Why I painted Eamon Keane and Samuel Beckett by Paul Piercy
Eamonn Keane by Paul Piercy
It was the summer of 1958 I was 18 and discovering bohemia, what nowadays is Chelsea in London and living in digs at World’s End, the wrong end for sure. Eamonn Keaneand I met in the kitchen of 25 Stadium Street run by a very strict yet loquacious Irish landlady Mrs Keogh where we had different rooms, Rediffusion radio, no bathroom and only an outside bog but that was OK, the public hot baths by Chelsea Town Hall were magnificent.
Eamonn was in London, as he explained, to further his career and maybe you know get some TV and dream of girls; he had done well with Radio Eireann in Dublin and was immensely popular with his rich voice and romantic storytelling and play acting. He appeared on the Dublin and Cork stages less frequently than his talent or his ambition demanded; yet he was a familiar on the Dublin Theatre scene of the fifties and knew all the Irish contingent that came to the Royal Court Theatre in 1959 for the London premier of Cock-a-Doodle-Dandy directed by George Devine. These included Wilfred Lawson, J G Devlin, Patrick Magee and the playwrite himself Sean O’Casey.
London for me was life after home in Kenley, Surrey. I had worked in a merchant bank in the City but now had escaped and was indulging my idealistic attachment to all things theatre and the King’s Road and Kenneth Tynan and Juliette Greco footloose and penniless and dreaming of girls.
We must have spent hours exchanging yarns with nonsensical buffoonery in that kitchen all night smoking Sweet Afton with endless tea. He was Moriarty and I to him Huckleberry Finn, we were soon to become inseparable. The few coins we scraped together came from casual labour; factory work mostly, The Hudson’s Bay Company, Telfords Meat Pies, which we’d queue for first thing. The occasional BBC radio play came Eamonn’s way and sometimes a series for which he was paid handsomely and always by cheque. One time it was at BBC Wales in Swansea. After the recording we tried to find a pub where the cheque would be cashed and we would probably spend the next 24 hours; but it happened that the pubs didn’t open by local law that day which pleased me no end for now I’d seen the poison that alcohol was to Moriarty. Instead with little cash for sustenance we hitched to Mumbles and raged at the rocks and the roaring winter sea. Because Eamonn didn’t have a bank account this business of going to the pub to cash his BBC cheques became a way of life with mixed blessings. There were blessings in abundance for me as mostly we met after recording at Broadcasting House London at The George in Gt Portland Street.
I could never really understand how the habitués, and they did really always seem to be the same people, could spend the whole day drinking. Didn’t they have work to do? How did these producers and writers function? Yet I got to know them well and joined in the gossip with Louis MacNeice and the critical analysis with Cyril Connolly and the singing with Dominic Behan yet not without some unease about being at eighteen a bit out of my depth. The company was warm and good and respectful and inclusive, I was forming friendships and along with Eamonn easing myself into a London scene.
Towards the end of the Summer and when we weren’t freezing all day at the Hudson’s Bay fur auction rooms near Mansion House we were indoors scribbling stories and poems. Somewhat rarely, as he had no commercial sense, Eamonn would get to arrange a BBC radio audition and prior to the fateful day would try out the script on me. Having not a clue about professional acting I did my sorry best to critique; though I will say that my boundless encouragement and enthusiasm was surely what he really sought. After the radio play had been aired he had enough to bring Guinness back and he would talk about the Listowel Races and life back home, his school days – strict, his brother John B – stole all his stories, the Abbey Theatre star system – he was a much better Christy Mahon in the Playboy than Cyril Cusack. When the Guinness stretched to it he then mimicked Cusack’s performance at the moment when Christy enters the bar and boasts he’s slain his Da saying “well if yous are wanting this kinda arch nonsense we can all do THAT”. Eamonn was in fact when sober an exquisitely lyrical and nuanced performer. I don’t forget the many times he gently spoke from memory one of his favourite poems:
I was in school ’twas the first of May and the day the tinker came
With his wild wide eyes like a frightened hare’s and his head with its thatch on flame:
We liked the length of his bare brown legs, the patches upon his clothes,
The grimy strength of his unwashed hands and the freckles about his nose.
