Hurricane

The life story of snooker's greatest genius graduates to the Grand Opera House

Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins died in July 2010. Aged 61, he was thought to have been dead for several days before his body was discovered. As Iggy Pop’s 'Lust for Life' belts out from the speakers on the stage of the Grand Opera House and actor/writer Richard Dormer morphs into the snooker legend, it makes the real Hurricane’s lonely death all the more poignant.

First performed in the Old Museum Arts Centre in Belfast in 2002, Hurricane is a one-man show that tells the life story of the Belfast-born, two-time snooker world champion who flicked a V at the snooker establishment. It was an instant smash hit. The Guardian’s theatre critic Michael Billington described Dormer’s performance as one of his top five performances of all time when it played in London’s West End.

Nine years on Hurricane has been remounted in the first show to be produced by the Grand Opera House. There had been talk of a re-write and a new ending, but that was quickly discounted. Hurricane director Rachel O’Riordan (Dormer's wife) believed that the show had 'in a sense become a eulogy'. Dormer has described it as 'a final farewell to a true genius and a legend'.

Dormer inhabits Higgins; it’s more than just a straight impression. He captures the player’s intensity, his complexities and charisma. He perfectly adopts his accent, his facial tics, his physicality. We see the man who refused to conform to the bow-tied dress of his peers, with his open necked shirt and his long hair, who hustled his way up from snooker halls in Belfast's back streets to world stardom. Then comes his addiction to booze, fags and gambling, his arm wrestling Oliver Reed and his dramatic fall from grace.

The grander stage suits the scale of this story, the larger than life drama of Higgins, but there is a sense that Dormer is having to fight the space more and, with that, the more gentle nuances of the drama can be lost. It doesn’t help that, during this performance, he had to contend with being heckled by a drunken man in the audience seconds into the show starting.

It only lasted a few minutes, but there was a real tension. Dormer, though, was unflappable, continuing to perform even though the heckling at one point became a bizarre two hander, as if the drunken shouting was part of the text. While the heckler was politely escorted out after a few minutes, it did lend a frisson to the performance.

I grew up watching Alex Higgins on the telly. My dad was a huge Pot Black fan and I remember being allowed to stay up late to watch that 1982 snooker final when Higgins beat Ray Reardon. The television cameras captured the now iconic moments of him after winning, in tears begging his wife Cara to come down from the stands and join him with his baby girl.

Dormer says, 'This is the moment they’ll remember you for.' It’s true. But I also remember walking past a pub in Belfast a few years ago and glimpsing Higgins having his dinner on his own.

Dormer captures the best of Higgins. In the final moments of the play, he walks towards the edge of the stage, effortlessly mutating from the older sick Higgins to the younger man in 1982, top of the world, top of his game. There is no amended ending to the play, except, with Higgins dead, we know there is a new ending.

Hurricane runs at the Grand Opera House until Saturday, January 29 and is at the Millennium Forum in Derry from February 4-5. Check out What's On for more information.