(l-r) Declan Brennan as Patrick Pearse and MJ Sullivan as James Connolly in 'Pull Down a Horseman'. The play was written by the Monaghan-based playwright, Eugene McCabe for the 50th Anniversary of the Rising in 1966 and was later presented in the Abbey Theatre. In a new production, directed by Conor O'Malley, the play is one of many dramatic and historical events in 2016 for the centenary of the events of 1916, which led to the establishment of the modern Irish state.
During 2016, I played Patrick Pearse in a series of presentations of Eugene McCabe's play Pull Down A Horseman, produced by Dublin Lyric Players. The play is about a secret meeting, between Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), which took place over three days, ending on Sunday 16 January 1916. They debate the aims and objectives of the Easter Rising and agree a date for it. Venues in Dublin included the National Museum, National Library, Liberty Hall and Áras an Uachtaráin; and the play was also performaed in the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Read more.
As the home page declares, the work shown on this site is 'all about performance'. The projects outlined here are just a sample of the type of work covered when I step in front of a live audience or a camera and perform in person. That can range from acting on a theatre stage, or playing a role that is recorded on camera. It may be storytelling or reading at an event or on radio, or master of ceremonies at a corporate or other function. Much of this work is never recorded, but there is an example of performing to camera included on my YouTube Channel. The dramatised corporate video below was produced for the Irish Commercial Mediation Association.
Since April 2003, the ICMA has been promoting and developing commercial mediation in Ireland. It is a voluntary not-for-profit association, where members are those interested in the provision and development of commercial mediation. The extract from the video (above) highlights my role as the 'Mediator' in the drama documentary produced to promote their work. To see the full video, visit icma.ie
The readings in the Audio Player are available for download. Some are taken from roles played on stage while others are from writing that lends itself to audio media and portrays a variety of characters.
To listen to one of the audio samples, select the file name or format (MP3 or OGA). To download one of the files, right-click (Windows) or ctrl-click (Mac) on the MP3 or OGA format link beside the file name.
(OGA is an audio OGG file required by some internet browsers.)
Writers:- 1:Shakespeare, 2:Oscar Wilde, 3:John Steinbeck, 4:Eugene McCabe,
5:Thornton Wilder, 6:Seán O'Casey, 7:Declan Brennan
I established Vermilion Productions as a vehicle for performers and creative teams to meet from time to time to create productions of a variety of works for theatre and other venues.
Two of my roles under Vermilion Productions were Dr Who at the Young Scientist Exhibition in the RDS, Dublin and the professor in David Mamet's Oleanna at the Mill Theatre Studio, Dublin.
I also work as a member of the creative team with Mill Productions, the performance company attached to the Mill Theatre, Dundrum Town Centre, south of Dublin city.
Work on ADR (Additional or Automated Dialogue Replacement) is one of those aspects of cinema and television post production which can be described as an art designed to conceal itself. One of the most interesting examples of such voice acting for me was working on providing the dialogue that surrounded the lead actors in 'Game of Thrones', the medieval fantasy series created for television and produced by HBO in the United States. Together with several other actors, I worked with a voice coach and linguist at Ardmore Studios in Bray as part of the post-production, which was completed for the first series in Dublin. The characters we covered spoke in English and Dothraki, the language created for the inhabitants of the Dothraki Sea. The television adaptation was based on the series of novels 'A Song of Ice and Fire' written by George R. R. Martin and the first episode was broadcast in April 2011.
Examples of ADR work: Albert Nobbs — Game of Thrones — Love/Hate — Titanic: Blood and Steel
‘Albert Nobbs’ (2011) was based on a novella by Irish novelist George Moore. It was shot in Dublin and featured Glen Close in the lead role. She and Janet McTeer received Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations. The story is about a woman living as a man in order to find work in the harsh environment of 19th-century Ireland. She works as a hotel waiter, secretly saving to buy a tobacco shop to gain some measure of freedom and independence.
‘Titanic: Blood and Steel’ was a 12-part television costume drama series about the construction of the RMS Titanic in Belfast. It was shown one hundred years after the ship sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in the early morning of 15 April 1912 following a collision with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.
The Irish TV series ‘Love/Hate’ is set in Dublin's criminal underworld. The story is about rivalries within criminal gangs and was broadcast by RTÉ television from 2010. It has been sold in the UK, the US and several other countries including Brazil, Israel, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea. RTÉ International has also sold it to Netflix. I worked on ADR for two of the five seasons up to 2014.
Selected Acting roles & characters played
Where it appears, select 'Read more' to view additional notes and a photograph.
Two characters in Neil Simon's London Suite and Victor Velasco in a production of Barefoot in the Park (also by Simon) which was one of the last plays performed in Andrews Lane Studio, Dublin. Read more.
Three very different roles in Alan Ayckbourn's Confusions.
The iconic doctor in Albert Einstein meets Dr Who by Justin Richards at the Young Scientist Exhibition in the RDS, Dublin. Read more.
John Corbett in The Words upon the Window Pane and King Conchubar in On Bailes Strand both by W.B. Yeats.
Patrick Pearse in Eugene McCabes Pull Down a Horseman, which centres on a debate between Pearse and Connolly about the Easter Rising. This was performed, in the round, in the National Library, the National Museum and Liberty Hall, Dublin, first in 2007 and again in 2010 and 2016. Read more.
King Creon in W. B. Yeats translations of Sophocles Greek Tragedies Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus as part of the major Yeats exhibition in the National Library.
The Cardinal Inquisitor in The Life of Galileo written by the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht — a pragmatic, but sinister and very political prince of the church, who argues for the full rigours of the Inquisition to be brought to bear on Galileo when his scientific discoveries are seen to be in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Read more.
