THE much-loved character of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly has been in print for over 20 years in both newspaper column and book form. His move to a live stage show was regarded as a significant challenge for both Paul Howard, who writes Ross, and Rory Nolan, who plays him on stage.
Over the last decade, Rory has portrayed Ross in four different stage shows, The Last Days Of The Celtic Tiger, Between Foxrock And A Hard Place, Breaking Dad and now in Postcards From The Ledge, which comes to the Cork Opera House later this month. Ahead of his return, Rory spoke enthusiastically about Cork audiences: “Cork has stunning theatres, theatre practitioners and theatre audiences. I really enjoy performing in Cork, the Q&As after the shows are always very good, the official ones from the stage and the less formal ones in the pub!”
While Ross is the epitome of the D4/Leinster brigade, Rory knows the show still works with non-Dublin crowds: “What I love about coming to Cork, is that while it’s easy to think Ross is very Dublin-centric, the moment I open my mouth and start speaking in his very specific South Dublin accent, they’re laughing.
“I remember once him mentioning an ‘Avoca Handweaver’ and the audience in the Cork Opera House broke into roars of laughter — that line got nothing from Dublin audiences. Of course there’s stuff in the play about Dublin versus Cork, Leinster versus Munster, but as we know, those are friendly rivalries anyway.
“They’ll get a big laugh — and some of them will get a big laugh and then an ‘ooohh’ afterwards. That’s one of the best things when performing and you get two reactions from the one line. That’s all a testament to Paul’s writing.”
Landmark Productions have developed all the shows and Rory feels that their shared skill sets have worked well together.
“I think between Paul Howard; director Jimmy Fay, producer Anne Clarke and I, we have created a show that people really want to see,” he says. “Everyone knows the books and columns, but on stage he has a different dimension. Bringing him to life is a real joy, as people get to see different facets to him and he becomes a much rounder character.
“People are always surprised by how much heart Ross has, people have the idea that he’s just a cold, snobbish rugby jock — which, of course, he is — but there’s another side to him, a sincerity. If he didn’t have that, there’d be nothing at stake for audiences to enjoy in a play.
“The audiences keep coming back time after time so they must feel connected to the plays. That is something people sometimes forget, that these are plays. It’s not a stand-up routine, it’s not me just reciting the columns, these are proper plays, with a beginning, middle and end.”
While Postcards From The Ledge is part of a series, and the character has had several books printed too, Rory believes you can enjoy this production if you’ve no prior experience of Ross or his back-story.
“Each show has learned from the previous ones, in terms of production, performance and characters. I first stepped in to Ross’s shoes 12 years ago with the prophetic title Last Days Of The Celtic Tiger and I was a younger man playing a younger character,” he says.
“I didn’t realise how daunting it would be to portraying a character who is in the hearts and minds of so many people. This production is set in 2029, so I’m playing him in his middle ages. He’s on the verge of turning 50, his daughter is about to marry a man he really doesn’t approve of and he is the managing director of an estate agent called Hook, Lyon and Sinker.
“The play starts with him one morning in a house in one of the less salubrious areas of South County Dublin, where Ross is waiting to meet a man to try and sell him that house, it transpires it’s actually the house that Ross grew up in as a child, so it’s a trip down memory lane for him while he is also confronting himself and his relationship with his daughter. It’s just a riot of show, great fun to perform and to watch. The script is great, the production is great, even people who aren’t fans of Ross O’Carroll Kelly have come along and really enjoyed themselves. It’s not just laughing about a rugby guy, it’s a play that can turn on a sixpence, one moment you can be laughing and next there’s a lump in your throat.”
Rory also notes that being part of a specific successful theatre production helps Irish theatre in general: “Theatre has a lot to go against since film, Netflix and TV are so accessible so it’s good to have audiences coming to this. I do Beckett, I do Shakespeare, I get to play Ross, I’ve run the gamut and seen all elements of professional theatre in Ireland.
“Meeting people after the Ross shows they regularly tell me that the live performance aspect was an experience they want more of, and the amount of people who have seen me as Ross and then returned to see me in other plays is great.”
Ross O’Carroll-Kelly: Postcards From The Ledge shall run in the Cork Opera House from February 18-23. Tickets www.corkoperahouse.ie.