wasteland fuelled by a seething poverty of spirit among its natives and a toxic sexual repression – choking to death from subservience to the Catholic Church. Rural Ireland still has many problems – the arrival of drugs into villages and towns, the collapse of farming specifically and the economy in general and the upsurge in emigration is contributing to a very difficult period in Irish history.
What have been your other career highlights, apart from playing Patrick Harper in the television series Sharpe?
Living and working in Hollywood for nine years. But I had a stage in our garage as a child so acting was a natural career. I like a long television series where your character gets a story arc and can develop. I recently finished filming a new television series in the US based on the story of Camelot; I play Leodegrance, Guinevere’s father. But there are no more Sharpe episodes planned.