The role of the 'Mediator' in a video drama produced to promote the work of the Irish Commercial Mediation Association (ICMA).
The Atheist in Within the Gates by Sean O'Casey performed in Liberty Hall, Dublin. Read more.
Tomás McDonagh in Seven Lives for Liberty, in the Liberty Hall Theatre, Dublin and the Town Hall Theatre, Galway. Read more.
2013: Lennox and the Doctor in Shakespeare's Macbeth, for Mill Productions, Dublin. Read more.
2014: The Duke and Lodovico in Shakespeare's Othello, for Mill Productions, Dublin. Read more.
2015: The Duke of Cornwall and the Doctor in Shakespeare's King Lear, for Mill Productions, Dublin. Read more.
Oct 2016: The Player King and other supporting roles in Shakespeare's Hamlet for Mill Productions. Read more.
Feb-Mar 2017&2018: Voice of the Prince in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet for Mill Productions. Audio playlist.
The Professor in David Mamet's Oleanna, Vermilion Productions, in the Mill Theatre Studio, Dublin. Read more.
David Mamet's 'Oleanna'
In November 2013, I played the Professor in David Mamet's 'Oleanna' in the Mill Theatre Studio, Dublin. Oleanna is a powerful play about power – two people using and abusing it – a young woman and an older man — a university student and her teacher. They each in turn take and lose control of an emotional powder keg. In the hands of these characters, and the words they use and abuse, their failure to connect and communicate leads to an interpersonal minefield.
Considered to be one of David Mamet’s most controversial plays, this presentation of Oleanna by Vermilion Productions brought the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright’s compelling drama to the Mill Theatre in November 2013.
David Mamet is deservedly famous for many aspects of his writing, but none more than his unique ability to capture the essence of natural dialogue, particularly when it involves complex or even chaotic, disjointed thinking by his characters. In Oleanna he positions his actors in one of his signature minimalist settings and has them deliver some of the best examples of his craft. The background to the play, the production and the people behind it are covered at VermilionProductions.com but you can also Read more here.
Play broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 series 'Drama On One'
'Keys' — radio play for RTÉ 'Drama On One' series
On Sunday 18 December 2016, a radio play by Brendan Tiernan called 'Keys' was broadcast as part of the RTÉ Radio 1 'Drama On One' series devoted to new Irish writing. My character in the play was Fr Crowley, who had some advice for a young man in the local school on what makes a "great man".
The play is a nostalgic look back at an episode in the writer's childhood in North County Dublin in 1979. He recalls his final year of national school and his reluctance to take on responsibility for the school keys – a duty which had become the subject of family tradition and honour. As the play progresses he is challenged to change.
The narrator was Joe Taylor and the other characters were played by Liam Carney, Ian O’Reilly, Aileen Mythen, Caitriona Ennis, Rob Malone, Seána Kerslake and Cameron Simpson. The play was directed by Gorretti Slavin.
Original performance written for Tullamore Dew Distillery Launch
'Decades' — performance for Tullamore Dew Distillery Launch
In the autumn of 2014, the Tullamore Dew Distillery reopened following a major reinvestment by the owners of the brand, William Grant & Son. I was commissioned to write a short 15 minute performance piece to be played by four actors during a reception for 100 invited guests at a special event to mark the reopening of the distillery, which had been closed in 1954.
The event was held in the company's Visitor Centre in Tullamore, Co Offaly on 16 September 2014.
Together with three other actors, I performed the piece that I wrote for the event. The brief was to create an entertainment for the guests which would span the 60 years since the old distillery closed; reflect a few of the changes that had taken place in Irish society and culture; and conclude with a link to the sentiments expressed in the brand's 'Irish True' campaign, which celebrates "the poetic rebel in the heart of the artist, the defiant courage in the soul of the bard, the questioning boldness in the mind of the creator".
The four vignettes were a humorous mix of historical and cultural references with some social commentary delivered by four characters from each of four decades: the 1950s, 1970s, the Millennium and Today.
Historical drama in Dublin and Galway
Seven Lives For Liberty
In 2012, I played Tomás McDonagh in 'Seven Lives for Liberty', in the Liberty Hall Theatre, Dublin (April) and the Town Hall Theatre, Galway (November). Co-produced by James Connolly Heron (great grandson of James Connolly) and Frank Allen, 'Seven Lives for Liberty' presents dramatic vignettes of the signatories to the 1916 Proclamation with music and a multimedia backdrop.
The performance was a theatrical tribute to the men and women behind the Easter Rising of 1916. It combined drama, music and images from the period to portray the lives of the seven signatories to the Proclamation of Independence. It was neither propaganda nor a protest, but set out to illustrate and re-enact events from the not-too-distant past that shaped the course of modern Irish history.
The idea came from the songs of Pat Waters and the show was built around them and other music of the period; and it was set against a backdrop of images that depicted the characters and Dublin city in the early part of the twentieth century.
'Seven Lives for Liberty' began with the surrender at the General Post Office (GPO) on Dublin's O'Connell Street and then went back into the lives of the seven men. The human side of the leaders was portrayed – the people they loved, what they were passionate about and their very different personalities. They included playwrights, poets, writers, teachers and musicians. Read more.
The fourth Mill Productions Shakespearean presentation, 'Hamlet' directed by Geoff O'Keeffe, was presented at the dlr Mill Theatre for four weeks during October 2016. A total of around 5,500 people attended 27 performances of the play, which was staged each weekday morning, and also some afternoons, as well as a number of evening shows during the run. Nearly 60 schools came to see the play, from all over the country, and the response to what they saw was very positive, with many of the teachers commenting on how valuable it was for the students to see Shakespeare's great work brought to life on stage.