The master polished his rimless specks and he stared at him hard and long
Then he stood him up on a shaky bench and he called on him for a song.
O the tinker looked at our laughing lips then a voice like a timid bird’s
Did the master’s bidding and these were his singing words:
“My father was jailed for sheep-stealing and my mother is black as a witch.
My sister off-ran with the Sheridan clan and my brother’s dead-drunk in a ditch.
O Tralee jail would kill the devil but Tralee jail won’t kill my Da
I’ll mend you a kettle for one and four and I’ll bring home porter to me ma.”
Then he bowed his head as the schoolhouse shook with the cheers of everyone
And the master made me share my desk with the raggedy tinker’s son.
O the days dragged on and he sat down there his brown eyes still afraid
He heard the scholars’ drowsy hum and turning to me he said:
“What would I want with X and Y and I singing the crooked towns
Or showing a drunken farmer the making of silver crowns?
Or will Euclid teach me to light a fire of green twigs in the rain
Or how to twist a pheasant’s neck so it will not cry in pain?
And what would I want with ancient verse or the meaning of Latin words
When all the poetry I’ll ever need rings the throats of the singing birds?”
But he stayed at school and his flowering mind it grew swift as the swooping hawk:
Then there came a day when we said goodbye to the master who smelled of chalk.
He went to the life of the ribbon roads and the lore of the tinker bands:
They chained my bones to an office stool and my soul to a clock’s cold hands
But I often thought of my tinker friend and I cursed my smirking luck
That didn’t make me a tinker man as I fought the road to Puck
With a red-haired wife and a piebald horse and a splendid caravan
Roving the roads with Cartys and Wards the O’Briens or the Coffey clan.
Now the years went by and the Troubles came, and I found myself again
I was back where I whittled the worn desks, with the mountains and the rain.
They put a trench coat on my back, placed in my hands a gun
And up in the hills with the fighting men I found the tinker’s son.
And there on the slopes of the Kerry hills our love grew still more strong
And we watched the wren on the yellow whin spill his thimbleful of song
Then came a truce and I shook his hand for a while our fighting done
But I never spoke one word again to the red-haired tinker’s son.
‘Tis many a year since he went away and over the roads the vans
Wheel gaily to horse and to cattle fairs with the O’Brien’s or the Coffey clans.
The tinker’s son should be back again with the roads and the life he knew
Ah but I took the life of my red-haired friend in nineteen and twenty-two.
So real to me to this day I think it was Eamonn sitting next to the tinker’s son.
Exchanging stories of back home Eamonn asked me what sort of place was Kent the county of my birth. I told him about my village Brasted, my town Westerham where Churchill lives, about my lovely Knowle Park of the Sackville-Wests, about Canterbury and Faversham and the cherry blossom of Sittingbourne. Now it was September and we both had itching feet so at each others insistence and two pounds seven shillings we set off for Charing Cross station and Kent. Our destination Maidstone our first port of call the Labour Exchange. The farm rich area offered poorly paid casual labour and though I’d never driven one I offered my expert services as an experienced tractor driver. Eamonn came along for the ride and our morale bolstered by an introduction from the Labour Exchange we hitched a lift to the farm at Wateringbury. Now along the way I lost my nerve. I knew all about the skills and perils involved in getting tractors to go on wet, muddy and hilly farms from one school summer’s holiday spent on Brasted Place farm, experience not from driving but from witnessing hardened drivers loose control. Abandoning the Wateringbury farm and out of money we walked the twenty minutes to Nettlestead. We had seen an ad for hop pickers. Now though it was already dark and we needed to sleep on it. We checked in at a bus shelter and drifted off on the benches. With a misty dawn at 5.30 stiff and hungry we tramped off down the narrow lane we suspected led to fortune and food. We knew all about the ancient annual exodus
