The strong women characters created by John B Keane epitomised in Lakes Production of Moll

Lake productions members Michael Hayes and Derek Dooley in a 2022 scene from ‘The Kings of the Kilburn High Road’. Both actors will don priests outfits in March when they take part in JB Keanes play Moll at Thomastown Community Hall.

By Tom Dayton

As a student of journalism, I felt quite chuffed when I received a call from The Kilkenny Observer to submit an article on the play Moll by JB Keane.

I received a phone number for Lake Productions and I was to call the number when I arrived in Kilkenny to determine where rehearsals were being held.

I left my home in Ballyhale and drove the fifteen minutes to town. The phone call determined that rehearsals were being held in Vinny Mc Intyres pub, The Village Inn.

I could feel by Shamrocks geansaí tighten.

(Note to self: check venue before deciding what to wear.)

Those present at The Village Inn counter, threw a few remarks in my direction, but all in good fun I might add.

Luckily, Manchester United and Barcelona were kicking ball on the screen that night so I probably got away lightly.

To the back lounge at The Village inn where Moll AKA Claire Henriques and three local thespians, dressed in priests garb, were running through a scene from the play.

I regularly attend the Thomastown community hall for shows so I straight away recognised Derek Dooley and Michael Hayes from their appearance in The Kings of the Kilburn High Road in 2022.

I was welcomed by director Ger Cody who is directing the production.

Mr Cody explained that as a committee, it is very difficult to look past a John B Keane play. “Over the years, The Field, Sharon’s Grave and Sive have been given a good airing”, he said . And he explained that over the last twenty five years, the character Moll has strut her housekeeping stuff over different stages in Kilkenny on three different occasions.

Ger said that it is great to take down the crossover apron once again and present this very funny play.

Theatre companies, the length and breadth of Ireland have produced the Listowel writers work, and Kilkenny is no different. The canon of work by Keane has brought hours of enjoyment to audiences and actors alike. And long may it continue.When we broke for coffee I chatted with Claire who tells me it is her second time to play the role of Moll .

“ I have to say that I love the character Moll. I love her brazenness , her will power and her ability to stand up and be counted in what was a man’s world back in the sixties and seventies”, said the Callan native. “Mind you,” continued Claire , “John B was great for creating strong women in his work. Take such characters as Mena Glavin in Sive: Maggie Polpin in Big Maggie and Maimie Flanagan in The Field. All powerful women”. And was she enjoying the role?

“It’s like going back in time to Ireland of the sixties, and striking a blow for women’s rights” laughed Claire”

Following interviews for a housekeeping job in the parish presbytery, Moll Kettle is awarded the position.

Along the way Moll gets a school built and the church repaired. How she raises the money for these projects leads to Fr Breasts pet hate Bingo being introduced to the parish and Fr Loran’s music loving heart being broken. Attempts at peace-making by the Canon and challenges by the curates never go well, for anyone but Moll.

In the midst of caring for the religious around her, Moll is also keeping good eye on her own future. Moll follows advice from a retired housekeeper, who has to get married, as she is penniless.

J. B. Keane was president of Irish PEN, a member of Aosdána, and the recipient of numerous awards and honours, including honorary doctorates from Dublin University, University of Limerick and Marymount, Manhattan College, New York.

John B. Keane died in May 2002, during his beloved Listowel Writers’ Week, of which he was a co-founder. When asked how he would like to be remembered in the 1994 RTE ‘River of Words’ documentary he replied – “as a player who scored the winning point in the Finals of the North Kerry Intermediate Football Final against Duagh in 1959”.

If this rehearsal is anything to go by, then Moll is going to have audiences in stitches.

The production is being staged by Lake Productions and will run at Thomastown Community Hall from March 23.

At the end of rehearsals, I was invited by cast members to join them for a post rehearsal drink.

Considering my attire, and where I was I made my excuses and left.

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

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