One of Donegal’s most endearing stories, Caisleáin Óir, is enjoying a highly successful, week long, run in Letterkenny’s An Grianan Theatre this week.
We caught up with Ballybofey’s Chris McLaughlin ahead of the sold out opening night show on Tuesday.
He says he is very proud to be leading man in this iconic novel that has now been adapted into a popular musical.
Hailing from Cappry in Ballybofey, 25-year-old Chris is the son of John and Rita McLaughlin.
During the day he works locally as a purchasing manager for Cherrymore Kitchens.
Outside of his work, he plays for local soccer side Cappry Rovers, but it is his love of live musical performing that drew the attention of the shows producers to him.
An avid music fan, he enjoys a wide variety of music from folk and ballads to American country.
“My father would have done a wee bit in his day and is known locally as a singer. I started a little later. I think I was 16 before I came out of the bedroom singing,” he laughs.
He has performed in many live shows, karaoke competitions and charity events and in 2010 he got a chance to audition for a youth production of Caisleáin Óir where he was successful in gaining the lead role.
“I started doing wee bits of karaoke locally. From there I did a few competitions so the confidence grew and it started going well. I won a couple of karaoke competitions so I wanted to take it to the next level then and I thought ‘I’ll try Caisleáin Óir’. I did the casting for it and ended up getting the lead. So I thought I was progressing nicely. That was my first big role because I hadn’t done much acting by the time this happened in 2010. I would have done things like ‘A Night at the Movies’ or things like that, but nothing on the scale of Caisleáin Óir with this cast. I would have done many charity things like Stars in your Eyes,” he says.
Now after “a lot of hard work and bit of luck” he has, once again, landed the lead male role and is playing “Seimi Gallagher” once more.
“I had done this before in Ballybofey. I was approached to originally do it and I thought that I would give it a shot. I really liked the story line, I thought it was fitting and it wasn’t one of these cheesy musicals, for the want of a better word. This really hits you when you see it and it does pull on the heart strings. The emotion, the scenes, the fight scenes and all that. There is a lot going on and it is for every age group. It will be a real family show,” he explains.
Chris says it has been a great experience working with the cast and the scale of the production is remarkable.
“There is cast of 60. It is a big production.”
He says now he has graduated from the youth production to the full adult version of the performance, he is working hard to “up the bar” in this latest run.
“The first one was a youth project and it was brought then to an adult version, which is different, but it is hard to say why as it is easy for me to compare it too the last time, but it make it’s a wee bit harder to try and up the bar too. Every move you make you almost double think everything to try and make it better, when, sometimes, less is more, so it kind of counter balances and it is good when you do get the balance. You can get there, but it take s a bit more work, especially when you have been the lead before, to take it where you want to get it.”
The novel penned by Ranafast born writer Séamus Ó’Grianna is best known to many as an important literary work that features on the Leaving Cert curriculum.
He says they are hoping to draw big crowds all week. The opening night was sold out in the lead up to the run. It runs until Saturday night and there is even a matinée showing at An Grianan Theatre during the day to accommodate all age groups.
He said the cast and crew have been working incredibly hard in the weeks leading up to the show and being on stage is something he is growing to love.
“I love performing anyway. Whether it is musicals or the like, but I think because I have done Caisleáin Óir before, it has a special place for me. I just thought ‘I’m going to go for it at this stage’ because I knew so many of the people involved in it and I know what it means to them.”
This, Chris says, is where he feels the pressure most, to ensure his performances do credit to the work everyone has put in to making the musical such a success.
“I feel that being one of the leads, I have to up the ante for them. There is such a lot of emotion in it. You don’t want to let them down. You are always aware what it means to them. You just don’t walk in and says ‘I can do this or do that’, It is case of, ‘Let’s see how far we can take this and how high can we raise the bar”.
The show may eventually tour further but Chris first has his eyes focused on this week’s busy schedule.
“It is good enough (to tour) with this script and the score. Leslie Long wrote it all and Kathleen Ruddy was the lyricist who did the vocals and harmony. When you go and listen to it, it is a credit to them. They started off writing it in a room in, I think, Leslie’s house, ten years or more ago and that was where the idea stemmed from. He got Phil (Dalton) on board then to take it from the paper to the stage.”
The shows continues tonight and there is still plenty of time to come along to An Grianan Theatre to enjoy this fine local production.
“The opening night was sold out in advance and we run through to Saturday and we even have a matinée on Saturday that might suit more of the kids, but it gives people an option if it suits them better to catch the early show.”
“We have been rehearsing for the last two months. It was hard work but it has been paying off. Everyone has their work done and now it is just a matter of laying all out there on the stage,” he says.
For tickets see www.angrianan.com