A Stage full of Memory

Standing off stage right on the final night of ‘South Pacific’ at the Theatre Royal, wearing green army fatigues, I looked towards my fellow lead Susan Boyce standing off stage left and gave the tiniest of nods. It was time to take our bow. It was time to bid farewell to a big week for both of us, the biggest yet in theatrical terms.We met in the middle of the ramp, strode down two steps past our fellow cast mates, holding hands, bowed together, bowed individually and then, at long, long last, we finally exhaled. Our fifth and final night before a packed Theatre Royal had come to an end. And as the cast stood together, Waterford Musical Society’s ‘South Pacific’ became our newest memory.

Ninety-odd per cent of the audience was standing. One hundred per cent of the audience was applauding. What a wonderful, validating feeling.The curtain dropped, the audience kept applauding so we held our ground and the curtain rose again. We took another bow and lapped up the ovation. And it felt great. Soul nourishing, even.Ageing adds context to everything. Twenty years ago, standing ovations were a great deal less frequent than they are nowadays. I genuinely feel you hard to earn it more in times past.

To play a principal role on the Theatre Royal was a privilege. A huge honour.  | Photo: Colin Shanahan/Digicol

To play a principal role on the Theatre Royal was a privilege. A huge honour. | Photo: Colin Shanahan/Digicol

Since the turn of the century, reality television has greatly diminished the significance of such an accolade but that’s not to say it still doesn’t retain some currency.Another bonus an ovation provides is how it reveals the extent of any night’s attendance. And as I scanned the Royal’s three tiers at the end of every show, I didn’t note too many gaps among the 432 berths. It made me want to applaud everyone who was applauding for us.

So at the very least, 2,000 people saw fit to splash some cash our way, all of which guarantees there’ll be another WMS show come 2020. You stage one show in the expectation that it will lead to another, so by that metric alone, ‘South Pacific’ proved a punt worth taking and an overwhelming success.At the end of our first run, we remained on stage as the crowds filed onto The Mall. Des Manahan, joined by his wife Mona, returned to the boards he has graced over a blessedly long and rewarding life as a performer, to congratulate us. He shook my hand and said to me: “Ah, the young fella from Portlaw; sure we’ll make something of you yet!” You could have knocked me over with a feather there and then.

Had I ever been any kind of a hurler, Des’s thumbs up that night would have been the equivalent of Martin Óg Morrissey patting me on the back for keeping Kilkenny’s full-forward scoreless after a big match at Walsh Park.To gain Des Manahan’s seal of approval means the world to me, and to see Des and Mona both looking so well was another welcome development in a week full of happy recollection.“Do you get nervous”, first time musical performer Keith Fitzgerald asked me before our final run of the show. To be honest, not the way I used to.

I certainly feel some sense of nervousness but I can’t say I’m overwrought or anything approaching that before I take to the stage, open my mouth and hopefully emit the right words or lyrics. Acting and singing of one’s own volition shouldn’t reduce one to jelly. It ought to be fun, even when it’s a challenge and there’s 400 people in front of you and an orchestra beneath you.I hardly sat down whatsoever during rehearsals in Mount Sion and didn’t sit at all during the show, other than when I was sat on stage, that is. I tend to pace off-stage and shake out my wrists and legs before making my entry and that certainly helps me to stay focused on the task at hand.

I’ve been distracted once or twice over the years on stage and it’s amazing how even the slightest unexpected off-stage activity can take you out of ‘the zone’. But another benefit that comes with age is navigating a route back to where you need to be in terms of the script. The best director in the world doesn’t possess such a compass so it’s important to retain faith in yourself.It’s important to remind yourself that you know the lines, that you know where you need to be in each scene and that you must take your fellow actor(s) into account during every scene: you want to do your best for them too. And none of us lost sight of that during ‘South Pacific’.

I’ve never been hell-bent on gaining any part in any production I’ve ever been involved in. Maybe I’ve never motivated myself enough to audition really well previously but I suspect I’ll be a little more clued in about such matters from now on.Ultimately, I love been on stage and doing whatever it is I’m asked to do irrespective of scale or significance and I suspect not taking this part of my life ultra-seriously has been to my benefit. It’s theatre, a lovely distraction that’s never been my be all and end all and it’s greatly enhanced my life over the past 23 years. The record now shows that I’ve played the male lead in a theatre that means the world to me, and that’s filled me with enormous, bells and whistles levels of pride. Now it’s time to play on…

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