from Bethnal Green and the smokey slum districts of East London and the docks that by weekly rota throughout September brought entire families to green sunshine and nightly fireside reunions. We also knew about the travelers, the gypsies and the adventurers who lived by different sets of rules. We didn’t know them though at all so to Eamonn this would set his vivid imagination on fire with fear. Advancing down the narrow lane Eamonn grabbed my arm and hissed to cross to the other side; towards us all cackling and loud eight assorted females of the opposite sex! “Don’t look at them. Keep looking straight ahead.” ” Alright”, I said “Do you think they’re dangerous?”. “Don’t you know they’ll envelop us! Eat us alive! Don’t you know these women?” Eamonn trembled, “We’re outnumbered and easy pickings!” We paced faster, heads down and passed what to me was a jolly band of girls heading home at the end of their summer break of hard picking. We knew we had arrived at the hop farm from the sweet pollen and chatter in the air. The owner announced he was all out of sheds for sleeping; the best he had was a pig sty to keep us dry at night. “There’s straw for warmth and comfort” he pointed, “now follow me. You’ll be paid by the bushel, the sacks are here, bins here, grab yourselves poles, start now. I settle each night 8 pence a bushel!” We struggled to get in eight bushels each first day that’s about five or six pounds in 2016. Evening came. Eagerly we set off for the local shop bringing our purchases of local beer and pork pies back to eat in the comfort of the pig sty. We were too exhausted to sleep or was it the gypsies twenty yards away dancing wildly round an enormous blaze of logs all boozed up and bacchanalian. Eamonn knew this was the end for him. A knife or two in the side for the money we didn’t have. Too gone next day to even make eight bushels, the day’s end showed around £1 between us; “Enough for a jar or two”. The night proved a nightmare for both of us. Midnight a soft warning voice of distant thunder followed lazily the instant light that made us jump. This was something bigger than the traveler’s fiery threat: “You have a chance with them eed-yts, you can run, yous can escape”, and under a breath measured not to be louder than the thunder: “Oh God, He’s coming for me. Holy Mary!” First, rain drops as soft as cotton, now frequent flashes from all directions, now gusts and rain pinging on the corrugation inches above us, the warning signs; He strides towards US. Eamonn wild eyed sinks to his knees in the straw right hand flailing the Sign of the Cross. Too late! Here He is. The flash and the clap simultaneous and visible through goose-fleshed skin. I lay there cold and tired yet unperturbed by nature’s business. But my dear friend, Eamonn, Moriarty, actor, writer, dreamer was consumed with fear and foreboding. All the raw reality of this Catholic child’s conditioned fear was at this very moment being played out in full. His eyes closed in supplication with each violent bang and strike of the storm he shuddered and quivered the Holy Rosary: “Hail Mary full ofGracetheLordiswiththee, Blessedartthouamongwomen and blessedisthefruitofThywomb Jesus.Holy Mary MotherofGod prayforussinners nowandatthehourofourdeathAmen.HolyMaryMotherofGod.HolyMaryMotherofGod.” After two hours of this Eamon fell asleep, the storm had gone on to plague others. I had had to wearily asked him to shut up a few times but he simply couldn’t. To this day I wish I hadn’t tried to silence him but I was desperate for sleep and I didn’t appreciate the depth of his belief, his fear and his imagination.
We arrived back at 25 Stadium Street early October full of creative excitement about the heave and cry of humanity as we had just experienced it on our South East peregrinations. We’d covered the Tilbury docks with its bristling cranes and vast ocean going liners, the throng of bowler hatted bankers on London Bridge and Dirty Dicks in Gracechurch Street, the grace and space of Knowle Park and then there were the hop fields. This latter was to be our focus for the coming weeks. We’d write a radio play for the BBC Third Programme.
It would be a docudrama with stories, folk songs and poems; a popular radio format at the time. This would involve hours and hours of research at Chelsea public library, hours of scribbling
indoors and much testing of ideas and inspirations. All for the prize of money and the joy of imagining!