In addition to a number of the supporting roles (First Player, Player King, Sailor and Gravedigger), I provided still images and video sequences, designed sound for the play and created the multimedia representation of the Ghost.
As with the previous Shakespeare productions, the team assembled by director Geoff O'Keeffe and producer Karen Carleton made the whole experience so good for everyone on stage, behind the scenes and in the audience. Read more.
Shakespeare's 'King Lear'
The third Mill Productions Shakespearean presentation, 'King Lear' directed by Geoff O'Keeffe, was at the Mill Theatre in October 2015. The morning shows for schools filled the house and the few evening shows on Wednesdays throughout October were almost sold out.
My work for this presentation was in two roles on stage and another two off stage. I played the Duke of Cornwall and, after he dies in Act III, the Doctor towards the end of the play. Behind the scenes I worked on Sound Design and Photography for the cover of the programme and publicity. Some of those images are shown here.
It was great to get an opportunity to work with a wonderful group of like minds, in the pre-production phase and the rehearsal process and finally present the result to a theatre full of people every day (sometimes twice a day) for a month. Read more.
The second Mill Productions presentation of the work of Shakespeare was 'Othello', directed by Geoff O'Keeffe, at the Mill Theatre in October 2014. The poster on the left shows Siobhan Cullen as Desdemona and Steve Hartland as Othello. Once again I worked on stage and behind the scenes. I played the Duke in the first half of the play and the Venetian gentleman, Lodovico, in the second half. My work on Sound Design included the composition of original music; and after the run I produced a video of interviews with some members of the team, which was made available to schools as a teaching resource. More information on that aspect of my work is in the Multimedia section of this website.
The play was performed daily for a total of 56 schools and also for evening audiences a few times each week during the run. Read more.
The first Mill Productions Shakespeare presentation was 'Macbeth', directed by Geoff O'Keeffe, at the Mill Theatre early in 2013 with Bob Kelly as Macbeth and Hilda Fay as Lady Macbeth. My roles were as a member of both the cast and the creative team behind the production. I played the characters of Lennox and the Doctor on stage and was also responsible for designing the sound and digital media used on and behind the set. More information on that aspect of my work is in the Multimedia section of this website.
For much of the run, the play was performed twice a day, once in the morning for school groups and again in the evening for a second show that was open to the public. Read more.
Readings and performances from the works of James Joyce
Bloomsday — the works of James Joyce
Ulysses, to the Romans, was Odysseus to the Greeks in Homer's epic poem, the Odyssey. James Joyce used the name for his monumental work about a day in the life of Leopold Bloom as he wended his way through Dublin on 16 June 1904. That date was also Joyce's first date with Nora Barnacle, who later became his wife.
Joyce fans celebrate 16 June as Bloomsday all over the world. One such event was held in Roly Saul’s Restaurant in Dundrum, Dublin (2013-2016) where I presented readings from 'Ulysses' as part of a traditional Bloomsday brunch in the restaurant with entertainment that has included songs from Liz Ryan of the Drawing Room Opera Company. Many of those who attended came in full Joycean dress, adding to the authentic, fun atmosphere. Read more.
The Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre is near the schoolhouse that was the site of Joyce’s short-lived teaching career. I performed in Dalkey on some Bloomsdays, including 2015 and 2018, when I played his literary alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, in a dramatisation of the schoolroom scene from the Nestor Episode (Ep.2) of ‘Ulysses’. In the evening I performed the role again, together with that of Gabriel Conroy in a scene from ‘The Dead’, and was also a narrator for the Christmas Dinner scene from ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’. And in 2017, I got to play a very different colourful character in the Christmas Dinner scene, that of John Casey, who expresses his resentment against the local clergy for using the pulpit and confessionals to whip Parnell with the scourge of immorality, thereby subverting his political effectiveness. Dalkey Castle has organised Bloomsday events for many years with a regular company of performers, directed by Margaret Dunne.
The Young Scientist Exhibition was run by Aer Lingus for many years. In 2005 it was taken over by British Telecom.
The year 2005 was also the Year of Physics, so it was appropriate that the Young Scientist Exhibition, in that year, made reference and paid tribute to the work of some of the fathers of modern science. I won a tender to produce 'Albert Einstein Meets Doctor Who', which was one such tribute. The drama created by Justin Richards was performed in the exhibition complex within the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) every day, using much of the huge set built for the television presentation, culminating in a performance to 1,200 people on the final Saturday. Read more.
Deputy Governor Danforth
in 'The Crucible'
In 2014, I played Deputy Governor Danforth, in a production of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. This big, classic play with an ensemble of twenty actors is based on the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, but what it explores about the way people behave in communities, what drives them and how they deal with fear of the unknown has a modern relevance.
The story that is now known as 'The Salem Witch Trials' began when three women, Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba, a slave from Barbados, were charged with witchcraft. The practice was prohibited by law in that community, but was already viewed less fearfully by the increasingly secular and scientific view of the world prevalent in the homeland the Puritans left behind in England.
In a tragic chain reaction fuelled by a curious mix of local animosities and greed, personal and political power-plays and paranoia together with superstitious and religious beliefs, over 200 people were accused of practicing the Devil's magic. Between June and October 1692, this 'pure' society embarked upon an orgy of paranoid suppression, which included imprisonment without trial, where at least five men and women died in the unsanitary conditions, while their families were required to pay rent for their incarceration; torture to extract confession, which killed one Giles Corey; and execution by hanging, which ended the lives of 19 other citizens in Salem, a small village with a total population of around 500 people.
Over two hundred years later, Arthur Miller was caught up in another period of paranoid suppression — different in practice, but with parallels in principle. He was suspected of being sympathetic to Communism, because of petitions he signed and meetings he attended in the 1940s and 1950s. He was brought before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1956 and was convicted of contempt of Congress because he refused to 'name names'. Read more.
