Rare chance to see McCabe double-header

Frank Pig Says Hello and its sequel should make for fine viewing, writes Alan O’Riordan

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Dublin Theatre Festival, but also, within the programme, is another one of those I-can’t-believe-it’s-been-that-long revivals. This time it’s Pat McCabe’s hit Frank Pig Says Hello, 25 years on.

The play returns as part of a double-header, alongside McCabe’s The Leaves of Heaven, which was first staged last year and in which we find Francie Brady, 25 years on, in the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. Joe O’Byrne returns as director to what was his first collaboration with McCabe. The pair have since, together, produced Loco County Lonesome, The Dead School, and The Revenant.

“I would have known Pat for a number of years and I said to him, if you ever had a play, we’d produce it,” he recalls. “We would have talked in 1990 about this book he was writing, and he told me he was getting nowhere with it and that maybe he’d turn it into a play. So, in 1991, he wrote this play and also rewrote the novel. The play became Frank Pig Says Hello and the book became The Butcher Boy. We decided we’d do it for the theatre festival in 1992.”

Between that decision to stage Frank Pig and the festival itself, that autumn, came the publication of The Butcher Boy, first to critical and prize-winning acclaim in Ireland and then, shortly before the festival, a Booker nomination. Rather convenient, that, for a company staging a new play by a hitherto not-so-well-known writer.

“We were in rehearsals when the Booker nomination came through, and that changed a lot,” says O’Byrne. “The play in the theatre festival was a huge success. It was one of those things where everything seemed to fall into place.”

Audiences who’ve read the book and seen the popular and acclaimed film might expect an ensemble piece; and, indeed, that’s how it started out in McCabe’s hands, with eight actors envisioned, but O’Byrne made the play a two-hander, with a mixture of pragmatism and artistic vision. The same applies this time around.

“Because you have the older Frank telling the story, and the younger Frank, it seemed to work with the two actors,” says O’Byrne. “The older Frank then plays every other character in the village. It’s a case of reducing everything to a simplicity, that idea of creating the story out of nothing, that allows the language to work much better. The play is so rich in musical, rhythmic language. That comes across really well in that pared-down, simplified style. There’s also a speed and pace of the repartee. It’s heightened language, which gives a musical feel, and music is a very important part of Pat’s work.”

The Leaves of Heaven, O’Byrne says, is a rather different work, a more structurally complex piece of writing. “It’s much more a kind of mature writer playing with form. It’s trying to challenge the expectations of the audience. Francie is looking back and trying to deal with the terrible thing he did. The play is all about what he has done to deal with the fact that he is institutionalised and also the remorse he feels. It is very different in style. Frank Pig has a feel of a youthful, energetic play. The Leaves of Heaven has the feel of [something] very much more reflective. He’s thinking about his life and is looking towards his death.”

Frank Pig Says Hello and The Leaves of Heaven will make for a rare double-header, offering a chance to, not alone look at the same character across time, but the same writer, too.

  • Frank Pig Says Hello and The Leaves of Heaven are at Draiocht, Blanchardstown, on Oct 4-7; and Axis, Ballymun, on Oct 11-13


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