Frank O’Connor’s rites and wrongs of passage now on stage

Shane Casey, Liam Heffernan   and Gary Murphy in rehearsal for God Bless the Child, which opens at the Everyman in Cork tomorrow. Picture: Michael MacSweeney

Three of Frank O’Connor’s stories have been combined for the stage, writes Colette Sheridan

THREE of Frank O’Connor’s short stories, written from a child’s perspective, have been adapted for the stage by Patrick Talbot Productions in association with the Everyman in Cork. The resulting play, entitled God Bless the Child, features ‘My Oedipus Complex’, ‘The Genius’ and ‘First Confession’. It stars Shane Casey whose character’s name in ‘My Oedipus Complex’ has been changed from Larry to Michael for convenience. This is because there is another character called Larry in ’The Genius’. He is played by Gary Murphy while Liam Heffernan plays Jackie in ‘First Confession’.

As Talbot says, anyone who has been through the Irish education system will fondly remember ‘First Confession’. “Learning English in this country was synonymous with reading ‘First Confession’. I did it for the Inter Cert and it made a huge impression on me. As a young boy, I hadn’t heard of O’Connor. I think everyone can identify in some way with ‘First Confession’. I’ve merged that story with ‘My Oedipus Complex’ and ‘The Genius’. They’re my favourite O’Connor stories and are arguably, his most autobiographical. Informed by his early life, they’re lovely, compelling rite-of-passage stories and they’re very funny.”

Even though they’re set in the early decades of the 20th century, Talbot says they have a timeless quality. “They capture a moment in young lives that are transformative. Life is never the same again for the protagonists.”

Talbot believes O’Connor had an extraordinary ability to capture the voice and the mindset of the young child. For him, transposing the stories to the stage has been a satisfying process. The three characters come together in a classroom. As well as playing the young boys, they also play all the supporting characters in the three stories. Having adult actors play children is challenging technically, but I think the lads are having great fun doing it. It captures what O’Connor was writing about. The essence of the characters is conveyed.”

In 2007, Talbot adapted one of O’Connor’s best-known stories, Guests of the Nation, starring Denis Conway, for the Everyman. “That really stimulated my interest in further exploring O’Connor’s stories.”

Talbot welcomes the challenge of bringing short stories to life on the stage and says that O’Connor’s writing lends itself to that process. “I’ve had great support from Frank O’Connor’s widow, Harriet O’Donovan Sheehy. One of the things I said to her is that we’re being as truthful as possible to the source material. That’s what it’s all about; it’s a homage to Frank O’Connor.”

While the stories have been edited by Talbot to accentuate the dialogue, the main substance of what they’re presenting is what Frank O’Connor wrote. “His language is very accessible. He had a unique ability to access the minds of children, to make them compelling in terms of their certainty and stubbornness and their refusal to see reason.”

In ‘The Genius’, Larry’s wants to find out where babies come from. “While he’s doing that, he falls in love and has to deal with the ramifications of that as he continues on his quest. In ‘First Confession’, Jackie has to deal with an obstreperous grandmother.”

In ‘My Oedipus Complex’, the character that Talbot has named Michael, finds it hard when his father returns from the war and occupies his former place in his mother’s bed. “These are all familiar themes. They’re huge issues in the eyes of the young characters. We’ve all been there. There’s trauma in these stories but there’s also great joy and humour.”

God Bless the Child is at the Everyman from July 16-26


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