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Tuesday 25 September 2018

The Ginger Man lives ... 40 years after it was banned

MARESE McDONAGH

JP DONLEAVY confessed to being ``a bit terrified'' yesterday as he contemplated The Ginger Man being staged in Dublin for the first time since Archbishop John Charles McQuaid closed it down after just three nights in 1959.

JP DONLEAVY confessed to being ``a bit terrified'' yesterday as he contemplated The Ginger Man being staged in Dublin for the first time since Archbishop John Charles McQuaid closed it down after just three nights in 1959.

Not that he's expecting the same kind of reaction but he's a little nervous and ``very excited'' about how the play will turn out and that's no reflection on the Dublin Theatre Company who he described as ``highly professional''.

They have a lot to live up to in the dedication stakes. When the Archbishop's secretary came banging on the doors of the Gaiety Theatre 40 years ago, Richard Harris who played the title role of Sebastian Dangerfield was so angry that he wanted to hop on a plane to Rome to have a word in the Pope's ear.

``And the thing about Richard Harris is that he was very physically formidable,'' recalled Donleavy.

The 1999 cast, who bring the play to the New Theatre in Temple Bar for a seven-week run from July 13, may have been nervous as they prepared to give the writer a preview in the United Arts Club in Fitzwilliam Street yesterday. But the 73-year-old Westmeath writer and farmer was far from daunting as he regaled those present with stories of the bohemian literary scene of the Dublin of the 1940's and 1950's, the backdrop for his famous novel.

There was the gem about his first publisher John Ryan who went out one day to buy a toaster and returned having purchased The Bailey pub. Or his recollections of Brendan Behan ``a real pied piper'' who was the first person to read the manuscript of The Ginger Man and who took it on himself to do quite a bit of editing. ``I was furious at the time'' chuckled the author before conceding that all Behan's suggestions survived.

The Ginger Man which was turned down by 45 publishers is based on Donleavy's student days in Trinity with the hero modelled on a fellow American student Gainor Stephen Crist.

The writer wasn't exactly stunned by the reaction in 1959 and suspected before the production opened that it would be ``an act of suicide''.

Ronan Wilmot, director of this production and founder of the Dublin Theatre Company, is surprised that this is the first professional production of The Ginger Man in the capital since then. ``Where are all the heavily subsidised theatres?'' he asked. ``Why are they ignoring people like JP and Joyce? In my opinion it is a disgrace.''

His cast includes Cork-born David Murray as the Ginger Man and Julie Hale as his wife Marion. Also starring is Mary McEvoy, known as `Biddy' to her fans, but whose theatre credits include The Philanderer in The Gate and Wood of the Whispering and Bailegangaire for the Druid, and Karl Hayden whose film credits include Da, December Bride and This is My Father.

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