Behind the scenes with Iarla McGowan

Paddy Walsh


Paddy Walsh

On Monday last, rehearsals got underway for playwright, Howard Barker’s ‘Scenes from an Execution’ which will be staged in the prestigious National Theatre in London.

On Monday last, rehearsals got underway for playwright, Howard Barker’s ‘Scenes from an Execution’ which will be staged in the prestigious National Theatre in London.

It’s a London still glowing in the aftermath of the Olympic Games, an event which involved four Donegal protagonists and a number of others on the sidelines. And when this latest drama, set in the 17th century, opens towards the end of next month, there’ll be another Donegal involvement and one that, where reviews are concerned, should be ensured of podium honours.

It was there that he entered life’s great stage, there that he returns to as often as he can to catch up with family and friends, even taking time out last week to come back for the final bow of the 2012 Letterkenny Reunion.

And from there that he returned at the weekend to the English capital, where he has been based for the past eight years, to commence rehearsals for ‘Scenes from an Execution’.

“We have seven weeks of rehearsals before we open. It’s going to be fairly hectic but I’m really looking forward to performing in the National Theatre. It will be my first time to take part in a production at the venue and it’s a real honour to be working there.”

Iarla has earned rave reviews for his stage roles, not least when he took the lead part in a production of ‘Richard 111’.

Letterkenny audiences got a chance to see him in it over a year ago when it toured to Ireland and was staged at An Grianan Theatre. His powerful performance prompted a standing ovation - a reaction that didn’t just come from a local gathering proud that it was one of their own up there but from drama enthusiasts who knew they were watching a true performer in action.

And while cities such as London is where it’s at when it comes to forging a career in the professional game, Iarla hasn’t forgotten where it all started for him. His early involvement in local productions and pantomimes prompted a growing passion for the stage.

No surprise then that he helped set up the Workhouse Theatre company in his home town and that it has already, in conjunction with An Grianan, produced two outstanding dramas - Conor McPherson’s ‘The Weir’ and Brian Friel’s beautifully crafted ‘Aristocrats’.

Not surprising either that McGowan regards Friel as one of the most foremost playwrights on the planet. “I still think he’s under-rated and doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. He certainly does get this recognition here in this county where he was named Donegal Person of the Year and also has been featured at the MacGill Summer School,” Iarla adds.

‘Aristocrats’, staged in Letterkenny last September, was produced along with Patricia McBride and, says the Letterkenny actor/director, proved a “wonderful experience.”

“A huge wealth of local acting talent was involved in it which underlines what we have in Donegal when it comes to the performing arts.”

Iarla still believes Ireland should be taking a leaf out of the English script where drama forms a key part of the school syllabus. “There seems to more recognition for drama in this respect in England and it’s something that I think we should be seriously thinking about.”

The Workhouse company, set up in 2009 with the likes of the acclaimed Kieran Kelly involved, is currently aiming to stage a third production at An Grianan. “We’ve built up a good working relationship with Patricia and her team and, as I say, there’s a lot of talent locally to work with.”

Over ten years ago, Letterkenny actor Dessie Gallagher, who has been featuring regularly on television through the Bulmer’s cider advertisements, performed the male roles in the Marie Jones’ play ‘Women on the Verge of HRT’ at the Vaudeville Theatre in London. Something of a boost for the local acting fraternity then that Iarla McGowan was asked to fill the same roles in a revival of the comedy play during an English tour in 2010.

He is enjoying merging together the acting and directing disciplines and eagerly anticipating working under Tom Cairns who is the director for ‘Scenes from an Execution.’

Leading actress, Fiona Shaw, well known for both stage and screen productions, will be taking the lead role. “It’s great to be working alongside someone of that class and to be making my debut in the National Theatre at the same time.”

His brief visit home saw him attend the closing night of the Letterkenny Reunion in the Clanree Hotel in the company of his mother, Anne on Friday night. “It’s a great event and one that opens opportunities up for so many people to meet up every three years. Fair play to Dessie Kelly and his committee for keeping it going.”

Iarla was particularly impressed with the staging of the Cultural Afternoon in the Regional Cultural Centre and subsequent stints by Dessie Gallagher, Kieran Kelly and Little John Nee during the course of it.

He’ll be back for the third Workhouse play but meanwhile the focus is on London and another step onto the big stage.