Towards the end of October (1958) Eamonn said he’d been in touch with an old friend from his Dublin days who was over from Paris and in Chelsea for the rehearsals of the first production in English of his play End Game and that we were to meet up in the afternoon at the Six Bells in King’s Road. There was an exhibition of photos that he (Samuel Beckett) wanted to see and would we join him. Arriving at the Six Bells we found we had the place to ourselves. Guinnesses in hand we picked our way thoughtfully from picture to picture, dwelling or skipping, analysing or smiling always Sam leading the conversation bringing his two guests into the particular place captured in black and white by the imaginative lens. I was struck by two things; yes how tall Sam was but mostly how warm and inclusive he was and how he showed interest in my occasional faltering responses to a picture or two. This was, after all, the fifties, my father or mature men his age didn’t get into verbal discourse with teenagers such as me! Here was a man (Samuel Beckett was 52) who disregarded my youth, a man who lived equality, égalité. This was so unlike my father; it was a first for me and I have never forgotten.
Before long Eamonn and Sam were exchanging
notes on the Dublin Theatre, its plays, actors and their mutual friends, it was a long overdue catch-up time for the two friends while the black stout from the Liffey flowed to the three of us so much so that it was not long before the actor in Eamonn Keane was standing centre stage in the otherwise empty bar of the Six Bells full flow as Cyril Cusack playing Christy Mahon in an Abbey Theatre production of Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World. “Don’t strike me. I killed my poor father, Tuesday was a week, for doing the like of that… with the help of God I did surely, and that the Holy Immaculate Mother may intercede for his soul…. He was a dirty man, God forgive him, and he getting old and crusty, the way I couldn’t put up with him at all….No Pegeen, not a gun. I never use weapons. I’ve no licence, and I’m a law fearing man…. and no not knives! Do you take me for a slaughter boy?…. No Pegeen I never hanged him the way Jimmy Farrel hanged his dog and had it screeching… I did not then. I just riz the loy and let it fall the edge of it on the ridge of his scull, and he went down at my feet like an empty sack, and never let a grunt or groan from him at all“…The drawing shown here sees Sam Beckett sitting at the bar enjoying Eamonn’s performance. People rarely carried cameras so there are no photos of this moment. It took many hours of drawing and endless versions before I recognised Eamonn and Sam from across the fifty five years.
Our last trip together that year was to Kenley in Surrey to visit my mother, Joan, for my birthday. While waiting at Victoria station
Eamonn picked up a volume of the complete works of William Shakespeare and gave it to me as a birthday present. (The illustration here is about how I was to go on, many years later, to give this book to Fergal Keane for his son Daniel.) We then spent some time with my mother who was very pleased to meet Eamonn as she had heard so much about him from me and they got on famously together. As was a not uncommon attitude in those days (Rooms For Rent signs read ‘No Blacks No Irish No Dogs’) my father would not give the time of day to an Irishman from blarneyland. Eamonn was not bothered by this because he saw that my father would not give the time of day to me either. While in Kenley we were invited to visit a girl I had been completely infatuated with for the past year.Louise Purnell
was at Italia Conti Stage School and keen to meet a professional actor, obsessed as she was with all things theatre. After tea and great excitement all round we were treated to a short recital of songs by Lou of excerpts from musicals, her dad accompanying on the piano. Eamonn was misty eyed and could see why I loved her. Louise was sixteen at the time and an exceptionally talented singer and dancer. She went on to a stage career that included many years as a leading actress with Laurence Olivier’s then fledgling National Theatre Company. We danced off down to nearby Kenley station to return to London. Finding we had time on our hands before the last train we headed to
The Kenley Hotel for refreshment. In a big chair by the roaring fire of this old empire hotel in the stockbroker belt of Surrey Eamonn looked up at me from the winking brim of his jar and commanded in impeccable English brigadier, “Ah! James. Pass the Napoleon brandy and wrap around my shoulders the panther rug I potted at Cooch Behar”. He was truly happy. On the train I reminisced about Lou and being with her on this same commute every morning…….but that’s another story for another time.
