Dancing Shoes | Peter Sheridan
Interview by: Lauren O'Toole
It's not often one comes across a director as passionate about his subject as when you hear Peter Sheridan wax lyrical on the topic of the late George Best. When asked about the man at the heart of Dancing Shoes, currently showing at the Grand Opera House in Belfast before it descends on The Grand Canal Theatre on the 29th of August, Sheridan doesn't delve into the tainted image of Best's latter years but rather is eager to remain faithful to the Belfast boy who defied the odds and became an icon for many: "George Best was intensely shy and extremely skinny – he didn't have the physique of the normal footballer of the day. The normal footballers at this time were squat, strong and had a low centre of gravity – the Wayne Rooney look. George Best was like a greyhound, he had a great capacity to push the ball by defenders so even though he didn't look like the normal footballer he was changing the way the game was played and represented the change in football just as The Beatles represented the change in music at this time. In the 60s, rebellion was everywhere and people were expressing this rebellion in all sorts of ways. He was the right person in the right place at the right time – he had speed, great touch and intelligence and the idea of doing a show about him just felt so right to me. This show celebrates that iconic aspect of the man."
What was the genesis of Dancing Shoes and how did you come on board?
A guy called JJ Gilmour, who played with a lot of high profile bands, a Glaswegian who is a huge Glasgow Celtic supporter but also a huge Manchester United fan, had written about a half a dozen songs about George Best's life just because he was fascinated with him. He was looking around for a writer who could compose a narrative around these songs and he went to Marie Jones who is a writer in Belfast and she initially thought "Oh no, a musical on George Best? Oh no, no that won't work" and he kept at her over a period of 6 months and then one night he gave her a cd of the songs and told her to take it home and play it. So she listened to it and on the back of that decided that she was definitely going to do the show, because the songs are just brilliant, fantastic. So then she contacted Martin Lynch, the producer to come on board. He's also a writer and a Belfast man and together they started to put some scenes down. They then called me and said they were working on a George Best musical and I was very interested from the start because I've always been a huge Manchester United fan. So they initially asked me to listen to the songs and I said ‘I'm not interested in the songs' I felt that if the narrative wasn't right the songs won't make it work, I needed to see a narrative. They sent me a script and I knew after page three that I wanted to do the play, it was just fantastic: working class Belfast, a kid playing on the streets, going for a football trial which was the big thing, that urban working class feel – it could have been Dublin. The story really resonated for me and I rang them back and said that I really, really wanted to be involved in this project.
So you're confident enough that the play will be received as well in Dublin as it has in Belfast?
It's one of these things that you can take the boy out of Belfast but you can't take the Belfast out of the boy and the fact is that George was very Belfast. His dad worked in the shipyards and he grew up playing football on the streets just as we played football on the streets. The environment that he grew up in was very similar to us. The Belfast humour is not a million miles away from the Dublin humour and the concerns of the family in Belfast were the same as the concerns of the family in Dublin: struggling to put a dinner on the table, eating out of the local chip shop, living out of the pawn shops, all of the things that are part of the urban landscape.
It must have been quite challenging to cast such an iconic figure as George Best?
This was one of the real difficulties. When I sat down to do this they had written a young George Best and an older George Best and they wanted two actors to play the parts but I pushed very strongly that we would have the one guy throughout. We needed someone who could play football, act, sing and obviously also be genuine Belfast. We were looking for the impossible and we kind of found it in Aidan O'Neill. This guy is top notch and in many ways the success of the play is hugely dependent on him.
You directed the comedy musicals I, Keano and What the Donkey Saw and now Dancing Shoes – are you particularly attracted to these productions for some reason or do you get approached to do them because you do them well?
I don't think I'm noted as a musical director but I was probably asked to do I, Keano and Dancing Shoes because of my interest in sport. It's my one big love of my life after theatre; I have a big feel for it.
Do you feel sport and theatre complement each other?
I think in the hands of the wrong person it could be a mess and it's important that when you're tackling this subject matter you get someone who has a genuine feel for it and cares about it. I don't know of many theatre directors who are that interested in football, I mean the two don't necessarily go together. In many ways the two are mutually exclusive in that people who really really love the theatre often hate football.
And finally, are you looking forward to directing a show in The Grand Canal?
Very much so! I couldn't think of a better show for my maiden show in The Grand Canal than the George Best story. It's such a funny, upbeat, great night out. It's one of those shows where you can say to people this is genuinely a great night out, it's full of warmth and fun and craic and just sends the audience out with a smile on their faces.
Dancing Shoes-The George Best Story Live at the Grand Canal Theatre Monday 29th August - Saturday 3rd September 2011 Tickets priced from €20.00 on sale now.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Tuesday 16th August 2011 | Theatre
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