David Tristram's 'Unoriginal Sin'
This comedy written by David Tristram and directed by Brian Molloy was in the Mill Theatre, Dublin the week after Easter (26 to 30 April 2011).
In this hilarious comedy, Eve dreams of buying Eden cottage and garden, but paradise is in the hands of its two divorcing serpentine owners and the games they play!
This play was described by its creator as "the comedy with a little extra bite", perhaps because of its biting wit and the fact that it has some wry commentary on the human condition, if you're open to it. I played the lead character, Bill, an author whose romantic novels have earned him great financial success, but not a whole lot more. When you add in his wife, with whom he trades insults, his lawyer friend Miles who is arranging their divorce, the younger Eve, who catches his eye, her nerdy, librarian boyfriend Neville and her 'father', Fr Tomlin, you've got a cast of characters with a tale to tell that's full of great lines and lots of fun. Read more.
'Road to the Rising' organised by RTÉ for Easter Monday 2015
Road to the Rising
For Easter Monday 6 April 2015 RTÉ organised a series of commemorative events under the title ‘Road to the Rising’. With lots to see, hear and interact with, the day captured a flavour of what it was like to be in Dublin 100 years ago.
There were more than sixty events, starting at 11am and running throughout the day until 5pm, in and around O'Connell Street, where tens of thousands of people gathered to join in under clear blue skies and warm sunny weather.
RTÉ produced a short video to promote the events on Easter Monday.
My involvement was in four of those events — a series of readings on the stage of the Abbey Theatre in the morning of Easter Monday followed by the performance of a short excerpt from a 1915 play, adapted for radio, from the top of a tram in the centre of O’Connell Street. In the afternoon a longer section of the play was performed in the Abbey Theatre; and I played the role of Fr Nolan in the full version of the play from the stage of the Peacock Theatre as the final event of the day. 'The Spancel of Death' by T H Nally, which was adapted and directed for radio by Gorretti Slavin, was to have been performed in the Abbey Theatre during Easter Week 1916. Set in the West of Ireland and based on a true story, its portrayal of power and influence between ancient and modern beliefs has some interesting parallels in the background to the rising that prevented its original performance in 1916. Read more.
Scenes from the TG4 series 'Seachtar na Cásca'
Seachtar na Cásca
This bi-lingual, seven-part historical television documentary series, directed by Dathai Keane, featured dramatic reconstructions of key scenes and examined the lives of the seven men who were the signatories to the 1916 Easter Proclamation. It was the first major television series on the Rising since the 50th anniversary in 1966. It went into production by Abú Media in the second half of 2009 and the first episode was shown on the Irish TV channel, TG4, in September 2010.
The seven episodes in the series cover Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Joseph Plunkett, Sean Mac Diarmada, Eamonn Ceannt, Thomas Clarke and Tomás McDonagh.
I worked on two minor roles in the first two programmes. Episode 1, which featured the story of the ‘Father’ of the Rising - Tom Clarke. I was a British Prison Warden in that first episode. The shoot was in Kilmainham Jail in November 2009 - a cold, bleak location that sets the scene for the stories that unfold. In another scene for Episode 2, which didn’t make it into the final edit, I played one of two Dublin gentlemen, in James Connolly's kitchen, being persuaded by him to join his new Socialist party.
The series won the Irish Language Award at the 2011 IFTA’s and Best Factual Series award at the Celtic Media Festival 2011. Read more.
O'Casey's 'Within The Gates'
Within The Gates
As part of the Five Lamps Festival, Dublin Lyric Players presented 'Within the Gates', a play by Sean O’Casey that has been rarely produced.
The play is an intriguing, experimental and expressionist work, written while the author was still in his most recognisably creative phase, during the late 1920s.
The title comes from the location of the action — around Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park — during the four seasons of the year. The life of a Young Woman is gradually unfolded through her interactions with the visitors to the Park, including the atheist character that I play. As she stumbles through the seasons of her own life, O’Casey paints the broadest of human canvases in bold colours.
The performances were from Sunday 25 April to Saturday 1 May 2010 in the Larkin Room, Liberty Hall. Read more.
'The Life of Galileo' by Brecht
The Life of Galileo
The performance space in the headquarters of The Office of Public Works, when it was located in St Stephen's Green, Dublin, was the venue for a production of Bertolt Brecht's 'The Life of Galileo' presented by Dublin Lyric Players
The International Year of Astronomy (2009), was marked by many events throughout the year. The Italian scientist and philosopher Galileo Galilei was a key figure in these celebrations. He turned a telescope to the skies 400 years ago and made a series of significant discoveries that were the foundation of modern astronomy.
My character in 'The Life of Galileo' was the Cardinal Inquisitor. He is a pragmatic, but sinister and very political prince of the church, who argues for the full rigours of the Inquisition to be brought to bear on Galileo when his scientific discoveries are seen to be in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church. The play explores the powerful influences of science and religion on society together with Galileo's personal struggle with the choices he made. Read more.
'Many Young Men of Twenty' by John B Keane
In this play by John B Keane, directed by Karen Carleton, I played Daheen Timmineen Din. Keane wrote about a theme close to his heart, emigration, a subject which he felt gave rise to political hypocrisy. He had drawn on his own experiences in London and had highlighted the emigrants homecoming on holidays and eventual return to places and jobs they hated. The underlying theme was the emigrants desire to share their life again with their own Irish people. His anger with the political establishment who sat on their hands while bemoaning the fate of their people was and is palpable.
Declan Brennan as Daheen Timmineen Din in 'Many Young Men of Twenty'.
