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'Field' day for Keane clan on opening night

MORE than 45 years after its Dublin debut, John B Keane's iconic play 'The Field' returned to the Olympia Theatre last night.

Telling the story of hardened farmer 'Bull' McCabe and his love for the land he rents, the first production was in 1965, with actor Ray McAnally as 'The Bull' and John B Keane's brother Eamon as 'The Bird' O'Donnell.

Although both John B and his brother are no longer with us, there were plenty of Keanes in the Olympia last night -- 44 of them to be precise, if you count cousins, nephews and grandchildren.

Among them the playwright's three sons, Billy, Conor and John, along with sister Joanne, and cousins Eamon and Fergal Keane, both broadcasters.

Leading the clan was the Listowel writer's widow, Mary, who hosted a reception before the curtain went up in The Olympia's theatre bar.

"I'm bursting with joy. John would love this. His play on and all the kids here to see it. It's an absolutely wonderful cast," Mary Keane told the Irish Independent.

Nearby sat the playwright's only surviving brother Dennis (66) who had attended the very first production in 1965.

"Ray McAnally was that good I can still remember it now and that if John was nervous that night, he certainly didn't show it," he said.

Another veteran of that run was actor Barry Cassin (86), father of RTE journalist Anne Cassin who was among last night's attendees.

Back then the queue for tickets had stretched around the corner, and the 2011 production starring American actor Brian Dennehy is proving just as big a draw.

"It could be the subject matter. This play is really about property. I think in Ireland now we all understand property a bit more than we used," joked Gate director Michael Colgan.

Actor and director Alan Stanford, meanwhile, described 'The Field' as a "brilliant record of a way of life lost with the final demise of Fianna Fail".

Cast and crew joined members of the Keane family after the first-night production for a second drinks reception where John B Keane's nephew Eamon Keane joked: "This week I discovered all sorts of relations I didn't know I had. They all wanted tickets for tonight. The Keanes are all here."

Irish Independent