Behan there, done that! – Interview by Frances Winston
Acclaimed writer and director Conall Morrison may be one of our most prolific and accomplished artists but undertaking a project on the scale of Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy is a big task for anyone. With a mammoth cast and a story on a grand scale this is epic theatre at its finest. However, he remains decidedly unfazed by the task and rather seems to relish in it saying:
“There are such a range of characters so you need a cast that would be properly able to fit to that challenge. A cast of more than four people is a rare enough thing nowadays and we have 37 so it was also great for the actors to work in such an ensemble and it’s a real bonus for the audience.”
Conall was speaking to us shortly before the show opened in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre. As if mounting a production like this isn’t enough of a challenge it is also the first time this will have been performed on the Gaiety Stage in 25 years and it marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Brendan Behan – so no pressure! However, it turns out that Conall is a huge fan of the legendary writer and is intent on doing justice to the man rather than the myth.
“I think Brendan’s personality is going to top everything,” he laughs. “What we’re trying to get across is all aspects and sides of Behan and the way his wonderful kaleidoscopic mind works. We’d be missing the point if there wasn’t wit and anarchism in the story but there is also an intelligence behind it. Behan was a master at being entertaining with an edge. While he was sort of a drinker and carouser there was more to him than that and the task of the play is to shine a light on his humanity and intellect.”
The story is famously Behan’s biographical account of his time spent in Borstal in England after being arrested with a suitcase full of explosives. Adapted here by Frank McMahon and starring Love/Hate’s Peter Coonan and Calvary’s Gary Lydon the tale remains an enduring one thanks to its brutal honesty and dark humour and Conall believes that this production ticks all the boxes when it comes to satisfying the audience.
“They rang me and asked would I be interested in doing Borstal Boy and I was thrilled. I am a big fan of the book. It is such an enjoyable read. I knew that Gary Lydon was a big Beehan fan and I had seen Peter in several things including Philadelphia Here I Come and on TV and I thought he was fabulous. But while they are the names people mention they are only two people out of the whole cast and the whole picture is the main thing. You need all the elements for it to work.”
Of course this production would be nothing without the blessing of the Behan family which Conall claims they have telling us: “They’ve been in touch and they’re very positive. There’s a lot of well wishing coming from that department.”
Borstal Boy runs in the Gaeity theatre until October 11th. Tickets from €24.50 including booking fee. Show starts 7:30pm nightly with a 3pm Matinee on Wednesday and Saturday.