'Within the Gates' by Sean O'Casey
In this play, which dramatises the depression after the First World War, O'Casey has created what has been called by some 'a beautiful failure and a challenge to the modern director'. Others see faults in the writing, but nevertheless consider it to be a wonderful, poetic and courageous experiment, as much a musical as a play.
Rooted in seasonal ritual it attempts what an O'Casey play always attempts: to show life in an epic sweep but concentrated into a series of scenes in which humour and gaiety are intermingled with the most serious questions: abuse, harassment, misogyny, the church, responsibility, death and salvation.
Declan Brennan (The Atheist) and Patrick Dunne (The Dreamer) in 'Within the Gates'.
'Unoriginal Sin' by David Tristram
One of the great things about this play was that, depending on how you wished to approach it, it could serve up quite a varied menu. A full, but light bowl of nourishing laughter if that's all you fancied - or a bigger helping, if you had the appetite to explore an extra layer or two as you followed these delightfully imperfect characters through a few days in their quirky lives.
Either way, with no pretence at high art, it was very enjoyable to be in the company of my fellow 'unoriginal sinners' on stage for this play, which was directed by Brian Molloy.
Three of the cast members of 'Unoriginal Sin', whose characters formed a very dysfunctional triangle on stage! Ciara O'Byrne (Jenny), Susie Nix (Eve) and Declan Brennan (Bill).
'Road to the Rising' Easter Monday 6 April 2015
For Easter Monday 6 April 2015 RTÉ organised a series of commemorative events under the title ‘Road to the Rising’. Presented in collaboration with An Post, Dublin City Council, and the Ireland 2016 initiative, the theme was an exploration of life in the Ireland of 1915.
The main thoroughfare in Dublin, O’Connell Street (shown above in an illustration from before 1916), was closed to traffic from 11am to 5pm for 'Road to the Rising' events. On Easter Monday, 6 April 2015, I delivered a series of readings by key figures from the period (l-r above) Patrick Pearse, W B Yeats, Maud Gonne, Francis Ledwidge and Augustine Birrell. The readings were part of a series of discussions hosted by RTÉ on the stage of the Abbey Theatre.
There were more than sixty events on the day including lectures, debates, displays, exhibitions, readings, screenings, walking tours and re-enactments. Staff members from the National Library of Ireland conducted assessments of memorabilia in the GPO; there were also genealogical consultations conducted by Eneclann and Timeline; and valuations of artefacts by Whyte's Auctioneers added an antiques’ roadshow to the day. My involvement was in four of those presentations — three on the stages of the Abbey Theatre and the Peacock Theatre, and one from the top of on an old tram, like the one in the image above, the type which would have brought passengers in and out of the city centre in those days.
In the Abbey Theatre, I delivered a series of readings from the period by Patrick Pearse (oration at the graveside of O'Donovan Rossa), Francis Ledwidge (Irish poet killed during World War One), W B Yeats (poem 'Easter 1916') and Augustine Birrell (British Chief Secretary for Ireland from 1907 to 1916). Then, in the afternoon, I played the role of Fr Nolan in an abridged version of ‘The Spancel of Death’ by T H Nally, adapted and directed by Gorretti Slavin for the RTÉ radio programme, 'Drama on One'. Short scenes were performed first, for the thousands who gathered in O'Connell Street, from on top of the tram outside the General Post Office (GPO) and later in the Abbey Theatre; and finally, the full abridged version was performed and recorded in the Peacock Theatre. This forgotten play was due to be performed on the stage of the Abbey Theatre in Easter Week 1916, but was abandoned because of the Rising.
One hundred years after Easter 1916, as the commemorations put the second decade of the twentieth century in the wider context of the time, not everyone may agree with the relative emphasis on the many aspects and sides that played a part in those turbulent, but formative years. However, these presentations were a reminder of just how many literary figures were involved, directly and indirectly, and the richness of what was written then about those events and other less visible, but nonetheless significant cultural influences.
'The Spancel of Death', which we performed as a radio play in the Peacock Theatre on 6 April 2015, was based on an 18th century tale of witchcraft in which Sibella Cottle (above) planned to spellbind her lover, Sir Harry Lynch-Blosse of Balla, Co Mayo. Guided by a local midwife (Judy in the play), the red-haired beauty made a powerful love charm from the skin of a corpse. Known as the ‘spancel of death’, she would use it to put a spell on the 7th Baronet should he ever decide to abandon her.
'Oleanna' by David Mamet
"We can only interpret the behaviour of others through the screen we create."
So says the Professor in this play, which has triggered much debate and many arguments, over its content and meaning, since it first appeared in 1992. Mamet’s superbly crafted dialogue leads to different opinions and conclusions as audiences eavesdrop on the encounter between a student and her teacher in some university.
Both share an interest in learning and education, but that’s where the common ground ends, for in some respects, they’re like chalk and cheese. All that allows Mamet to explore themes such as language and meaning, how words can cloud not clarify and be weapons of verbal warfare; how control and status are not always linked and what happens when power gets into the mix.
Rehearsing 'Oleanna'. Aoibhinn Finnegan (Carol) and Declan Brennan (John)
'The Crucible' by Arthur Miller
"Life, woman, life is God's most precious gift; no principle, however glorious, may justify the taking of it."
There are many great lines in Miller's classic play about witch hunts, ancient and modern. The quote above is delivered by Rev. Hale in Act 4 when he is pleading with Elizabeth Proctor to persuade her husband to swallow his pride and lie to the court to save himself from a hanging, which Hale believes to be unjust.
Many years after he wrote the play, as he watched 'The Crucible' taking shape as a movie, Arthur Miller, wrote: "What terrifies one generation is likely to bring only a puzzled smile to the next. I remember how in 1964, only twenty years after the war, Harold Clurman, the director of 'Incident at Vichy', showed the cast a film of a Hitler speech, hoping to give them a sense of the Nazi period in which my play took place. They watched as Hitler, facing a vast stadium full of adoring people, went up on his toes in ecstasy, hands clasped under his chin, a sublimely self-gratified grin on his face, his body swivelling rather cutely, and they giggled at his overacting".
