Tuesday 20 August 2019

CBS stage sparked Fergal's career

It's a long time Fergal McElherron was described as 'a wee dote' when he was cast in the leading role of Oliver Twist for the CBS musical 'Oliver' but he credits teacher Roy McGee for putting him on track for a career in the theatre as an actor, writer and more recently, film maker.

This month sees him travelling from London, where he has been living for the past ten years, to Galway where his play 'Cleft' is being staged as part of the city's renowned arts festival and his short film 'Clean' is being shown at the Galway Film Festival.

With no family connection with the stage, Fergal's first encounter with the world of theatre came through those CBS shows.

'It was Roy McGee who started it all. Before that I never had any gra or ideas about wanting to perform,' he recalls. 'He was so brilliant at producing those shows and was doing it for all the right reasons that we had so much craic.'

'When I left school, I joined the Group Players with Tommy Clark and did an acting course in Dublin for two years. I was at the Regional Technical College (now DkIT) doing construction studies as something to fall back on and travelling to Dublin for the acting course at the weekends.'

Over the past 25 years or so, he has worked with companies such as The Abbey Theatre, Druid Theatre, Replay Productions, Rough Magic, The Royal Exchange (Manchester), Shakespeare's Globe (London), as well as appearing in television and film with credits including 'Resistance', 'This is England '90', 'Charlie' in which he played Albert Reynolds, 'King Arthur: Legend of the Sword' and 'The Truth Commissioners'.

While winning acclaim for his stage performances, Fergal was also drawn to the world of writing.

'I was always doing a little bit of writing, but I never thought about it as a career,' he says. Again going back to his days at the CBS, he remembers once filling in an entire copybook when asked to write an essay.

'I found that more and more between acting gaps I would go back to writing. I write something and put in a drawer when the next acting job came along,' he explains.

The invitation to write his first play came from Kabosh Theatre Company, with whom he had worked as an actor in 'MojoMickeyBo'.

'They knew I did a bit of writing and asked me to write a play.'

His brief was simply to write one hour of theatre so he wrote 'To Have and to Hold', three twenty minute plays which were staged simultaneously on different floors of a building.

'Depending on which play they saw first, their perception of the story would be different.'

This led to him being short listed for the prestigious Stewart Parker Award

Having done some radio plays as an actor, writing a play for radio was the next logical step.

'I had worked with Kevin Reynolds as an actor so I sent him in my radio play to get his opinion, and he really liked it so I've had three radio plays done by RTE.'

After moving to London ten years ago, Fergal found himself getting a lot of work with Shakespeare's Globe.

It was while appearing in 'Romeo and Juliet' with actor Penny Leyden that Fergal got the idea of writing a play for her and his wife Simone Kirby, who has appeared in films like 'Notes on Blindness', 'The Hole in the Ground', and 'Jimmy's Hall' and the forthcoming Disney release 'Artemis Fowl' as well as television series 'Resistance', 'Peaky Blinders' and 'Silent Witness'.

The result is 'Cleft', a play about two sisters living on a fictional remote island of the Irish coast who are bringing up a child.

'There's a lot of secrets and lies going on throughout their lives,' says Fergal, who has described family and unconditional love as being the main themes of the play.

The play, which is a co-production by Rough Magic and the Glor Theatre Ennis at its premier in Simone's native Ennis in June, where, according to Fergal, 'It went down a storm.'

Directed by Lynn Parker, it is being staged from July 22nd to 27th in the O'Donoghue Theatre, NUI Galway, as part of the Galway Arts Festival, and in the Kilkenny Arts Festival from August 8th - 11th.

Fergal and Simone have set up their own production company, with their short film 'Clean' being screened in the Galway Film Festival, which also takes place this month.

He is looking forward to the opportunity of visiting Dundalk while in Ireland.

'My parents and sisters are still living in Dundalk and I don't get home as often as I would like.'

He firmly believes that the vibrant arts scene in Irish towns has played an important role in producing Irish actors who have taken their craft onto the world stage.

'Towns like Dundalk and Ennis are realy good at encouraging the arts. I don't really know what it is, maybe it's about the experience in local drama companies, that people encourage acting and story-telling.'

'It's something which small towns do, and while Dundalk is not exactly a village, it's got that community spirit that fosters story telling and art and theatre,' he says. 'You just have to look at the people who have come out of these towns and have done what they wanted to do and been very successful.'

The Argus