A stolen painting and a rural romance

Stephen Hogan as Pato

Shelley Marsden meets Stephen Hogan, currently starring in Beauty Queen of Leenane and whose uncle famously stole a painting from the Tate…

Stephen Hogan is in Leicester for a run of Beauty Queen of Leenane, but then he’s back at work on what is a very personal project – a film he’s developing about his uncle’s Paul Hogan’s theft of an important artwork.

The painting in question, Berthe Morisot’s ‘Jour D’ete’ (worth £10,000 at the time, and now estimated at around £7 million), was taken from the Tate on April 12 1954.  It was part of the Douglas Hyde collection of impressionist masterpieces which he bequeathed to Ireland.

However, following his death on the Lusitania, the paintings were taken to London in the last days of British rule. Stephen’s uncle took the painting to highlight the popular feeling that Lane’s paintings should have been on display in Dublin, not London.

Says Stephen: “My uncle’s actions, as a 25 year old art student in Dublin, resulted in the return of the pictures to Ireland. They’re now on display at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Parnell Square. It’s a great story, and the fact that it’s part of my family history is even more exciting. I want to play Sarsfield, Paul Hogan’s dad and my grandfather who, as Eamon De Valera’s private secretary at the time, paid a high price for his son’s idealism.”

Berthe Morisot’s ‘Jour D’ete’

But in the meantime, when he’s not exploring his uncle’s appropriation of expensive works of art, he’s enjoying playing Pato, one of the leads in Martin McDonagh’s oft-performed play, set in the small village of Leenane in the West of Ireland.

Pato is a working man who, like many of his generation, works as a labourer on the building sites of England. A decent and sensitive man living a tough and pretty isolated life in London, Pato returns home periodically where he renews his acquaintance with Maureen – the ‘Beauty Queen’ of the play’s title.

In true Martin McDonagh style, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, which rocketed the now celebrity playwright to fame, blends comedy thriller, violence and grand melodrama as it charts the life of Maureen Folan, a 40 year old virgin, her relationship with her manipulative mother, and her brush with romance in the mountains of Galway. Directed by Artistic Director Paul Kerryson, this is the third McDonagh play to be produced at Curve following The Pillowman in 2009 and The Lieutenant of Inishmore in 2010.

It’s an authentically Irish play, but Stephen reckons UK audiences are with Beauty Queen all the way, as its story universal; a woman trapped in a toxic relationship with a controlling and manipulative mother; the yearning to escape the suffocating parochialism of village life, and themes of romance, human connection and love.

It’s been performed many times, and McDonagh’s very specific setting and design (it must be of that Irish rural world), it’s hard to imagine what a new production could bring to it. You can’t do a ‘Peter Brook’ on it, as Stephen puts it. But any great play, if it’s performed well, should seem fresh and immediate and this one’s no different.

He says: “It’s the actor’s interpretation and their physical and emotional investment that creates a unique production. This is Paul Kerryson’s third McDonagh play for The Curve and he brings a razor sharp insight and clarity to the storytelling. I was thrilled when we got into the theatre for technical rehearsals and saw what a brilliant, stunning set (Juliet Shillingford) and lighting design (David Kidd) we have. It really is a high end production.”

Beyond the realms of small-town Ireland, Stephen has had extensive experience on stage, and standout roles to date are two: Algernon Moncrieff in The Importance of Being Earnest and Joe Pitt in Angels in America, both for the iconic Abbey Theatre.

Offstage, he has just wrapped on something totally different – a comedy horror called Flatlake, in the vein of old 50’s and 60’s movies of the genre. His agent sent him the script, which he immediately fell for and, already being a big fan of the man who penned it, Pat McCabe (who won the Man Booker Prize for Borstal Boy), it was a done deal.

Set in a small Cavan town, Flatlake, directed by Kevin Allen, was great fun to film, recalls Stephen: “It’s based mainly on the estate of Hilton House, a 17th Century “Big House”, and the wilds of the Cavan borderlands, which is a part of the county I didn’t know at all. It certainly has a nod to The Wicker Man and the humour is extremely sharp and black.”

The Dubliner plays protagonist Dr Guy Bensley, who returns to the old country to investigate rumours of a local cult for his magazine, the brilliantly-titled Mythological Monthly: “It’s a sexy, madcap roller coaster of a ride for him, in every sense!”

His eclectic roles have included Eric Ducann in Injustice (opposite James Purefoy, directed by Colm McCarthy for ITV), Robespierre in Terror! Robespierre and the French Revolution for BBC TV, as series regular Sir Henry Thomas in The Tudors and US hostage Adam Smith in Iraqi-based thriller, Agape. Watch out for him, too, in the next series of ITV’s Primeval.

Another recent role, as Sky Marshall Anoke in Starship Troopers: Marauder, which he almost didn’t get, not being a big studio name, involved shooting in stunning locations across South Africa, and Stephen – as any sane man would – took time out to go on safari, even diving with great white sharks off Seal Bay.

Of the film he says: “Ed Neumeier wrote a funny, satirical script which many read as an allegory for American Imperialism and the ‘War on Terror’. The studio were dead set on getting a ‘name’ and didn’t have a clue who I was, but Ed fought tooth and nail to give me the part.  Plus, when the producers got wind that my last job was in a musical they asked me to sing the theme song!”

Stephen Hogan has been many things, but pigeonholed is not one of them.

Beauty Queen of Leenane is at Leicester’s Curve Theatre until November 9. See www.curveonline.co.uk.

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