This small production by Balally Players blended the skills of a large ensemble of amateur and professional practitioners to produce a show which filled the theatre and thrilled audiences throughout the week in which it was presented in the Mill Theatre, Dundrum, Dublin in March 2014.
A montage of images taken on stage before a performance of 'The Crucible' in the Mill Theatre
'The Life of Galileo' by Bertolt Brecht
In The International Year of Astronomy (2009), Dublin Lyric Players presented a production of this classic play directed by Conor O'Malley in Dublin between 13 and 17 July 2009. The play is about the Italian scientist and philosopher Galileo Galilei whose discoveries, which convinced him that the Sun was the centre of the solar system, resulted in him being brought to trial by the Church and forced to deny the truth of what he learned about the universe.
'The Life of Galileo' was written by the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht in the 1930s. The play covers the later period in Galileo's life and the story deals with the conflict between his scientific discoveries and the teachings of the Catholic Church. The powerful influences of science and religion on society are explored together with Galileo's personal struggle with the choices he made.
The play was presented in association with Astronomy Ireland and the performances were in the exhibition space, 'The Atrium', at the centre of, what was at the time, the headquarters of the Office of Public Works 51, St Stephen's Green South, Dublin.
The Cardinal Inquisitor (Declan Brennan) with The Pope (Neil Hogan)
'Bloomsday' Dublin 16 June
As a schoolboy in Belvedere College, James Joyce and his classmates were asked to write an essay on ‘My Favourite Hero’. His essay was on Ulysses. He later wrote to Carlo Linati in 1920 that ‘The character of Ulysses has fascinated me ever since boyhood'. The work, which bears the name of his hero, was intended to be about and for everyone. Some would say that it has become one of the best known, but least read books. It is also said to have influenced many writers who followed in the footsteps of Joyce during the twentieth century.
Outside the Mill Theatre, Dundrum, Dublin, after the 'Bloomsday Brunch' in Roly's Restaurant on 16 June 2013, where the entertainment included songs and excerpts from James Joyce’s novel ‘Ulysses’. (l-r) Liz Ryan (Drawing Room Opera Company), Judy McKeever (Mill Theatre Marketing) and Declan Brennan.
'Seachtar na Cásca' TG4 television series
This seven part historical documentary series was narrated by Brendan Gleeson and featured dramatic reconstructions of key scenes, which examined the lives of the seven men who were the signatories to the 1916 Easter Proclamation. It was the first major television series on the Rising since the 50th anniversary in 1966. In that year RTÉ produced ‘Insurrection’, which was presented in the format of a series of nightly news broadcasts.
These revolutionaries, the fathers of modern Ireland, were a varied collection of individuals. The promotional material for the series describes them as follows: ‘One was crippled by polio at the advanced age of 28. Another was an accountant and a gifted piper who had played for Pope Pius X in Rome in 1908. One of them had spent eight years studying for the priesthood while another was a Scotsman by birth. One signatory had spent 15 long years in a British jail before 1900, convicted of Republican crimes and yet another signatory was the son of a wealthy Dublin landlord. The most famous [Padraig Pearse] was an educational theorist, a loner with a gift for oratory who was also an acclaimed poet and short story writer.’
The series was produced for TG4 by Abú Media - Pierce Boyce and directed by Dathaí Keane, the script was written by Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh and music was composed by Ronan Browne.
A scene from the TG4 television series 'Seachtar na Cásca' produced by Abú Media.
'Pull Down A Horseman' by Eugene McCabe
The play is about a secret meeting, between Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), which is said to have taken place in January 1916. Top of the agenda on the weekend of the meeting was a discussion about plans for the Rising and agreement on a date for it. The script is a fictional documentation of a private discussion between Pearse and Connolly during the three days on which the meeting is said to have taken place — the weekend of 19 January 1916. The factual outcome was that Connolly joined the IRB and committed the Citizen Army to join with the Irish Volunteers and a date was finally set for the Rising.
The meeting has a basis in fact, with Connolly 'invited' — some say 'kidnapped' — to join the most senior members of the IRB leadership, who wanted to convince him to join their efforts. The short one-act play is packed with historical detail, based on both the writings and known views of the two protagonists. Their arguments and ideas are pitched against each other in dramatic fashion.
I played the role of Patrick Pearse in presentations of the play directed by Conor O'Malley in 2007, 2010 and again in a new production presented in 2016 for the centenary of the events of 1916, which led to the establishment of the modern Irish state. 'Pull Down a Horseman' was written by the Monaghan based playwright, Eugene McCabe for the 50th Anniversary of the Rising in 1966 and was later presented on the Peacock stage in the Abbey Theatre. The play has become a classic of Irish political theatre.
While the play is based on historical research, no one knows for certain what happened at this meeting. However, as the two characters discuss, debate, argue and verbally joust with one another over whether and when to go ahead with the Rising, a fascinating insight into the two characters emerges. They were two very different people — intellectually well matched, but with very different backgrounds, political philosophies and perspectives.
The Dublin venues included Áras an Uachtaráin, the National Library, Kildare Street, Liberty Hall, the Pearse Museum, Rathfarnham and the National Museum, Benburb Street, which was home to soldiers (first British and then Irish) for 300 years. The 2016 production also included the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. In the 2016 production, directed by Conor O'Malley, Declan Brennan played Patrick Pearse and MJ Sullivan played James Connolly.
For more about the play and this production, see the Dublin Lyric website.
