News Irish News

Friday 29 August 2014

Alan Devlin: an actor and a gentleman

RORY EGAN

Published 22/05/2011 | 05:00

  • Share

DRESSED in full admiral's regalia, Alan Devlin famously told the audience in the Gaiety Theatre "f**k this for a game of soldiers" in the middle of a performance of HMS Pinafore -- and stalked off stage.

  • Share
  • Go To

Because he was still 'miked up', the stunned audience then heard him making his way through the stage door, through the alley at the back of the theatre, enter Neary's pub in full costume, complete with ceremonial sword, order a pint of stout and chat to the barman.

"The fact of the matter is I was drunk, realised the task ahead of me was too much and I couldn't hack it, and I just panicked," he said later of the famous 1987 incident.

Naturally enough, he was fired -- but when the play transferred to the West End of London, impresario Cameron Macintosh, realising the publicity value of Devlin, ordered his agents: "Get him back, just make sure there's no repeat of the fiasco."

Alan Devlin was found dead at his house in Dalkey on Friday, May 13, and six days later his mother Alice died.

He was one of Ireland's most colourful actors, but a chronic alcoholic who ended up homeless in Dublin, London and Galway at various stages of his career.

When he was drinking he went on heroic binges -- and still managed to work.

"I remember when I was filming Playboys in Cavan, Sean Penn was staying there with his wife Robin Wright, who was in the film. Sean said to me one time: 'You know, in the States with your kind of behaviour, you'd be history by now.'"

Born in Dublin in 1948 to Johnny and Alice Devlin, his father was a well-known jazz musician, who played for RTE, and had a residency with Matt Feddis and the Dungeoneers in the Killiney Castle Hotel. Brought up in Booterstown, he hated the Christian Brothers in Mount Merrion where he was lashed with the leather and claimed that he got a thirst for the theatre when he ran away to join the circus.

He got into serious acting with the New Irish Players in Killarney, but eventually left under what he called 'a dark cloud'. "I went from the age of 17 to 47 and I still don't know how. I do know I was standing in my own shadow for too long," he said in a 1995 interview with The Sunday Indepenent.

He first came to national prominence with a a lucrative part in Harp lager's first television advertisement. He then moved to London to pursue his dream. It was there that Alan met with success and failure in equal measure. He appeared as an East End criminal in Wilton's Theatre in the West End, was directed by Ken Campbell in the Half Moon Theatre, and by all accounts gave one of the best performances of his life in Chekhov's The Seagull.

But his battle with alcohol had become a problem. He drank everything he earned and fell out with fellow actors and directors.

In 1984 he won the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten and was famously asleep in his hotel room when he was due on stage to receive it.

He was greatly admired by many famous actors including Anthony Hopkins, Frances de la Tour, Joss Ackland and the Cusack sisters. His film work consisted of countless fine performances, such as Fr Damien in Song for a Raggy Boy, Mr Riley in War of the Buttons, Laurence Rush in Omagh and Simon Dedalus in Bloom.

"Alcohol is poison to me,"he said in one interview.

As a result, when he was in a period where he wasn't drinking, he worked tirelessly to help anyone he knew with a similar problem.

Devlin had heart surgery a couple of years ago and those that were familiar with his gait, walking around Dalkey with his hands behind his back, would say that he never fully recovered from it.

Sunday Independent

Read More

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News