Joe Dowling Interview

February 4, 2011

When you consider the pantheon of great Irish writers, looking specifically at the 20th century, you have your Synge, your O Casey and your Yeats shaping the theatrical cannon while you have your Friel, your Beehan and your Murphy solidifieing it. Then there is John B Keane who has to often been pushed aside as a rural story teller. Which he was. But as well as being a great storyteller and writing great characters, Keane also gave us a very interesting portrait of the Ireland, not just of old but of now. If there is one thing that Joe Dowling’s production, running at the Olympia till the 12th of February achieves, it is to show just how much Keane knew and understood the nature of the Irish man.

“He was a great social observer and critic” says Dowling, artistic Director of the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota and our theatrical prodigal son. “He has overlooked because he was popular and because he was done so often by the amateur movement. (Hugh) Leonard had the same problem since he wrote comedy. Until he wrote Da everyone dismissed him as a boulevard writer.”


While there is certianly a degree of snobbery involved would it not also be fair to say that often the practioners are at fault? They put so much emphasis on how something is said the audience don’t hear what’s actually being emoted or contained withn a speach?  “Because of the nature of his writing, which is so character driven, some productions can easily focus on the audience pleasing aspects rather than saying something more telling about the society he is setting up. And hes not above having a good one liner.”


“What we tried to do was make it slightly more complex. You want to create a sense that you are dealing with a bigger world rather than whats being represented on stage. “To do that he needed to siphon of the paddywhackery of more affected productions. “Why did the widow try and sell the field out from under him? Why is The Bull prepared to go to such lengths over a field? The reason we worked out was that she is terrified of this man. He scares her.  And while he is a bad character, prepared to commit murder and cheat widows out of their due, a lot of what he does is for (his son) Tadgh. And the desire to see Tadgh married and settled.” Something any one withan overbearing Irish Mammy can relate to.


The whole production came about when Pat Moynihan, of Lane Productions,  called Dowling and asked him if he would be interested in directing the play. The dates worked out, he always had an interest in Keane’s work so they started talking about actors. “We were looking to get a big name. It’s a commercial production and in commercial productions you need big commercial names. So the intention was to get someone whose recognisable from their previous work.Brian’s name kept coming up as somebody that we all thought would be ideal.”


Did he think there was a danger in having an American come in and play what could be considered one of the most xenophobic characters in Irish theatre? “The great thing about having Brian is that he came to the play complete fresh. He had no history with the play. He has a great knowledge of Ireland but there were lots of times we had to stop and explain the cultural references to him and this helped us to understand them better.”


Any fears that the piece was old hat by now has been disproved by the houses. “We’re packing out every performance. With all their difficulties people have a desire to see this play and be part of this experience. Its phenomenal.


Date: 31 January-12th of Febuarary 2011
Time: 7.30pm
Price: €30.00 – 35.00












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