(l-r) Conor O'Malley (Director), Declan Brennan (Pearse), President Michael D Higgins, Mrs Sabina Higgins, MJ Sullivan (Connolly) at a performance of 'Pull Down a Horseman' on 9 February 2016 in Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the President of Ireland, in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.
'Hamlet' by William Shakespeare
'No one is likely to accept another man's reading of Hamlet'
— E. M. W. Tillyard
With that quote in mind I approached the various roles I had in the Mill Productions presentation of 'Hamlet' in 2016, directed by Geoff O'Keeffe. In addition to a number of the supporting roles (First Player, Player King, Sailor and Gravedigger), I provided still images and video sequences, designed sound for the play and created the multimedia representation of the Ghost.
As I sought inspiration for the sound and visual design, I found that the Ghost was behind much of the conflict in this very intellectual play centred on the young Prince of Denmark. That is not to say that emotion plays no part – it does. In this production, staged for schools by day and adults on some evenings during its four week run, Hamlet (the man and his story) displayed the full gamut of emotions – there were plenty of opportunities to laugh and cry – but the mental battles that drive him to the edge of his sanity (be it real or an "antic disposition") stem from what this student of philosophy has learned; what that learning leads him to believe; and how it sits with how he feels.
The Ghost is also a focal point around which Shakespeare spins the attitudes to such supernatural things in 1600, and all the unanswered questions in the play — about what's right and wrong; about being and dying; about what comes after, and what might come after you in the dead of night!
Shakespeare's time shares with ours many different ideas and some fearful puzzlement about the 'other world'. Elizabethan views of ghosts encompass a conflict of opinion that contributes to the ambiguity, contradiction and inconsistency at the heart of the questions posed throughout the play. In Shakespeare's time, one of religious conflicts, there were three different views about ghosts. A 'good ghost' might come back with divine permission to do something to help them purge their soul in Purgatory, so perhaps they should be welcomed and obeyed. However, as the Protestant Reformation had dispensed with Purgatory, those who followed that belief considered a supernatural visit to be a 'bad ghost', much more likely to have come from Hell – and probably a demon with the appearance of a dead relative to con you into doing something that would ensnare your soul into damnation. However, the university at Wittenberg, where Hamlet studied philosophy (as did Martin Luther) espoused the Humanist view of ghosts as manifestations of a troubled mind – figments of the imagination of people, like Hamlet, who have been through disturbing events, or have grappled with dilemmas that leave them in a 'bad place' where they conjure the ghosts out of their own mental distress.
Shakespeare does not make up his mind about which view should prevail. In fact, he uses all three as a foundation for some of the philosophical gymnastics and questioning in which Hamlet indulges, and exploits the conflict of Renaissance opinion to create uncertainty and doubt in the minds of his characters and his audience. An indecisive, procrastinating, immature young man is one view of the main character that emerges from this. However, in this production Hamlet was positioned as a more interesting, intelligent, passionate, funny and at times impetuous soul, who wrestles with profound questions thrown up by all that goes on around him – "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy".
Around 5,500 people saw this production through 27 performances in the dlr Mill Theatre in Dublin during the month of October 2016.
This photograph was one of several which I shot as part of a set to record the set and lighting for the production of 'Hamlet' in the dlr Mill Theatre. The characters shown in this photograph feature one of a number of roles that Brian Molloy and I played. The Gravediggers (l-r) Declan Brennan and Brian Molloy.
'King Lear' by William Shakespeare
Once again Shakespeare challenges us to garner sympathy for a man who is 'losing it'. And in one sense that's what this play is all about — loss — the man who can have, in the words of his doctor, "any thing", finds himself losing things he has no control over — the vim and vigour of his younger days, the power and status of his position, the respect of his courtiers, the love of his daughters and his tenuous grip on reality close to the thin border of sanity. The foolishness of the king who begins the play morphs into the sadness of an old man who seems to realise what he has lost and that he can do nothing about it as he starts to "crawl toward death". Little wonder then that King Lear has been described by some as a most depressing play. It also has, in the gouging of Gloucester's eyes, the most horrific Shakespearean scene. But against all that it's a story with insights into family strife that are contemporary in nature and it's darkness is counterpointed by moments of pure comedy that make it unashamedly entertaining. All of which has made it well worth the time and effort devoted to it and I hope those who come to see it will feel the same way.
The Sound Design that I created reflected the light and shade of the story, its characters and the approach taken by the director. Given its primary audience of young students of the drama, the sound design used the vocabulary of cinema and television, with which they would be familiar, to frame, link and integrate the many threads in this great play and to support the actors in their work. An example is the storm, which is symbolic of the explosive destruction of order and reason and also a metaphor for what happens to Lear's mind. In this production it has lots of inevitable thunder, wind and rain sounds, but it is corrupted by strange effects from the other side of sanity — harsh metallic sounds, animals whining and calling, forming a smothering cacophony against which Lear competes.
This photograph was one of several which I shot in a session for Mill Productions. One of the images was used on the cover of the programme for the play. Others, including this one, were used for publicity. The characters above are (l-r) The Fool (Shane O'Regan) and King Lear (Lenny Hayden).
'Othello' by William Shakespeare
The Tragedy of Othello, Moor of Venice, explores many themes including jealousy and betrayal; and the challenges and responses of those perceived to be different. The position of the outsider in society is explored, not alone by virtue of race, but also as determined by social class, education, power or influence.
The play was directed by Geoff O’Keeffe, who worked with Gerard Bourke on Set Design, Kris Mooney on Lighting Design and Sinead Roberts on Costume Design. In addition to taking two of the supporting roles (The Duke and Lodovico) I designed the sound and composed original music for the production. My work as part of the creative team behind the production is covered in a teaching resource video which I produced for the 56 schools that attended performances of Othello in the Mill Theatre. An extract from that video is on the Multimedia page with a link to the full 30 minute video on the theatre's YouTube Channel.
