Following your own path in life

His father was a famous singer, but Phelim Drew’s first love was acting, writes Colette Sheridan

AS THE son of the late Ronnie Drew, actor Phelim Drew admits that living up to his father’s name isn’t always easy.

“It’s generally small-minded people who would remind me that I’m not as good as my father. But in general, people can make the separation between me and my father. The comparisons are always going to be there. He was such a larger than life character and a big part of Irish culture for many years.”

Phelim is currently starring in a touring production of Conor McPherson’s play, Port Authority. Produced by Galway-based Decadent Theatre Company, the play, first performed in 2001, consists of three monologues in which three Irish men from different generations confront significant events in their lives and are forced to face up to themselves.

As Drew explains, the monologues are interwoven. “It’s interesting the way you can be following one character’s story and then the next character picks up where the other one has left off.”

Directed by Andrew Flynn, the play also stars Garrett Keogh and Carl Kennedy. Youth, middle age and old age and the challenges these stages in life pose, are explored in this play. All the show’s narratives are love stories of a sort. The men, in taking stock of themselves, have to come to terms with the decisions they’ve made.

Drew plays Dermot who briefly hitched a ride on the back of the Celtic Tiger only to discover that it was a poor substitute for what is really important in his life.

“Dermot is an unsympathetic character at the beginning. He joins an accountancy firm in Dublin and gets drawn into a world of drinks in town and then gets invited to Los Angeles to see a new Irish band that is making it big. He turns his back on his wife and child, seeing them as trying to drag him away from the success he thinks is his due.”

The world that Dermot is drawn to is one in which barristers, solicitors and accountants are living the high life. They’re flying by helicopter to race meetings and going to LA to see rock bands, hoping to manage their finances.

“Initially, Dermot thinks this life is all very glamorous. But he soon realises that all that glitters is not gold. Where he belongs is at home with his family.”

The character experiences a lot of humiliation. “It’s quite comic. But with all three characters, there’s an underlying seriousness in terms of the effects their experiences have on their lives.”

The other characters are a young man living in flat land and going to parties, and an older man who talks about a missed opportunity in his earlier life.

“In terms of examining the human condition, the play is very insightful. Conor McPherson can be comic but quite dark also. He’s quite fearless as a writer. If a character is going down a dark road, he doesn’t shy away from it.”

For Drew, the underlying message in the play is that there’s no point in focusing on regrets. “Sometimes, things are not meant to be. Chasing after what is perceived as a better life is a waste.

“My character’s story moves quite quickly for the first two thirds of the play. The other characters’ stories move more slowly.”

Drew caught the acting bug at an early age. “The first time I remember really being taken by theatre and with acting as a possible career was whenI saw a production of The Field by John B Keane. I no longer saw acting as a possibility; I was pretty much hell bent on it.”

Drew later attended the Gaiety School of Acting. Did he inherit his father’s singing talent?

“I have a band called the Baskervilles which is a country and blues band. We play around the place, more for fun than anything else.”

Drew, unlike the character he plays, says he is content with a career in his home town and raising a young family, and is definitely not chasing the glamour of Tinsel Town.

* Port Authority is at Siamsa Tire, Tralee, Nov14-15; Everyman, Cork, Nov 18-20; Belltable, Limerick, Nov 21-23

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