Interview with Richard Dormer | Drum Belly
Brooklyn New York in the summer of 1969 is the setting for the Abbey Theatre’s new production of Richard Dormer’s raw edgy thriller Drum Belly. Whilst the world stands in awe of man landing on the moon, Gulliver Sullivan and his small time Irish hoods struggle to make a buck in a merciless criminal underworld. Their strategy to manoeuvre a truce with Italian mobster Marconi is in jeopardy when $100,000 goes missing, so one of the gang is destined to pay the ultimate price.
Drum Belly is the Abbey Theatre’s first collaboration with one of Ireland’s most insightful and exciting playwrights, Richard Dormer (best known for his performance as Irish snooker star, Alex Higgins in Hurricane, which he wrote and starred in) and the talented and inspiring theatre director Sean Holmes (currently Artistic Director of London’s Lyric Hammersmith Theatre).
Dormer talks here to Caomhan Keane about what it's like to be the man with a hit flick (Good Vibrations), a high profile role in the forthcoming Game of Thrones and a play on at his National Theatre all in quick succession.
So tell us, what's Drum Belly about?
What's it about? It's about 90 minutes (laughs). It's set in the summer of 1969, during the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. It's about a bunch of Irish American gangsters, a thriller set during that period.
A thriller on the Abbey Stage is not what one would expect (although after Alice in Funderland last year I guess all bets are off). How did you swing that?
Well it's not just a thriller. It's about a search for identity. It's about Diaspora, emigration and a bunch of guys basically trying to work out who they are and where they are in the world and where they come from and where they are going. It was a very organic thing. The idea came from the voice of Harvey Marr, one of the characters. I had this image of a guy, who had been out on a bender, pissing on a leprechaun in the early hours of the morning. So the story just spun from there. PJ English wrote a book called Paddywacked about the history of the Irish American Gangsters from 1749 to 1985. It's the bible of Gangsterism in America. And after I read that all these characters started leaping out of nowhere. Usually you really have to work at a script and character. But all these guys started appearing. They all started talking to me.
Did you have any say in who the director would be?
There were a couple of directors in the mix but when Fiach mentioned Sean Holmes, as soon as I heard the name, I just grinned with delight. I know his stuff; he's a really dynamic director. I've been a fan of his for a long time and I was really bowled over when he agreed. He's a very visual director. He's ballsy and gutsy and he knows how to work with actors in that dynamic way. That's what made me excited.
Music is essential to the show isn't it?
The music is all from 1969 - the summer of 1969, and it really does inform the piece. I had it in my head while I was writing it. It's the type of soundtrack you would like to go out and buy. The Stooges, Credence Clearwater Revival. Really iconic type of music. Gutsy, rock and roll with a kind of energy to it.
Did Holmes have room to play around with what was used or were you firm that what you stated in the script was used?
I was insistent they stay the same. Bad Moon Rising is in there, they reference that in the script... "we're going to the moon, I love that song" and then they all dance to it. That's all there on the page. Music really paints the picture. It sets the scene and the atmosphere. Period music can sometimes be much more vivid than what words can do.
Is music something that affects you artistically?
Definitely. David Holmes is a good friend of mine. I met him about six years ago and he introduced me to what music can do in film. It really opened my eyes. I now write with music in my head. It colours the writing. It's a feeling rather then... I can't put it into words. If you look at any of the films that David has done - and you imagine that film without his music, it’s half the film it was. To me if you took the music out of Drum Belly it would be half the play.
You’re the star of Good Vibrations which has gotten some of the best word of mouth an Irish movie has gotten in a long time. Were you a fan of the genre before you took the part?
I wasn't, no. Good Vibrations came into my life at the same time as David Holmes so I have learned an awful lot about music in the last five or six years. I was a complete neophyte. I had to learn from scratch about punk and everything else. I was never a big fan of music until Good Vibrations came into my life. To get into the part I basically just listened to hundreds of songs from the 70s and 80s. A whole catalogue of music that was probably playing in the background when I was a child but I never really listened to it. Now, in my 40s, I really get it. I really didn't realise how good it was back then.
Was there a moment where you realised, "Fuck! This is going to be special."?
Yeah, there is a scene right at the end whenever Terry is singing Laugh At Me, the Sonny Bono song, in front of 2,000 people. That was filmed right smack bang in the middle of the schedule, three weeks in. And there was such an amazing buzz I had an out of body experience thinking “WOW, there really is an extraordinary atmosphere. Really epic. If this is the end of the film, I think we are onto something.”
You're also about to appear in Game of Thrones as Beric Dondarrion.
My agent in London handed me the script and said, “GET IT”. So I learned the script and went in and pretty much nailed it. I was delighted because I had been up for several parts in it for the past few years. But I'm really glad I got this one as it such a ballsy kick ass part.
Were you a fan of the series before hand?
Not at all a fan. I still haven't seen a single episode. My friends and everyone I know are all raving about it. So I better get a box set!
Drum Belly runs at The Abbey Theatre until Saturday, 11 May 2013.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Friday 26th April 2013 | Theatre