The Heelers Diaries

the fantasy world of ireland's greatest living poet

My Photo
Location: Kilcullen (Phone 087 7790766), County Kildare, Ireland

Friday, March 22, 2013

noises off

The curtain rises.
The mighty Heelers sitting centre stage immersed in the character of WB Yeats.
The play is Poets In Paradise.
It's about the greatest Irish writers of yesteryear meeting in a pub in heaven.
It's one of mine.
I wrote it for a millennium celebration in Kilcullen nine years ago.
It was to be a once off performance.
I swore I'd never appear in it again after that first disastrous night in the year 2000.
Then my Uncle Scutch took the piece, rewrote it completely, and made it entertaining.
Shortly thereafter I rejoined the cast in the role of Yeats.
It's been performed about fifty times since.
At golf clubs, in theatres, at receptions for a visiting delegation of teachers from Lithuania, at a dinner for academics, at the Hopkins Poetry Festival, for charities, in a convent, for schools, for tourists, and once even in a segregated prison for sex abusers.
I remember the prison performance very well.
It's surprising how fear can lend a certain zest to acting.
I recall right at the end of the show, a noisy and demonstrative crowd featuring some of Ireland's most notorious sex offenders, had crowded around me asking for autographs, and for other things which modesty prevents me from naming, and I looked up and saw my fellow cast members, the cold hearted swines, positively scuttling for the door.
They were like fawns bounding up the mountain path.
And devil take the hindmost.
It was a Kodak moment.
All for one and every Bambi for himself.
The rats leaving the sinking heterosexual.
Bloody hell, as my Uncle Peter used to say.
I was reluctant to flee in horror from my new fans.
They might get the wrong impression.
You see I was doing my Saint James of Compostela routine. I had freely chosen to come to the prison. I wanted to show the prisoners that I was not afraid of them.
Bugger that.
(Bugger you Heelers. - Prisoners note)
In the end I gave up and scuttled out with the best of them.
But Poets In Paradise has never looked back.
A play that was only ever to be seen once.
It's run and run.
And tonight the curtain has risen yet again.
Look closely gentle travellers of the internet.
Why is Mr Yeats scowling?
Firstly he is scowling because the actor playing him (me) doesn't really feel any affection or positive regard for the character of Mr Yeats.
Years ago I had asked poet and classicist Des Egan whether Yeats had been a devil worshipper.
Des Egan replied with a most unreassuring: "Ah not really."
Not really.
I always thought devil worship was an either/or proposition.
You're either in or you're out.
We live and learn.
I'm playing Yeats but I don't like him.
Now you know.
Secondly Yeats is scowling because I've just realised that the other cast members have made executive decisions without my permission to decorate the stage with candles in an attempt to suggest heaven.
In truth they did actually ask my permission.
And I said no.
I had advocated minimalism.
I'd told them not to try and suggest heaven.
Just tell the audience it's heaven.
And then act like it's heaven.
That's the Heelers method.
They'd ignored me and the stage area before us is consequently a veritable cornucopia of candles.
With some nice white silk drapes just to create a real fire hazard.
The play proceeds.
Our audience is from the State of Kentucky which has twinned with my own County Kildare.
They seem to like what's going on.
I am waiting for our big finish.
The big finish involves the dead Irish writers leaving the stage one by one singing Dublin In The Rare Ould Times until only Brendan Behan is left.
If it's done right it's the most beautiful thing you'll ever see.
I get up to leave.
The Brezzer, a soprano singing sensation who plays my guardian angel, accompanies me to the edge of the stage.
As she stands she picks up a candle.
WB Yeats gives her a look that would strip paint off a wall.
We walk out with her carrying the candle.
To all intents and purposes it looks like we're going upstairs to bed.
This is a resonance the author of the play never intended.
All down to the candle.
Yeatsy bedding an angel.
Ah for crying out loud.
I watch in the wings while the remaining cast members make their exits.
There's been another executive decision.
Uncle Scutch as Percy French and Maurice O'Mahoney, my former fourth class school teacher, as Patrick Kavanagh, instead of leaving singly, troop out together arm in arm.
I am aghast.
I don't even want to think about what this suggests re the nocturnal arrangements between Percy French and Patrick Kavanagh.
I had intended them to leave separately and along disparate pathways. I had intended to deliberately break the conventions of theatre by having all of us exiting from different directions into the wings. Because there are no real doors on this pub.
That's how Percy French and Patrick Kavanagh have exited the previous forty nine times we performed this play.
But not tonight.
I suppose it could have been worse.
I suppose they might have been carrying ephin candles.
Now Brendan Behan as played by businessman Vivian Clarke is alone centre stage.
This is our classic moment.
The song is over.
Brendan Behan says quietly to the audience: "I once was part of Dublin in the rare ould times."
The lights fade to black.
The audience should be left in total darkness.
It's a profoundly powerful moment.
Only tonight there's no darkness.
Tonight there's candles.
When the lights fade to black, you can still see Brendan Behan standing there like a gom centre stage.
And if you looked closely enough you might have seen WB Yeats in the wings with his head in his hands mouthing maledictions.


(First published August 2009, when the cast were still speaking to me.)


Blogger Genevieve said...

Really? Kentuckians twinned with Kildarians?

6:12 AM  
Blogger heelers said...

I think I have this right Gen. But it was a highly emotional night for me. Half the time I didn't know who I was talking to when hobnobbing with the guests, who I was supposed to be playing while declaiming on stage, what changes had been made to my play without my permission, or what my own real first name was.

12:43 AM  
Anonymous MissJean said...

This may be a reprint (repost? riposte?) but "The rats leaving the sinking heterosexual" made me laugh uncontrollably. Happy Easter, James.

3:49 AM  
Blogger heelers said...

MJ, It is a happy Easter right this moment.

7:38 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home