Kilkenny Theatre continues its traditon with John B Keane as Lake stage Moll

Donal O’Brien ( rip) as The Bishop in The Field

In just under one week, Lake Productions will present Moll by J B Keane at The Concert hall in Thomastown.

Founded in 2018, the company (named after the Lake school in St John’s parish) has already marked their spot on the theatrical map in Kilkenny.

Their productions such as Trad, After Sarah Miles and The Kings of the Kilburn High Road have all been received with much acclaim.

The company has also worked with The Kilkenny Involvement Centre, The Kilkenny Recovery College and with members of International groups living in Kilkenny from South Sudan, Poland and Kenya.

Lake have also worked with Community radio Kilkenny city and produced three radio plays which include A River Walk by Frank Marshall, The Pink Milky Goo by Andrei Markewitz and War of the worlds By Orson Welles. Lake Productions was part of the Kilkenny Community Radio team that won a Gold award for best commissioned programme with the Barrie Henriques scripted play ‘The Liam Mac Carthy story’.

Lake productions company secretary and one of its founding members Emily Kelly informs me that the company is currently recording four radio documentaries on Irish authors, as well as producing a third book of poetry.

Moll is the first Keane play to be produced by Lake Productions and it would appear that the choice is certainly going down well.

Emily takes up the story. “We made a deliberate decision that after producing The Kings last year we wanted to lighten the tone somewhat and Moll is just the job for that. It is really a laugh from start to finish and you are not going to have to spend too long working out the plot”.

It is a play where cast and audience can enjoy the writing of one of Irelands best known authors.

Listowel native Nora Relihan, who worked as a social worker with the blind for almost 30 years, is in a unique position to give a definitive account of John B. Keane. She played the original Mena Glavin in John B.’s breakthrough play ‘Sive’.

But first we must take a step back in time.

In the early 1950s Bryan McMahon and Eamon Kelly founded the Listowel Drama Group.

In 1958 the group had produced a prize winning production of Joseph Tomelty’s ‘All Souls Night’.

Shortly afterward during a chance meeting on the street, John B. was to inform Nora that he was not greatly impressed by the Tomelty play and was going to write his own.

By that time, John B. was married to his wife Mary and was living in the now famous Listowel pub which they bought. It was to be in the back kitchen that ‘Sive’ was created in a few short weeks of what surely must have been a frenzied spell of continuous writing.

Subsequent to a bald rejection by the Abbey Theatre of this new play, John B. presented the ‘Sive’ script to the Listowel players. ‘Sive’ opened on February 2nd 1959 at Walsh’s Ballroom, Listowel, to an astounded audience who laughed and cried. That production marked the beginning of the legend that is John B. Keane.

The following year, 1960 a production of Sive was staged at The Friary Hall in Kilkenny and by all accounts the local press and audience raved at the production. Indeed the Listowel author attended the final performance and described the set as “the best he had seen in any performance of his play.

Since 1960, many groups have performed Keanes work and to be fair there probably isn’t a village in the county where Keanes work has not been staged. Just recently Sive was performed in Goresbrige and under the direction of Mary O Brien proved a great hit.

Gay Byrne, the original and long-term host of RTE’s flagship programme ‘The Late Late Show’, once asked John B. where he got his ideas. John B. replied that he had only to stand on the corner near his pub and listen to the passers-by.

His extraordinary stories, plays and books emerged from the everyday talk of ordinary people.

Keane has contributed greatly to both local and national theatrical life. Arguably the best known and loved of all Irish playwrights, his work has been performed in every village and town in Ireland. Local Kilkenny actor Dick Holland, who has performed in his fair share of Jon B Keane’s work, most notably as the Bull McCabe had this to say.

“His material is spot on and great for an actor to get his teeth into. His knowledge of rural life, its language and habits is fantastic. In a way, Keane, in his time, looked, listened, wrote down what people said and turned everyday happenings into magical plays, novels and letters.

Former teacher, author and journalist, Con Houlihan, gave his own reason for Keane’s success:

“John B. was blessed to have been born in Listowel and as he walked the bank of the river Feale, it consoled him. J.B. grew up in the bitter aftermath of a Civil War in a land impoverished by Éamon De Valera’s concept of Economics and John Charles McQuaid’s concept of Religion.

According to Houlihan, Keane cast a fierce light on the Hidden Ireland: on a world of poverty and loneliness and sexual frustration.

He was part of a rebellion. Indeed, you could say that at least in the theatre he was its healer.

As Con Houlihan said: John B. spoke of a different world. It was a revelation to urban dwellers. They became acquainted with integral soothsayers and matchmakers and Bodhrán makers and men who salted life with humour.”

John B. Keane found his own true world when he left Listowel and went to work in England.

Brendan Kennelly, friend and poet, claimed of Keane:

“In exile, he discovered the world where his imagination was most at home, that is Listowel and other parts of North Kerry. His work shows that he is as deeply and revealing at home in North Kerry as James Joyce was in Dublin. Joyce discovered Dublin in exile John B. discovered North Kerry.”

Brendan Kennelly, poet, novelist and one time Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, remembered John B. in this way

“When I think of him (which is often) I see him laughing, his head thrown back, the joy and pleasure pouring out of him.”

Kennelly also remembers Keane’s temper. “He could flare like a flash of lighting”. And nothing caused his temper to flare like football, especially when Listowel were playing.

John B. Keane was a modern day renaissance man. His literary output was prodigious by any standards. When one looks at his range of work the sheer creative, experimental energy of the man becomes evident. It is without doubt that Keane was a true creative spirit.

He wrote more than twenty plays, several novels and collections of short stories. He also produced many poems, ballads and songs, dozens of fascinating essays and hundreds of extremely journalistic articles.

Moll opens at The Concert Hall in Thomastown and will run for six performances.

The cast includes Derek Dooley, Gemma Grant, Sean Hackett, Michael Hayes, Claire Henriques and John Whitely. Director is Gerry Cody and stage manager is Delia Lowery.

Production manager is Emily Kelly.

Front of house manager is Dee Gibney. Siobhán Hegarty is in charge of set design and decoration while Brendan Maguire is technical manager. This production sees Grennan College sixth year student Cliodhna Ryan join the backroom team as assistant stage manager.

Booking is available on Eventbrite or by phoning Emily on 0879949093.

This production is being supported by ‘Arts Act Grant scheme from Kilkenny County council


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