independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Still waiting for the real Michael Colgan

It was yet another opening night at the Gate Theatre and Michael Colgan was moving towards the expectant throng at the bar. "I'm going to talk to my 300 closest friends," he quipped to the camera crew as he headed into the melee, squeezing an arm here, kissing a cheek there, whispering into ears, cracking jokes and generally extending his beneficence to the great, the good and

It was yet another opening night at the Gate Theatre and Michael Colgan was moving towards the expectant throng at the bar. "I'm going to talk to my 300 closest friends," he quipped to the camera crew as he headed into the melee, squeezing an arm here, kissing a cheek there, whispering into ears, cracking jokes and generally extending his beneficence to the great, the good and the privileged who attend such first nights.

Afterwards, the interviewer asked him if he was conscious of 'performing' on such occasions. "Yeah," he conceded, then paused expertly before adding, "But I'm performing now" and fixing his questioner with a sardonic look.

This came towards the end of Arts Lives: Waiting for Colgan (RTE1), David Blake Knox's profile of the Gate's long-time and very successful director, a film that offered a lively and entertaining account of what Colgan does and how he behaves but conveyed little sense of what makes him tick.

I've known the man for more than three decades and I've always liked him for his energy, forthrightness and undeniable charm, but it's been a superficial acquaintance. Having tried to peer behind the public persona, I've never been able to make up my mind whether he's being deliberately opaque or what you see is what you get. The film didn't enlighten me in this regard.

Nor was it revealing on some other aspects of his life. He spoke of his fondness for women, which is genuine and commendable, but nowhere in the hour-long profile was there any mention of his long-time spouse Susan Fitzgerald, whom he met while they were in Trinity Players and who I imagine must have had a considerable role in his life and career. This relationship, it seems, was decreed to be out of bounds, but for anyone who has known the public or private man, its omission left an unsatisfying void in the film.

He spoke, too, about his fondness for wine and about the fact that "an enormous amount of my work is done over a glass of wine", yet anyone unacquainted with the man wouldn't have been aware from the film that he was a teetotaller until he was in his forties. So what caused his decision to have a drink? It would have been interesting to know.

Otherwise the film was engrossing and vividly caught the public man, both in his own words and those of the eminences who've succumbed to his persuasive ways - persuasion being his greatest attribute, as he said himself. Harold Pinter praised his "ebullience" and "enthusiasm", Ralph Fiennes spoke of his "seductive personality", while director Alan Moloney deemed him "very entertaining and great fun to be around". He also, as Atom Egoyan observed, "adores actors", which helps when you're trying to smooth the easily ruffled feathers of a notoriously temperamental profession.

Yet he can get up people's noses, too. There are still diehards around who lament the passing of McLiammoir and Edwards from the Gate and who sniff at the 'commercialism' of Colgan, even though his extraordinary success with the theatre has as much to do with his Beckett and Pinter seasons and other unpredictable ventures as with the crowd-pleasing dramas that are necessary to keep the place financially viable.

However, even the innovations attract sardonic comment, Alan Moloney observing of the Beckett marathon: "I think what he did was that he took an enigma and he turned it into a brand."

That may well be, but who else would have had the nerve to set the project in motion and the neck to see it through? All in all, Michael Colgan's a good thing and we should be glad we have him.

Is Samantha Mumba a good thing? Or a bearable one, anyway? Not on the evidence of Get Your Act Together with Harvey Goldsmith (Channel 4), in which the British impresario got steadily more bemused, bothered and belligerent as he tried to revive the sultry singer's stalled career.

The narrator promised us "a battle of wills as Harvey locks horns with the diva from Dublin", and sure enough, within minutes a jet-lagged Harvey was sitting in a house in LA waiting for the songstress to bother to turn up for a meeting. "I'm really pissed off!" Harvey fumed. "I'm f...ing angry!"

Three hours later, still waiting, he was snarling, "This woman's doing my head in! I don't understand what planet she's on!"

Samantha, who was out practising aerobics or getting her nails manicured (I can't remember which) finally appeared and agreed to record a few songs. When these weren't forthcoming in time, Harvey ranted, "She needs a kick up her backside."

Back in London, he lined up three prospective managers for her, one of whom ungallantly remarked that, if "What's happened to Samantha Mumba?" was the question, most people's answer would be, "Who gives a toss?"

Not many, actually, because when Harvey then arranged a Vicar Street gig for her, only 24 tickets were sold in the first few days. His Irish colleague advised him, "Just pull it, nice and gently. Just get rid of it."

Samantha, though, ignored this advice and went on The Late Late Show to plug the gig, after which it still had to be pulled. "The number one rule in show business," Harvey railed despairingly, "is never, never publicise a failure."

Finally he got her a showcase in London attended by music executives. The reaction was good, but afterwards he told her, "Now you've got to kick arse and deliver." We're still waiting.

Dispatches (Channel 4) offered us David Cameron: Toff at the Top, a 60-minute diatribe against the Tory leader by right-wing columnist Peter Hitchens. His thesis was that "the main opposition party has been hijacked by an elitist group of political careerists", and he had the support of many disgruntled Conservatives, including think-tank boss Robin Harris, who thought Cameron "an out-and-out opportunist - I don't believe that he believes anything."

The programme gleefully skewered Cameron and his cronies for their posturings on the environment and on hugging hoodies and it was great fun, though I doubt that its victim thought so.

jboland@independent.ie

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