With casual work exhausting him and radio contracts hard to come by and Mrs Keogh mercilessly castigating him for being behind with the rent, late November of ’58 Eamonn headed back to Dublin. He new he could always get work from Radio Eireann; he also wanted to get back home to Listowel
for the Christmas and New Year festivities. He had been promised two episodes of Radio Eireann’s The Rambling House and would send me some of the proceeds to cover past rent. He also said he would be staying with his brother John B. I thought this would doubtless send him drinking. Not because his brother ran a public house, which he did, but because he was very jealous of him, John B. Keanebeing a successful playwright of international stature.
Eamonn had carried forth bitterly to me in Murphy’s Bar on Piccadilly Circus about both Sive and TheHighest House on the Mountain being his stories stolen from him he said with no acknowledgement.
Meantime I stayed on at No 25 scribbling when not labouring though I had to abandon the hop picking radio project in Eamonn’s absence.
Early 1959 Eamonn returned to London. The fame and fortune to be made here was beckoning still. We stayed on for a while in Chelsea but got behind with the rent again so the pair of us separated and sought lodgings where we could. Unfortunately for Eamonn many times that meant Rowton House. He stayed in one of these doss houses for six shillings a night rather than admit to one of his many theatre friends that he needed a roof. Any would have put him up gladly but Eamonn was a proud man. He did though fix me up. He called Dominic Behan who didn’t hesitate. With all my possessions in one bag and an inherited fine tweed coat I found myself looking for No 25a in this treeless, bleak street in Balham, Midmoor Road. The warmth of Josephine’s greetings raised my hopes as I climbed the cold bare wood to their upstairs home. I was to spend many weeks with Dominic and Josephine. This was bohemia alright! Dominic writing, composing and singing all morning. At the BBC recording all afternoon. Gigs in Kentish Town most evenings which I enjoyed. His wife Josephine out working in the day. Every meal a fry up. No concessions whatever to worldly comforts. Glass missing in the windows. Cold water in the taps. Left alone some days with their angry child Stephen who took to the unpleasant habit of throwing lumps of coal at me at every turn….. Dominic was a very sociable, helpful and friendly host while sober but would carry on something tedious otherwise. It was usually about “the fucking Protestant English!” Or about his “fucking brother Brendan!” By now I was familiar with this pernicious jealousy and this voicing endlessly on the IRA struggle. Eamonn rode these same two dragons when he was tanked full.
At that time this teenager just accepted all this and their arguments as the rich wall paper of life; now though I condense this to: Innately Victims. Moriarty and Huckleberry continued to meet regularly often at Dominic’s gigs and often at the theatre, usually at Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop, Stratford East or The Royal Court. One that sticks in the mind is of the time we went to see Brendan Behan’s The Hostage at Wyndham’s Theatre. Brendan was not in the play himself but had come with his friend Kathleen Deneny. After a few too many he leapt up on to the stage, stopped the show, shouted “idiots” and “up the Irish”, and sang a song in Gaelic! We continued to meet at The George when he had a BBC cheque to cash and could afford to entertain everyone and also reclaim his personal belongings which the landlord had kindly warehoused for him on his last visit prior to being hospitalised to have his stomach pumped out.
Eamonn was now drinking too much too frequently and we’d row about this. I suggested we miss the pub and head for a coffee bar or the library but he’d have none of it. We wanted to be together, lark about, help each other with writing ideas and suggestions for getting theatre work but the most I could ever manage was two pints and quite happy with none. So he’d go off on his own to be found the next day in hospital having been found lying in the in the road. It made me angry. What I didn’t know was that he needed help and support to deal with this addiction.