The final scene just before Othello kills himself and Lodovico brings the play to a close. The characters above (from a photograph by Emer Roberts) are (l-r) Cassio (Keith Hanna), Othello (Steve Hartland), Iago (Robert Fawsitt), Desdemona (Siobhan Cullen), Lodovico (Declan Brennan), Montano (Steve Curran), Emilia (Nichola MacEvilly) and a Gentleman (Pat O'Grady).
'Macbeth' by William Shakespeare
Macbeth is without doubt a dark play. It’s Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, but packs a powerful punch. It explores a heady mix of ambition, privilege and superstition and follows the leading man and his lady down a ruthless spiral of arrogance, madness and death.
Director Geoff O’Keeffe, working with designer Gerard Bourke, created a suitably monochromatic setting within which I could overlay sound and visual projections that prepared the audience and the stark space for the strength of the performances delivered by Bob Kelly (Macbeth) and Hilda Fay (Lady Macbeth). My acting roles were minor by comparison, but wonderful to play. I played the wavering Lennox, who followed the prevailing political wind; and the Doctor who had seen it all, knew where it was going, but also knew that, in the words of the First Tempter in T.S. Eliot's 'Murder in the Cathedral' spoken to Thomas Becket, “the easy man lives to eat the best dinners”!
During one of the rehearsals, director Geoff O'Keeffe and lighting designer Barry Donaldson set up Act 5 Scene 1 for Lady Macbeth's sleep-walking episode so that I could capture this image of myself playing the Doctor, Muriel Caslin-O'Hagan playing the Nurse and Hilda Fay who was Lady Macbeth.
'Our Town' by Thornton Wilder
'Our Town' is all about life and people living in Grover's Corner, New Hampshire. To quote the play - "This is the way we were in the provinces north of New York at the beginning of the twentieth century". Throughout the three-act play, we learn details about the town, the families and individuals who live there, love, marriage, life and death. "In a nutshell, this is an age of transition." said Thornton Wilder in a 1973 interview. "An age of transition is difficult for everybody. But it is an exciting age. Something is straining to be born."
The Mill Theatre in the Dundrum Town Centre, Dublin was officially opened by President Mary McAleese on Thursday 4 May 2006. The opening ceremony was followed by a performance (one of ten) of 'Our Town'.
Director Brian de Salvo (standing, left) with the cast and crew of 'Our Town' the first production in the Mill Theatre in May 2006.
'Seven Lives For Liberty'
I played Thomas MacDonagh in ‘Seven Lives For Liberty’, created by the director/producer team of Frank Allen and James Connolly Heron. McDonagh was a teacher with Patrick Pearse and, like Pearse, was also a poet and a fighter. The show set out to show, in their words, accompanied by music, song and images from the period, the people behind what they have come to symbolise.
The 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising will be commemorated by a wide range of groups in Ireland. Given the equally wide range of views of those events and how they should be remembered, it’s bound to raise a lot of interest and probably some controversy. Getting to know a little more about the minds behind the historic figures, and the lives they lived at the time, gives another insight into what happened and some of the reasons why; even if all aspects of it don’t fit as well into everyone’s worldview 100 years on. They had their differences too.
The Metropole Hotel and the General Post Office (GPO) Dublin after the Easter Rising in 1916.
'Barefoot in the Park' by Neil Simon
As one of the characters in this play says, "there are watchers and doers in this world". It was fun to engage in both of those activities with a great team of players lead by director Donal Courtney and producers Kelly-Anne Byrne and Laura McNicholas. This 2007 production of the play written by Neil Simon (which was also performed on screen by Robert Redford and Jane Fonda in 1967) was a first venture for 925 Productions. The company brought the play to 'Smock Alley' and later to the Andrews Lane Studio. In fact, this production of 'Barefoot in the Park' was one of the last plays performed in the Andrews Lane Studio before it closed its doors.
This shot taken during a rehearsal shows Jose Mantero (Paul Bratter), Declan Brennan (Victor Velasco) and Kelly-Anne Byrne (Corie Bratter).
'Albert Einstein Meets Doctor Who' by Justin Richards
The writer Justin Richards called me to let me know that I had been immortalised in a new encyclopaedic volume about Dr Who. Justin wrote a 45 minute two-hander in which I played the good, time-travelling doctor. It was performed during the BT Young Scientist Exhibition in the 2005 Year of Physics.
I won a tender to produce a show for BT Ireland early in their sponsorship of the Young Scientist Exhibition. Working with actor, director and drama tutor Donal Courtney on the project in 2004, we performed as Dr Who and Einstein, respectively, in Albert Einstein Meets Doctor Who. It was part of BT’s sponsorship of the ‘Young Scientist Exhibition’ in Dublin. The show, which was written by Justin Richards for BBC Worldwide and the Institute of Physics, was performed a couple of times each day in the RDS, Dublin during the exhibition in January 2005. The largest audience of around 1,200 adults and children was on the final weekend.
This book, full of facts, figures and stories from every iteration of the character's long life, is a treasure trove for dedicated followers of Whovian lore - and there are legions of them. As one reviewer wrote on Amazon Books, "every possible fact has been unearthed and researched", including my appearance as the good doctor, which is honoured on page 343!
The book is ‘Doctor Who: Who-ology’ by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright. The ISBN, because I know you’ll want to rush out and buy it, is: 978-1849906197
I created this collage from images produced for the show by photographer Donal Moloney and scans of the book by Scott and Wright, published by BBC Books in 2013. The part of Albert Einstein was played by Donal Courtney (top right), who also directed the play.