Carrick’s Drama Society to stage ‘The Gigli Concert’
There’s a well-thumbed copy of Tom Murphy’s play, ‘The Gigli Concert’ on Tom Nealon’s sitting room table when The Munster Express calls to the Brewery Lane director’s home ahead of the play’s opening night this Saturday.”It’s not one we’ve done before,” said Tom, the Clare native who made Carrick-on-Suir his home thanks to a lengthy teaching career at the town’s CBS Primary (Green) School. “In fact, it’s not a play many groups take on given the challenge it poses. It’s a cast of only three people and each of the three have to be absolutely believable; it’s probably a once in a generation type production to stage in terms of having the people who are suitable for each part, and we’re so fortunate to have Barry Comerford, Colm Power and Suzanne Dunne filling these roles, although I do feel that Suzanne’s part is underwritten; she really only serves to illustrate the problems of the other two, but she plays the part beautifully.”
As for what the play is about, Tom wryly replied: “Well, we’re working hard on finding out! It’s not instantly obvious, I’d put it like that. But basically it’s about a fella we know as ‘Irishman’ (Comerford) who has a bit of a problem in that he wants to sing like the Italian tenor, Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957) as he’s been listening to what Gigli is singing and expressing in Italian, even though he doesn’t really know Italian, but nonetheless the music is expressing something to him, and this is why he wants to sing like him. So he goes to this cult figure, JPW King, (Power), a quack if you like, the sort of fella that was commonplace behind a desk in a small Dublin office during the 80s, a little like Scientology in one sense, encouraging people to look deep into their past to find a so-called ‘cure’ for their current ills or ailings.”
Tom Nealon continued: “It’s set in quite a run-down office in Dublin – it could be anywhere, in all honest – where this quack is in practice as a ‘dynamitologist’ – a fella who tells you that everything is possible, that’s it’s simply a case of putting your mind over everything else: new mind over old matter. Now whether he believes it or not himself is open for debate from an audience member’s perspective, and I always feel it’s a strength of a play, or any good story for that matter, that the dots aren’t automatically lined up for anyone sitting in the theatre. Thematically, this play is everything in its own way, and I can see people laughing at certain passages, but in an overall sense, the characters themselves take things very seriously, it’s pretty much a matter of life and death at times, but it’s a play which, I feel, if an audience stays with it, it will be worth it. There are elements of our own lives which, to others looking on, would find funny and farcical, even though we ourselves mightn’t consider it in such terms, and that’s often a great strength of a well-written piece of theatre. I feel that applies in spades when it comes to Tom Murphy’s work, and this play in particular.”
“We’re over the one hundred mark in terms of productions,” said Tom, reflecting on the Drama Society’s roots, which stretch back to the 1955 production of ‘The Playboy of the Western World’, which was directed by a 19-year-old Liam Clancy. “Now in the last few years, in addition to our winter and spring plays, we’ve also had the lunchtime theatre (play) which has run during the Clancy Festival (over the June Bank Holiday weekend). And when we were really ‘going crazy’ back in the 80s, we were staging three full-length plays and three or four one act plays annually; that would have been back in the time when we’d take a play to Athlone for the All-Ireland Drama Festival. And while that meant a lot of hard work, people really loved the social side of it, the travelling to and from Athlone and all the good humour that went with it. Sure they were great days, they really were.”
And while the joy of theatre still courses through Tom’s veins, he admits that it’s become tougher to stage productions in recent years. He explained: “I would say that a differing employment pattern is a big factor; an awful lot of people are on shiftwork nowadays and they often have to keep themselves available for work, meaning they can’t make themselves available for rehearsals. When I started, you have to remember that a lot of people lived in digs around the town – the Guards, the teachers, the bankers and so on – and they often found themselves at a loose end at night, wondering what they might do to put down an evening – and the same applied when it came to those who got involved in the Operatic (now the Musical) Society as well as the Drama Group. Getting involved with these groups gave people a way of filling their time and making friends, and it helped to shorten the winters. And it gave a lot of us a lot of entertainment, a real sense of fulfilment that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise had.”
That Brewery Lane Drama Society has sustained itself through such changing times is surely something Tom and his colleagues, both on stage, front of house and behind the scenes, should draw considerable pride from? “The affection and support for the plays we continue to stage and for the venue itself is great,” said Tom. “We appreciate the loyalty and the savvy of our patrons and audiences down through the years. It’s a great outlet for a lot of local kids, who get to develop their stagework while they’re in school – we still have a children’s drama section – and of course the Musical Society has its academy as well – they reach a high standard of performance and they get to develop their craft. Of course, the reality is that by the time third level education comes calling, most of them end up leaving the area and their talents end up being put to use in other communities, but they get a very good grounding at home, and most of them don’t forget that, to give them their due.”
Those behind the scenes, Tom added, “are the people who really keep things going, the people you never see and some of them never want to be seen and they really do a wonderful job. There’s John Denby, who has built so many fantastic sets for us, then you’ve people such as Eileen Nolan, Ann Mansell and Angelina Laiso who turn up night after night for show after show and help in whatever way they can, be it dressing a stage, getting costumes and props, the interval cup of tea and of course, Wattie Dunphy, Paddy Finucane, Eileen Butler, Mary O’Hanlon, Mary Finucane, Eamon Faulkner, Roseanne Glascott, Peg Power and all those no longer with us, including Liam Hogan, it makes for a lengthy list, and we’d have no group or theatre without all of them.” Tom has played a handsome part too, and welcomingly continues to do so. No doubt, the latest fruits of his directorial labour will soon be enjoyed by a great many of us. Best wishes to all ahead of another big week at the Brewery!