HAVING recently retired from over 40 years of shift work at the ESB power station in Aghada, Midleton-based John Morgan says adjusting to keeping more normal hours has been made easy thanks to his involvement in a play that opens at the Cork Arts Theatre on April 19.
John is directing the first production of Curvy Figures, written by Brendan Griffin, who is also based in Midleton. The pair are trying to revive drama in the east Cork town.
In 2019, Brendan, a retired teacher, had his self-penned play A Thousand Moments of Extraordinary Pleasure staged at the Cork Arts Theatre. He recently formed Feather Bowl Theatre Company.
“There’s plenty of talent in every town in Ireland,” says John.
“Midleton is a big enough town to have acting talent.”
He used to be a member of the Aghada Players, which was originally set up to raise funds to renovate the community hall in Aghada. He directed plays for the group for about seven years including Dancing At Lughnasa.
“We managed to bring The Memory Of Water to the Cork Arts Theatre about 12 years ago. It was the first time the Aghada Players had been on a stage in Cork city.”
Directing has become John’s calling card, although he considers himself “first and foremost to be an actor. I got into directing by accident. It teaches you a lot. Interpreting scripts is part of the responsibility of a director. I suppose acting is less stressful.”
John first became involved in theatre in 1984 when he joined the former Still Players at the invitation of Dolores Mannion and Carla Hill, who spotted him and some friends playing charades in a pub.
“We did some small productions upstairs in Searsons in Midleton. I stayed with them for years and did a lot of work with them in the Cork Arts Theatre.”
Growing up, John wasn’t interested in theatre, although he is a good mimic and would have entertained his family at the dinner table. He spent a year at UCC studying science – “not very successfully. I left because I wanted to get a job. It was the early ’80s when it was very hard to get a job.
“I was lucky enough to get a job with the operations staff at the ESB. Forty-one years later, this January, I retired.
"I did shift work that involved six eight-hour shifts, including two nights, with three days off. It was great when the kids were young but very tough on the system,” says this 60-year old father of three grown-up children.
When John ran into Brendan, having seen his 2019 play, he asked him if he was still writing. Brendan duly sent him on two scripts. When John expressed an interest in Curvy Figures, Brendan asked him to direct it. John also has a small part in the play.
Contrary to its title, the play has nothing to do with female bodies. Curvy Figures emerged from Fishamble Theatre’s Play for Ireland whereby 30 writers were chosen to write a play that captures the zeitgeist of the country.
The play is about the crises that three couples, living in the same apartment block, are experiencing.
“It really reflects Irish society and the issues people are facing. It’s how their lives interact through their circumstances. The issues are current and thought-provoking.
“One couple has divorced. The lady is selling the couple’s original property. Another couple have got engaged and are bidding on the property (with the price going up all the time.) The youngest couple are trying to pay the rent. The divorced couple have a grandson in Australia who has a rising temperature which causes quite a bit of worry. While they’re wondering how much they’ll get for their house, the most important thing is the health of the child.”
Despite living in the same building, there is no interaction between the three couples.
“None of them occupy the stage at the same time. The set is a generic apartment for all the scenes. The play is about how the issues come to a head and become resolved.”
John says that working on the play is like directing three separate plays.
“The advantage is that you only need two people from each couple to agree to meet for rehearsals at any one time. I’m free all the time.
“My whole purpose was to transition from shift work to ordinary life and this play gives me the perfect opportunity to do that.”
One cast member is Patrycja Leszczynska from Poland.
“She plays a Polish woman called Anna, who is from the couple trying to make the rent.”
As it happens, John has learned some Polish and says he’s about 25-30% fluent.
“I like to be busy and decided to learn Polish because there were so many Polish people in Ireland. I thought I’d make the effort. It’s a very difficult language. Learning the language involves a lot of rote learning.”
John doesn’t miss his old job, although he says it served him well.
“It fed my family and paid for a couple of mortgages, and it got the kids through school and college.”
He hopes that Feather Bowl Theatre Company will produce a mix of new writing and classic plays and that people in the Midleton area will get involved in the company.
“As far as acting is concerned, it’s 5% talent and 95% hard work,” says this director and some-time actor.
Curvy Heads is at the Cork Arts Theatre from April 19-22. See https://corkartstheatre.com/