In the Summer, Eamonn got a real break. George Devine and The English Stage Company had negotiated with Sean O’Casey to do Cock A Doodle Dandy at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square Chelsea. Eamonn auditioned for Devine in the role of Shanaar and was hired. The cast included Cock: Berto Basuka, Michael Marthraun: J G Devlin, Sailor Mahan: Wilfred Lawson, 1stRough Fellow: Alex Farrell, 2nd Rough Fellow: Colin Blakely, Messenger: Norman Rodway, FatherDomineer: Patrick Magee, One-eyed Larry: Bill Keating, Loveleen: Joan O’Hara, Marion: Etain O’dell, Julia: Jeanne Hepple. Designed by Sean Kenny. Directed by George Devine. The play would open on 17th September (1959). With regular money coming in we applied to Mrs Keogh for rooms and were back again at 25 Stadium Street about a mile’s walk from The Royal Court. I helped Eamonn with his lines and this resulted in his suggesting that I audition for the part of One-eyed Larry which was still not cast. There are almost as many Irish accents as English. When it comes to Irish accents I am as hopelessly unauthentic today as I was then. “Don’t worry, I’ll help you. I’ll coach. It’s easy” Eamonn enthused. In the warm August sun we would walk along the Thames Embankment at Chelsea Reach rehearsing over and over both his part and so-called my part. I applied to the casting director, Miriam Brickman, for an audition and the date was set. We needed to ramp up the Irish accent studies and fled to the peace and quiet acres of Kew Gardens. The idyllic Surrey landscape presented a contrasting backdrop to the manic screechings of One-Eyed Larry occasionally emanating from one of the grassy slopes that glorious lazy Summer’s day. The audition day dawned. I had never auditioned in my life, my imagination filled all the unknowns with blanks, my legs took me to the side of the stage. There was Miriam. She whispered in the dark that we would go through the part on stage and she would speak the other roles, and for me to speak up as George Devine liked to hear every word. GEORGE DEVINE! “Oh dear I’m not really ready to meet a theatre god so early in my career…. Carry me on stage Miss Brickman I’m not able to walk…. I know Eamonn said I’m from Dublin but I’m not Irish at all Mr Devine… he was only trying to be helpful Mr Devine…… Please Miss can I go home!…..” ” Mr Paul Piercy please.” came from George Devine in the auditorium. Head high and in the character of One-eyed Larry I screeched out my woes in my best tutored Irish. And the first of a career of auditions was over. I waited in Miriam’s office for the outcome. “Mr Devine thanks you for auditioning but feels the Irish accent needs working on and is unable to offer you the part.” Miriam was very supportive saying I really must go to a theatre school if I’m to get parts. She discussed my whole situation and recommended I apply to Morley College Theatre School in Lambeth. Which I was to go on to do and be accepted on a three year course. Eamonn explained that it was all political that they wouldn’t dare have an unknown Englishman play a part in an O’Casey play. To move on….Throughout the rehearsal period Eamonn was a changed man. He had fallen in love with one of the cast, Etain O’dell. Eamonn and I often met after rehearsals at the pub adjoining The Royal Court. On one occasion we were joined by Sean O’Casey himself who dressed in his signature embroidered hat was over from Dublin to keep a watchful eye on things. On the first night I sat near the front. How would Eamonn do? His nerves had been in shreds all day. What would One-eyed Larry’s performance be like? and his accent ? The play started slowly, the cast appeared unsure on their feet. There was strange timing and slurred speech. The cast were well and truly and Irishly oiled! As for Wilfred Lawson – he staggered about completely off his head. This was I suppose funny but I was alarmed.
How on earth did this great actor remember his lines? When I was to tell my mother about the first night she said she wasn’t surprised, Wilfred Lawson had a reputation for always appearing on stage drunk! I have to admit I spent so much time focusing on Eamonn’s performance, which actually went brilliantly and listening to the Irish accents, the acting idiosyncrasies of Patrick Magee, and the expressive movement technique of Berto Basuka that I scarcely followed the plot at all. I thoroughly enjoyed the on stage party that followed. It went on all night and I felt part of a big laughing crying theatre family. The last I remember is sitting out alone on a bench in Sloane Square as the dawn broke.
