Delivering some Rough Magic on stage

Rough Magic is touring Arthur Riordan’s adaptation of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man at the Everyman on October 22, 23 and 24.
Delivering some Rough Magic on stage
Arthur Riordan playwright.

Tell us about yourself:

I’m a playwright and actor. Right now my adaptation of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is touring Ireland. The show is produced by Rough Magic, a company I helped found in 1984. I still have a strong association with the company and they’ve produced most of my plays. I was one of a core group of actors who took part in almost every Rough Magic play for the first few years of the company’s existence. Now Lynne Parker, Rough Magic’s Artistic Director, has put together a group of eight young actors with a view to doing something similar. I’m delighted that these talented young people make up the cast of Portrait.

Where were you born?

Fermoy in North Cork. I was born in St Anne’s nursing home, which is now a guest house which I keep promising myself I’ll stay in! I grew up on Patrick Street, where my Dad, Niall O’Riordan, had an electrical shop. Fermoy was a pretty idyllic place to grow up. I remember it as a busy, thriving town, where everything you needed was a short walk away. I went to the Christian Brothers School, now long gone, and many of my memories of Fermoy centre around the Boy Scouts. The 18th Cork was a fine, really active troop, and I made some great friends there.

Where do you live?

Clontarf in Dublin, close to St Anne’s Park, one of Dublin’s great little-known amenities, and not far from Dollymount Strand. It’s been a lovely place to raise children – lots of kids their age in the area, and lots to do.

Family?

I live with my wife Carol, and the kids Aaron (18) and Daisy (14).

My Mam, Deirdre lives a few miles outside Fermoy, near Ballyduff, and my brother Niall and sister Maria live in and around Fermoy too. My sister Eibhlis lives across the bay from me in Greystones.

Person you most admire:

At the moment, James Joyce! Along with adapting Portrait, I adapted a couple of stories from Dubliners for an opera last year, so I’ve been kind of immersed in his work for a while now. I think his transformative effect on literature is comparable to Shakespeare’s. Living in Dublin, you feel his presence on every street corner. 

My daily route into the city centre converges with a journey described in Portrait, where the hero, Stephen, is walking into town on his way to college. I think there’s something else worth mentioning, now that there’s a global resurgence of the far-right: the fact that Joyce, almost alone among the great early modernists, was never in the least seduced by the dubious glamour of fascism. In his life he stayed clear of political affiliations, but his work is full of empathy, and a love of humanity in all its flawed messiness. I had the great fortune to have David Norris as a lecturer in Trinity. Not only is his knowledge of Joyce huge; his love of Joyce is infectious and inspiring.

Rough Magic Ensemble Cast (0028) L-R: Paul Mescal / Kieran Roche / Aoibhéann McCann / Peter Corboy / Martha Breen / Amy Conroy / Conor O’Riordan / Karen McCartney. Rough Magic premieres a brand new stage adaptation of A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, in a dizzying interpretation of James Joyce’s first novel by Arthur Riordan :: 22 - 24 Oct - Everyman Theatre, Cork
Rough Magic Ensemble Cast (0028) L-R: Paul Mescal / Kieran Roche / Aoibhéann McCann / Peter Corboy / Martha Breen / Amy Conroy / Conor O’Riordan / Karen McCartney. Rough Magic premieres a brand new stage adaptation of A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, in a dizzying interpretation of James Joyce’s first novel by Arthur Riordan :: 22 - 24 Oct - Everyman Theatre, Cork

Person who most irritates you:

That person who queues for the ATM, gets there and thinks, aha! I’m going to need my card for this, now which of my many voluminous and well-stuffed pockets and bags did I leave it in?

Who should be Minister for Finance?

Peter McVerry. Radical action is needed to address the housing crisis, and I don’t see the present government ever getting to grips with it. They’re too much in thrall to the notion, against all the evidence, that the private sector will provide the solution to every problem.

Most memorable holiday:

A play I wrote, Improbable Frequency, went to New York in 2008, so Carol and I took the opportunity to bring the kids over; we stayed in the legendary Chelsea Hotel, and got married in City Hall. It was a magical time, combining wedding, honeymoon, family holiday and off-Broadway debut!

Favourite TV

Bojack Horseman. It’s a Netflix animated series that manages to be hilarious and still be the darkest thing on television.

Favourite radio show:

 Ellen Crannitch’s Purple Vespertine on Lyric FM. Ellen is a fine musician herself, and her musical choices are always eclectic and engaging.

Signature dish:

I’m very much the sous chef in our house. I do the peeling and washing and chopping while Carol does the creating. On the rare occasions when I get to cook, it’ll usually be prawns and pasta with a bit of garlic and chili. Delicious with minimum preparation!

Best book you have read?

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. It’s a huge, densely written fantasia set in England and Europe at the end of the Second World War. It combines political satire, literary experimentalism and slapstick humour. If ever I get bogged down while writing I’ll go back to Pynchon just to remind myself of what’s possible, if you’re daring enough.

Last album/ CD/downloaded: Beautiful Thing by my friend Lisa Lambe. Lisa’s been in several plays of mine and we’ve acted together in other things as well. She’s a fine actor and has a phenomenal singing voice, and she juggles those two careers with considerable aplomb.

Favourite song: This changes more or less daily, but right now I’ve gone back to Numberless Are the World’s Wonders from the musical Gospel at Colonus by Lee Breuer and Bob Telson. A magnificent, secular gospel song, a hymn to the wonder of humankind rather than God. Also, it’s a big dramatic song that the X-Factor hasn’t got hold of yet!

One person to see in concert: I’ve got tickets to see Rod Stewart in Pairc Ui Caoimh! A great interpreter, both of his own songs and those by other songwriters. I just hope his seventies output is properly represented – I think his attempt at being a crooner a few years ago was a little misguided.

Proudest moment: Birth of kids obviously. And I love that a man is allowed to be proud of his input in this regard!

Spendthrift or saver: I spend a great deal on my expensive habit of renting a house in Dublin.

One thing you would improve about your area: More houses.

What makes you happy? When a play I’ve written moves into a theatre for the first time. I love to watch the set being built, the lights go up, the cast move into their dressing rooms and think to myself, all those nights alone at my laptop weren’t wasted!

How would you like to be remembered? On payday!

What else are you up to at the moment? I’ve written a few musicals, and it looks like I’ll be writing another one shortly – this one about Ballyfermot in Dublin. Meanwhile, I’m writing a couple of one-person shows: one set in gangland called Oedipus in the Underworld, and one about professional dog-walkers called My Job is a Walk in the Park… 

Rough Magic will be touring Arthur’s adaptation of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man at the Everyman on October 22, 23 and 24.

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