No plans to put our feet up yet

A play featuring two 82-year-old actors runs at the Cork Arts Theatre this week. COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to them about their long careers, retirement plans and the upcoming show.
No plans to put our feet up yet
Des Keogh and Derry Power are heartbreakingly funny in 'The Quiet Land'.

TWO stalwarts of the Irish theatrical world star in a two-hander entitled The Quiet Land at Cork Arts Theatre this week.

Dublin-based octogenarians, Derry Power, originally from Youghal, and Des Keogh, born in Offaly, are enjoying working together on this touring show, produced by Pat Talbot.

Written by Malachy McKenna, it tells the story of two elderly farmers struggling to survive in modern rural Ireland.

They are very aware of their vulnerability. When the play opens, Derry’s character, Eamon, has just come out of hospital having been attacked by an intruder.

“It’s relevant and topical,” says Des. “The men’s fear of being attacked in their own homes is very real.”

The two men, who live close to each other on an isolated hill side, are experiencing the changing nature of rural Ireland.

“They don’t like wind turbines being put up. They resent not being able to cut their turf.” Des, who is 82, says he can identify with the men.

“I’ve spent a good bit of time in Connemara so I know a lot of guys like these two, living in rural Ireland. Also, I’ve had the experience of doing The Love Hungry Farmer (adapted from John B Keane’s fictional letters) which is about a lonely isolated farmer.”

But while The Quiet Land deals with serious issues, it also has plenty of humour in it, says Des.

“It started life as a radio play a couple of years ago and it won a big international prize. Malachy adapted it for the stage. Myself and Derry have appeared together in quite a few shows over the years. It’s good to have company. It’s nice to go and have a couple of drinks and have a chat after the show. It gets a bit lonely doing one-man shows,” says Des, who has toured extensively with his one-man show, My Fair Ladies in which he plays George Bernard Shaw.

After each run of a play, Des threatens to hang up his acting boots and settle into retirement. But reality bites. Like most freelance actors, he needs to continue working. However, he has stopped touring in America and organises his Irish tours in such a way that he is not away from home for more than two or three nights in a row.

“I have no plan to retire. As long as I can continue to act, I’ll do it. I suppose I do find it a little more difficult as time goes by. But I wouldn’t be happy just putting my feet up and saying, ‘that’s that, I’m not going to do any shows from now on.’ Acting keeps me sharp.”

Des, who qualified as a barrister but never practised, spent a few years working at the Guinness brewery. He sometimes jokes that if he had stayed there, he’d have “a fat pension” now. But he has no regrets. His work has taken him far and wide. Last year, he starred in the Gate production of The Importance of Being Earnest at a festival in Charleston, South Carolina. But these days, Des likes to wake up in his own house. His wife, violinist, Geraldine O’Grady, has passed her musical talent on to the couple’s daughter Oonagh and their two grandchildren also play the violin.

“I’m happy that the acting gene is not coming out — although it has its own rewards.”

Derry, who is also 82, has been an actor all his working life.

“After I failed science in UCC, I went straight into acting and joined the Dublin Repertory Company. I worked there for a year. I went on to do The Quare Fellow by Brendan Behan and I joined the Abbey theatre, working there for five years.”

Derry’s family were publicans in Youghal but apart from stints working in the pub during school holidays, he has always made a living from acting. He and his home-maker wife, Marjorie, reared two children, neither of whom followed in their father’s footsteps. There have been financially difficult times, says Derry.

“Every week can be a difficult period. If you can’t cope with the uncertainty of the acting business, you shouldn’t be in it. After failing at UCC, my parents thought I would get sense eventually. But I didn’t,” he says, laughing.

Derry’s career included a stint in London where he starred in Posterity Be Damned by Dominic Behan. He played a clever Irish labourer in the popular 1970s British TV series, The Rise And Fall Of Reginald Perrin. Des also starred in Tolka Row, Ireland’s first TV soap opera.

There are many highlights in Derry’s career, including going to New York and Toyko with DruidSynge. Like Des, he has no plans to retire, planning to continue acting; “As long as I can remember my lines. I’m no longer very good at that. The Quiet Land is only an hour long but it took me two or three months to learn it. Des is the one that is so good at learning lines.”

While the ageing men in The Quiet Land find the modern world perplexing, Derry is at ease with his place in it.

“When you’re acting all your life, you just go with the flow. I’m not conscious of people being younger than me. They’re just actors and the great thing about acting is that everyone gets equal treatment from directors of shows.”

Derry has a brother living in Youghal whom he often visits. He still enjoys touring with shows. Like his colleague Des Keogh, acting keeps Derry Power young at heart.

The Quiet Land is at the Cork Arts Theatre from April 11 to 13. Tickets €18/€16 Concession.

See a review of the play in the Evening Echo on Wednesday.

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