When I meet fellow Irish theatremakers in London, I’m always interested to see the work they’re creating. I was delighted to have the opportunity to ask Kevin Hely about how he came to take on the role of an Irish ex-soldier reflecting on his life and experiences of war in Rose of Jericho. He told me of how he and his father-in-law, Alex Martinez, came to work on the show together:
“Alex published a novel about 20 years ago called Kitchener Blues. It’s a beautiful novel, very filmic. It was coming up to the centenary of World War I and I’d been banging on at him to adapt it into a TV screenplay or film script. One night, and I have no recollection of this, but apparently I said, ‘Turn it into a play and I’ll do it.’ Six weeks later he presented me with this script. I was blown away by it.”
When I asked Kevin what it was like taking on an Irish role, he informed me that “it wasn’t written for an Irish person. I think Alex had initially imagined it as an English person, but there’s no barrier to joining the British army if you’re Irish. It just so happened to work.”
Kevin Hely is not alone as an Irish actor working in London as many Irish people move here or further afield to find work. It can be difficult for young Irish artists to find the conditions and collaborators to make work at home. Kevin co-founded Fly By Night theatre company with Conor McPherson and others in Dublin. In an interview with Carol Vander, Mcpherson describes what it was like trying to make work in Dublin when his collaborators had all moved on:
I think I was always convinced I was going to start making money as a playwright and so I only ever had a little part-time job on the go or whatever – no career. But others in the group began to get a little restless and there was nothing happening in Ireland at that time. It was before the whole Celtic Tiger thing, so people started to go abroad looking for work or getting a job if they could so … you know … it dwindled down a lot.
It can seem regrettable that young people move abroad when they can’t find a fertile creative environment at home, but there is a lot to be said for Irish people being represented in the arts internationally.