The 1990s in Ireland saw a series of highly successful theatre productions in which actors played a multiplicity of roles. This has often been attributed to the economic exigencies of the times, but it also depended on the availability of flexible actors with the physical and psychological capacity to embody a wide range of identifiable characters within the one production. The collaborative work of dramatist Tom MacIntyre, director Patrick Mason and actor Tom Hickey (most notably their non-verbal stage adaptation of Patrick Kavanagh’s long poem, The Great Hunger) had established, in Ireland during the 1980s, an appetite among both artists and audiences for an increasingly physical style of theatre performance. But it was the emergence of a new generation of performers from the burgeoning youth theatre movement, bolstered by the return to Ireland of the first wave of young actors to have experienced a more physical theatre training in Paris , that created the conditions for a new genre of Irish theatre performance.
This series of posts will consider the acting techniques required for this style of performance with reference to four productions from the 1990s in which two actors took on multiple roles: Frank Pig Says Hello (1992), Co-Motion’s stage adaptation of Pat McCabe’s novel; The Butcher Boy, Corca Dorca’s production of Disco Pigs (1996) by Enda Walsh; DubbleJoint’s production of Stones in his Pockets by Marie Jones (1996) and its subsequent award-winning revival which I produced at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre in 1999; and Kabosh’s production of Mojo Mickybo by Owen McCafferty (1998). The discussion will focus primarily on my own empirical exploration of the demands multi-roling places on an actor through the direction of recent revivals of Mojo Mickybo for Belfast’s Chatterbox Theatre Company (2013) and Bedlam Productions (2015).
This first post will identify the precise nature of multi-roling in these productions, and the psychological demands this places on an actor. The second post, due to appear next week, will look at the physical requirements of distinguishing role from role.