Young Offenders star refusing to put a gloss on his days as a painter in new play

Having won the hearts of audiences in The Young Offenders, Shane Casey is set to perform in his self-penned play inspired by his time as a tradesman, writes Ellie O’Byrne.

Shane Casey says his debut play is a study of Irish masculinity.

My frustration is that my friends weren’t going to theatre. There was nothing made for the good people of Cork: there was nothing appealing to them, to my parents

On the train from Dublin to Cork for rehearsals recently, actor Shane Casey was accosted by a mob of young lads boarding the train at Thurles.

It’s an almost daily scene for the Cork man, ever since his iconic role as hapless hooligan Billy Murphy in the film and TV show of The Young Offenders. But for someone who describes their acting career as “the shy man’s revenge,” it can be a bit of a challenge.

“They’d obviously seen The Young Offenders, and they were just screaming ‘Billy Murphy’ at me for the first few seconds, and it was quite frightening,” Casey says. “I had to get them to back off and calm down, so I could chat to them.”

Casey’s presence as the simultaneously menacing and hilarious Billy Murphy in The Young Offenders is one of the undisputed highlights of Peter Foott’s hit film and TV series.

It was the final episode of the TV show, with Billy Murphy’s famous bus hijacking scene, featuring a singalong to The Frank and Walters’ ‘After All’, that really shone a spotlight on Casey.

And the reception has been massive: “We had a special screening of that episode in the English Market and going in, everyone was looking for a word with the lads (stars Alex Murphy and Chris Whalley). After the screening, it took me an hour to get out of the building.”

Although Casey is eagerly anticipating his return as Peter Foott musters his forces for a fresh round of Young Offenders filming this autumn, the TV show wasn’t without its personal trials and tribulations.

Suffering a crisis of confidence, Casey, who says he’s prone to periods of self-doubt and anxiety, even returned to acting and improv classes.

“I had to change my whole process and completely re-assess my way of working,” he says. “I went back to classes and everything. As you can probably tell, communicating is something I struggle with. That’s probably why I act in the first place.”

Having grown up on Friar’s Walk in Cork, Casey left school at 16 to qualify as a painter/decorator and returned to education at 21 to study theatre at Coláiste Stiofán Naofa.

He has starred in Kevin Barry’s playwriting debut, Autumn Royal, and his string of acting credits on both stage and screen date back to Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley.

Now he’s appearing in in his self-penned play, Wet Paint, which draws on his time as a painter and decorator during 2005, the year that Cork was European Capital of Culture and the height of the building bubble.

It’s a play that taps into Casey’s working-class background and his fervently held belief that all voices need a space in Irish theatre. The elitism he has perceived was present in Cork’s reign Capital of Culture, he says.

“Looking back on it made it easier to go, ‘Yeah, that was bollox. Lovely fireworks, loads of foreign plays: bollox.’ My frustration is that my friends weren’t going to theatre."

"There was nothing made for the good people of Cork: there was nothing appealing to them, to my parents, so that’s what I wanted to write.”

Wet Paint features co-stars Michael Sands and Tommy Harris and is directed by Pat Talbot. It’s a comedy play that, Casey says, is a study of Irish masculinity in all its glory and vulnerability as well as a commentary on class.

“The show really is about how men communicate,” he says. “We’re told we don’t, but we do. It might be side-on, in a bar or on a building site, but eventually things do come out.”

Shane Casey as Billy Murphy in the Young Offenders.

Following years as a painter/ decorator, Casey’s own wake-up call that he had to get out and pursue an acting career came, he says, when an apprentice said to him, “What are you doing here? You hate this, and you don’t even know it.”

Yet during the arts cuts of the downturn, Casey found himself back on site, and he only returned to full-time acting again recently. Which was why there was one element of the public response to his Young Offenders role that has been particularly poignant for him.

“The week the show first went out, I got all these calls and texts from guys I’d worked with, saying, ‘I hope you never have to pick up a brush again.’ It was really nice, but they’re still there, doing that job.

Ninety-five per cent of them are basically hardworking gentlemen, who go in and put in incredible hours to support their families. Who knows, I could be back there some day again. But I hope not.”

Wet Paint runs from Monday the 25th to Saturday the 30th of June at the Everyman Theatre, Cork.

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