Star of The Home Place takes time out to talk about Peter Kay, ethnology and the challenges of the job. Click Play Audio for a podcast interview
It is the summer of 1878, a time of unrest and the early days of the Home Rule movement. The fateful events of The Home Place, a play by Brian Friel, take place over a single day at The Lodge in the imaginary Ballybeg, home of the Gores, a planter family with issues.
Friel's brilliantly crafted drama, soon to be produced by the Lyric Theatre, continues the historical probing which in his previous play Translations examined the tragic effects of a military operation to map the physical contours of the Irish landscape. In The Home Place, an exercise to determine the Irish character unleashes the tragedy, which revolves around ideas of national identity, love and belonging.
Acclaimed actor and Olivier award winner, Conleth Hill, took time out from rehearsals to shed some light on the complexities of his own character, Dr Richard Gore.
'[Gore] is an anthropologist, or an ethnologist, who studies the shape of people’s faces and is convinced that, somewhere along the line, he can actually tell what a person’s thinking - how they’re going to behave - by measuring their face, which is a pretty frightening theory for him to have.
'The whole play is about where people fit in and how they fit in, and how they are confined by their history. One of the first things I did was Winners [another Friel play], which we toured in 1982-3. But I’ve always thought he was a brilliant Ulster writer, and his canon of work is amazing. So it’s a real thrill to be doing this.'
As a teenager Hill cut his acting teeth with the Ulster Youth Theatre and was one of the first members of Fringe Benefits, a company whose work was aimed at a younger generation of theatregoers.
Since then Hill has developed into one of Northern Ireland's most successful acting exports, winning Olivier awards for his turns in Marie Jones' Stones In His Pockets and Mel Brook's smash hit musical, The Producers, in which Hill played the all singing, all dancing Roger de Bris.
Not one to be pigeon holed, Hill has also forged a career as a screen actor, appearing in Woody Allen's latest New York film and Peter Kay's hilarious Britain's Got The Pop Factor...
'Peter took over the role I was playing in London [in The Producers],' recalls Hill. 'I went to see him and he said, 'if I write something for you, will you do it?' I thought it was just small talk, it'll never happen. Then I was in New York and he phoned and asked if I would play his mum. That was great fun. He's a genius.
'Every role is a challenge,' admits Hill. 'The Producers was fantastic just because it was so different. The year flew by. It was against everything that I had been doing for years and years. Suddenly you're singing to an audience out front, whereas usually you let them come in to you. But every role is exciting for different reasons.'
From Beckett to Barry, the great Irish play has always played a part in Hill's career.
'I think all good writing, regardless of the country of origin, is about telling someone else’s story, and telling it well. I suppose the Irish are great at telling stories: Sebastian Barry, Conor McPherson, Marie Jones, Beckett, Wilde. I’ve been lucky enough to play all of them. Friel particularly has a great understanding of the dilemmas that people found themselves in through our history.'
Mounted with the full backing and involvement of Friel himself, The Home Place will be one of the largest Lyric productions in recent years and features a cast of twelve in full period costume and set.
Set to run in the Grand Opera House from February 10-21, the cast includes Ian McElhinney in the lead role of Christopher Gore; Stuart Graham, back on stage after his extraordinary role in the acclaimed film Hunger; Lalor Roddy, Miche Doherty and Aislin McGuckin, the Fermanagh-born actress who is a regular on the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The Home Place will also tour to the An Grianan Theatre, Letterkenny, Market Place Theatre, Armagh and the Strule Arts Centre, Omagh, Cork Opera House and Town Hall Theatre, Galway.
To book matinee or evening performances at the Grand Opera House call 028 9024 1919 or log on to the Grand Opera House website.