Interview with Manus Halligan | The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle
The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle is the tale of a recently deceased 58-year-old who is forced to look back on his life’s events and decisions that led to a rather disappointing turnout at his funeral.
Gillian Hopper met with actor Manus Halligan to discuss all things “Eric”... (which coincidentally is nominated for our erics in the Best Theatrical Production category, which you can vote for below!)
How does it feel revisiting The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle for a third time?
I’m delighted it’s happening again! Performing in the Edinburgh and Dublin Fringes have been great. It’s a play that I really stand by as being an excellent piece of new writing and have no qualms trying to drag people along to see it as I know they’re going to love it. It’s storytelling at its best, and with such an array of characters coming in and out of it, there’s something for everyone in the audience to relate to.
The first time we did the show in Edinburgh there were only two people in the audience (we had a tough time slot – noon). That’s four times the amount of performers onstage than audience members! But they absolutely loved it and gave us a mini-standing ovation at the end. And watching the audiences grow and grow throughout the month as the reviews came flooding in was such a testament to the production and I look forward to doing it again and again and again.
Tells us about the character(s) you play... Mr. Downey & Craig; do the two characters share any similarities.
As an actor, what I love about this play are the characters that I get to play as they are very unique in so many ways. Craig is Eric Argyle’s stuttering best friend, the cheeky one of the group, and his scenes tend to be full of comedy because of the bizarre situations he puts them in. Mr. Downey is the local shop owner who is coping with the death of his only son. My “Craig” scenes range from the ages of eleven to mid-thirties, whereas Mr. Downey is a much older man who lives up until his mid-eighties. There are a LOT of quick costume changes!
Is it a challenge to fit an entire life and death story into a 90 minute play?
Like any life and death story it’s always going to be difficult. In film, you have the luxury of edits and complete scenery changes in the blink of an eye, but in theatre you have to incorporate the movement of time through set, lighting, costumes etc. But that’s where theatre will always win over film. Seeing the story evolve before your eyes without any quick jump-cuts makes the production all the more enjoyable, and our set has been designed in such a way that allows us to manipulate the stage space in many ways very quickly.
Laboured themes of life, death and love run through the play; how does Ross Dungan revive and bring new vitality to this reflective theatrical work?
The first thing that struck me when I read the play was its style of writing and its ability to jump from hilarious laugh-out-loud moments to hard-hitting emotional scenes. Ross really has a great hand for comedy writing, and it’s this comedy, matched with his fascinating storytelling and characters, that brings out the motifs of life, death and friendship in a beautiful way without being overly ‘serious and heavy’.
It wasn’t uncommon for reviewers to describe audiences leaving the show with “smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes”.
Juggling between quick scene changes and various characters is it easy for the audience to get lost in the madness?
The introduction to the play begins with a lot of pace as we are introduced to the characters of the town, but once the play settles in you see that every storyline has a clear relation to Eric’s life and ties in very nicely at the end. The play also jumps through time as we look back through Eric’s life in a flashback setting, but with Dan Herd’s direction, this never becomes hard to follow. And the madness of the piece is great to watch! It’s all systems go for the full 90 minutes.
Having toured with director Dan Herd, has his direction changed much from initial settings of the play?
Not really. Before flying to Edinburgh we rehearsed the show in Dublin in just under two weeks (the most stressful part of my year by far) and performed for three test audiences. Originally we had the ensemble of eight actors live on stage for the duration of the play but the stage picture was appearing too cluttered so Dan shelved that idea after our first show, much to the production’s advantage. Apart from that change it has stayed much the same, but having performed the show close to forty times you keep finding new character traits/ideas that help flesh them out more and more.
Is live theatre your first preference in acting?
Live theatre is definitely my preference as you get serious enjoyment performing in front of the audience, whereas with screen acting there’s no audience there and can be an unrewarding experience at times. Saying that, I would love to try more screen acting to improve my ability but for now it’s theatre, theatre, theatre. Actually, when I first read ‘…Eric Argyle’ I thought it would make a powerful film as the story and its setting is quite cinematic. I’ll Bebo Sam Mendes and see what he thinks.
A cast of eight moves from character to narrator to musician in a blink; do your musicianship skills take a prominent role in the work?
I did a production last March in the Project Arts Centre called Purple, directed by Edwina Casey, and my character was a guitar player in a ‘cool teenage band’. That forced me to learn and improve my guitar skills, which in turn gave me good scope when it came to ‘…Eric Argyle’. I play a lot of guitar throughout the performance when I’m not narrating or jumping in and out of costumes. Rob Kearns’ composition is full of simple melodies that really fit into the play very well and have been highlighted in many reviews.
Having received great accolade for performances of the Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle at the Dublin and Edinburgh Fringe festivals, do you think London audiences will receive the show similarly in Soho in April?
I have no doubt it my mind that London audiences will respond very positively to this show. Many of our audience members in Edinburgh were English people holidaying and they stayed behind after shows to congratulate us and share their thoughts so I don’t think the play is strictly for Irish audiences. I’m looking forward to it a lot to be honest.
‘Grancom’s are apparently the buzz genre of 2013... where does that leave a 6ft, no sign of shrinking, 18 to 20 something year old male actor?? What’s next for you?
Well, all grandparents have to have grandchildren do they not!? Next on the theatrical horizon for myself is King Lear in the Abbey Theare, directed by the lovely Selina Cartmell who I worked with before on The Making of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. The production has a stellar cast of actors, and it being my national theatre debut I’m obviously looking forward to it with great anticipation. I just count my lucky stars I’m involved!
The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle will run for two weeks at the Smock Alley Theatre from the 14th January - 26th January. Tickets available now from entertainment.ie/tickets and Smock Alley Theatre.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Monday 7th January 2013 | Theatre
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