Amateur drama continues to thrive in Ireland.
Hundreds of drama groups from all corners of the country are busy rehearsing plays in their local community halls for either a handful of local performances or the one-act and three-act festival circuit.
However, one group of actors from the west of Ireland have taken it a step further. They’ve written their own play and based it around old Irish sayings.
The play -It’s the Real McCoy – is now the longest running continuous touring production of an original play by an amateur group in Ireland and author Tommy Marren explains to Ireland’s Own the background to the phenomenon of the play’s success.
Have you ever heard these old Irish sayings? “What’s in the dog always comes out in the pup.” “A squeaky bicycle always gets the grease.” “He was as lazy as sin. If there was work to be done in the bed, he’d sleep in the wardrobe.” “Never tell a lie unless it sounds better than the truth.” “The cock can crow but it’s the hen that delivers the goods.” “Love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener.” “Before you do the quick-step down the aisle with my daughter, you better prepare yourself for a long, slow-waltz with me at the back of the church.”
Two years ago, Tommy Marren – a current-affairs presenter with Midwest Radio in Mayo – decided to engage in an experiment.
He was always intrigued by the hundreds of old Irish sayings he had heard as a youngster growing up in rural south Sligo and decided to write a three-act play where all these sayings would form part of a story that would see the witty one-liners used in context.
The play, entitled It’s The Real McCoy, has become the success story of amateur drama in Ireland and, with almost 200 live performances undertaken in Ireland, the UK and America, it is now the longest running amateur production of an original play in Ireland.
The script is hilarious and the old Irish sayings simply flow for over two-hours each night. “Old Irish sayings always fascinated me and I wanted to do something different in order to archive this part of our culture for future generations. I could have simply written them all in book form, but I wanted to put them in context so that people really understood the true meaning of the sayings and I thought what better way than in a play and its proven to be an overwhelming success”.
It’s the Real McCoy is set in rural Ireland over two days in the spring of 1964. It tells the story of Madge Molloy – a woman in her late sixties – who has lived over forty years of her life wondering why her husband, Tom, whom she was married to for just five months, disappeared without trace or reason. Madge was expecting her only child at the time and was left to rear Maura on their small farm.
Needless to say, Madge has became bitter about men in general but the arrival of a new curate to the parish – namely Fr. Michael McCoy – is about to reveal the circumstances behind her husband’s hasty exit and his wish to return to explain to Madge why he left.
The storyline gives Marren plenty of scope and opportunity to weave the old Irish sayings into his script and the proof of the success of the play is that the group will shortly undertake their third consecutive nationwide tour to meet the demand of audiences to see the story unfold in the humble kitchen of Madge Molloy. So what does the author attribute the success of the play to? “First of all, I think the kitchen set itself evokes memories of what kitchens looked like back then.
The Sacred Heart picture, the kettle hanging from the crook, the St. Bridget’s cross, the John F. Kennedy picture, the dresser laden down with delph and, of course, the milk churn. “Secondly, the storyline sucks the audience in right from the start, but without giving away the end right until the second last line of the play itself, and the most important thing of all is the characters.
“As well as the dominant Madge herself, there’s a great array of characters that include the two nosiest neighbours you’ll ever experience, a nervous curate, a gormless postman and a husband who is returning to what is best described as a potential battlefield! “So the entire ‘mix’ has captured the imagination of people beyond my wildest expectations and the audiences are leaving the theatre on a real high.”
The entire cast possess a real passion for theatre and the scale of the success of this play can be measured by the fact that they sold out three consecutive nights at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre last summer – the first time an amateur production has graced the famous venue in decades.
As the popularity of the play grows, Tommy Marren says he’s delighted that younger audiences are now coming to see the play. “Word of mouth is the best marketing you can get to guarantee a full house and as people see the play they are recommending it to others so the whole thing just keeps snowballing. We initially planned ten shows and now we’re heading towards two hundred.
“We always make a point of meeting the audience immediately after the show and the amount of people who say they’ve seen it five or six times is almost scary! “The numbers of younger people coming to see it is growing all the time and they’re blown away by it. I’m really heartened by the fact that the script of this play, coupled with its popularity, means that these old Irish sayings will live on for future generations to enjoy.” Realising the swell of popularity the play is generating, the group recorded an on-location DVD of the play and it is winging its way to all corners of the world.
The DVD is the exact same script of the stage production, but was filmed at an old Irish cottage on the outskirts of Knock in County Mayo with some of the scenes filmed outdoors. Tommy Marren hopes that this success story will inspire other drama groups around the country to do the same. He believes that there is an appetite for a new wave of Irish comedy that relates to the Ireland of the 1960’s.
“There is no doubt that John B. Keane, Tom Murphy and other amazing Irish playwrights have left an indelible mark in Irish drama over the years, but I think we need some new material based around the ‘old’ Ireland. Drama groups just need to ‘tap in’ to their inner talents and do what we’ve done. It’s not rocket science, and once they have self-belief they can take it to a new level. If we can do it so can they,” he argues. ‘It’s the Real McCoy’ begins its next nationwide tour in late December at the Hawkswell Theatre in Sligo and will be followed by performances across the entire country during the first half of 2015. If you’re a lover of Irish comedy, then it’s one play you won’t want to miss.