Before taking up his role in Kevin Barry’s play, Autumn Royal, Offaly actor Peter Campion has had to work on his Leeside accent, writes .
Peter Campion is getting a very Cork education. The actor has been booked into the Metropole hotel and is having a tour of Cork city with Under The Goldie Fish author Conal Creedon, the better to get to grips with his role as Timmy in Kevin Barry’s darkly comic play, Autumn Royal.
“I can do a good West Cork accent, because I’ve spent so much time there,” he says, “But I have to get that city twang going.”
The 30-year-old breaks into a highly credible West Cork lilt: “They kind of go up and down like this, like,” before attempting a northsider’s tightly-wound sing-song, “but Timmy says things like: ‘Financial services, I’d say I’d be working in something like that’.”
Campion was born in Birr, Co Offaly, and trained in London where, he says, a strong accent of any description is a major disadvantage. “They just can’t understand you,” he says. As a result, he’s got a pleasant but neutral Irish accent. Now based in Dublin, he recently did the voiceover for RTÉ’s First Dates Ireland.
He lives in the capital with his girlfriend, Red Rock actress Valerie O’Connor, and their daughter Mary Rae, who’s a year-and-a-half old. Fatherhood has changed him hugely, he says: “It’s a whole different ball game. It’s the only time in life that there’s this real ‘before and after’. It’s incredible, and discombobulating, and the love is just endless.”
Currently appearing in Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope on RTÉ, Campion is known to Irish audiences from films like Sing Street and Brooklyn, as well as hit comedy series Derry Girls. He’s set to reunite with Derry Girls co-star, Siobhán McSweeney, who won hearts as the hilariously dour Sister Michael in the Channel 4 show, even as Campion caused swoons as an inadvisably handsome priest.
Autumn Royal, the playwriting debut of Kevin Barry, is a two-hander: Campion and McSweeney, as brother and sister Timmy and May, find themselves confined to a claustrophobic existence caring for their elderly, bed-bound father.
“I love the script,” Campion says. “Cracking dialogue. So I’m really looking forward to bringing it alive with Siobhán. We’re good pals and we’ve worked together before. Timing is paramount for this to work, and how we kind of feed off each other, because there’s a comedic streak through the play even though it’s very dark as well.”
Campion takes over from Shane Casey, best known for his role as Billy Murphy, the Frank and Walters singing criminal, in The Young Offenders. Casey and McSweeney had been involved in Autumn Royal since an early draft of the script, and worked closely with Barry and director Caitríona McLaughlin from the project’s inception.
How does Campion feel about stepping into Casey’s shoes? He shrugs. “I just need to bring to it what I can bring to it. I don’t really want to over-think it; the accent is important, but what’s more important is just bringing the character to life.
“In the script, Timmy is described as ‘off the spectrum for spectrummy’, which is such a great line. But he’s a funny one, and I have to get my head around him.”
It’s very much a play set in the second city. “I know the characters live on Richmond Hill, is that near here?” Campion asks. “And Timmy’s a North Mon man. Apparently, that gives him notions.”
Campion definitely needs to get his bearings, then. But he’s enjoying the opportunity to spend a few days in the Rebel City before returning to Dublin, where some of the rehearsals will take place. “Cork has a very particular essence to it, very different from any other Irish city,” Campion says. “You meet the most amazing characters, and it’s a joy to have the opportunity to do it.”
Campion was nominated for an Irish theatre award in 2015 for his supporting role in Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, but has been working more extensively in film and TV since. Returning to theatre, then, is another joy. Campion says the pace, nerves and intensity are welcome.
“It’s very fulfilling because you go on this massive journey with the character and then you go on this massive journey each night while you’re doing it. It’s all-consuming, and there’s an amazing level of
fantasy to it; you’re just going down the rabbit-hole.”
Autumn Royal is on at Everyman Cork, from tomorrow (May 1 to Saturday, May 5), with a post-show talk on Wednesday.
The play will be on nationwide tour throughout May, including Project, Dublin (8-12); and Limerick, Belltable (25- 26)