The end of the run saw Eamonn now in love with Jeanne Hepple. Jeanne was indeed a lovely girl but perhaps Eamonn wasn’t her first choice. Trouble being that engaging, romantic and endearing though Eamonn was he just looked a wreck. He had a mouthful of badly stained brown pointy bits in his mouth going under the name teeth and they were always giving him trouble. I frequently admonished him about his lack of care of himself also telling him he wouldn’t get any TV or film work with teeth like that. I had a dental appointment around this time and related to Eamonn how I’d sat with Elizabeth Taylor in the waiting room. (I was treated on the national health by my father’s dentist Mr William Blake of 18 Wimpole Street). That did the trick! I arranged an appointment for Eamonn and went along to hold his hand so to speak. Unfortunately the film star did not make an appearance that day. After a number of visits Eamonn had nice white teeth and a smile for the camera and the ladies.
His British television debut was with A B C Television. A romantic comedy on Armchair Theatre
‘The Rebel and the Soldier’ with Tim Seely, Susannah York and J G Devlin went out on air on Sunday 29th November 1959. Eamonn now had money for rent and moved to Chalcot Road, Regent’s Park. I took a warehouse job with AEI Hotpoint to support myself at drama school and remained at Mrs Keogh’s. I also wrote a play with songs, The Hungry Heart. In essence this was a rail about the harm alcohol does to friendship. Louise Purnell had moved with her parents to London and was understudying the lead in the West End musical Irma La Douce. We saw each other frequently and I was much in her favour when I told her I had submitted a play to the English Stage Company.
In due course I also had to break the news that I was now in receipt of my first rejection slip. Well at least signed by a god! It was time for Eamonn to be with his family and friends in Dublin and Listowel. We both had things to do and promised to write. In my first letter from him,
February 1960,he proudly enclosed this press cutting from The Irish Press announcing his engagement to his co star, in his brother’s play Sharon’s Grave, Maura Hassett. At some point in late 1960 Eamonn and Maura came to London where their son Fergal was born on 6th January 1961 but we didn’t meet up. I was in plays at drama school, writing reading warehousing and engaged to fellow student Christine Mason. We planned to meet in September 1962 when I traveled to the Dublin Theatre Festival with my future wife Christina de Veras. He wasn’t at home though when I first met Maura and little Fergal…….
About WE ARE BUT PLAYERS and the piece EAMONN KEANE AND SAMUEL BECKETT.
In 2013 I started a portrait project We Are But Players. It does and will cover people I have interacted with all of whom are now dead. People alive I paint in colour. The pieces are oil on canvas with overall dimensions in the region 8ft wide x 7ft high x 3ft deep consisting of two to three semi matt black screens on which are mounted the portrait(s) in black impasto oil paint. There is no colour or grey tone. Apart from Eamonn Keane and Samuel Beckett which is now complete though not yet mounted or plinthed the pieces will figure some or all of the following: Winston Churchill, Louis MacNeice, Eric Morecambe, Tito Gobbi, Dominic and Brendan Behan, Joan Sutherland, Francis Bacon, John Osborne, Luciano Pavarotti, George Solti, Max Wall, and Count Basie.
The project is to paint vignettes of the above players that will illustrate my personal experience and perspective of them. The screens are the stage. Though the players are static the audience or viewers move in front and around them creating an ever changing reflection in the brush strokes ; becoming players themselves.
The use of screens in British Theatre was introduced by Edward Gordon Craig in the early twentieth century. His screens were
first used in Stanislavsky’s production of Hamlet at the Moscow Arts Theatre in 1910 and soon after by Craig’s friend W B Yeats at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. While working in the theatre in the 1960s under the director Peter Brigmont I had the opportunity of using Craig’s screens concept and became familiar with their potential in creating an imaginative performance space. Their use in We Are But Players is a natural extension of the principle. Craig and his daughter Ellen were good friends with Peter and I had the opportunity of corresponding with EGC about the use of masks in the theatre which I was studying at the time.