By David Hennessy
Keith Duffy of Boyzone and formerly of Coronation Street says there is still too much ignorance around autism, the condition his 14-year-old daughter Mia is affected by.
Keith has done much work with Irish Autism Action and with this month of April being international Autism Awareness Month, the organisation expect to break a record for the highest number of people wearing blue noses in one place on Blue Nose Day at this Sunday’s Allianz League finals in Croke Park.
Keith fund raises tirelessly for Irish Autism Action and was Ireland’s Philanthropist of 2013 but would like to see more done from a higher level for autistic children in Ireland.
Keith told The Irish World: “Irish Autism Action, who are the umbrella foundation that looks after all the other autism charities and schools: They’re not state founded at all. They rely on sponsorship and they rely on fundraising so of course more money needs to be spent on this and more money needs to be spent on the understanding of autism. I have a great understanding of it because I’ve lived with it and the difference that I’ve seen the appropriate education making to children with autism is phenomenal. It’s the difference in long term of a child living in our society successfully or being sedated to a chair in some sort of an institute, that’s effectively the difference between getting the appropriate intervention, the appropriate education and not.
“The amount of schools we have been a part of opening in Ireland, 12 across the country- We’ve waiting lists the length of both of my arms of children that need this education and just can’t avail of it because the state are not providing it on a big enough scale.”
Keith added: “People are still very ignorant about what autism actually is so breaking down those walls will help the people suffering with it perform a lot better and reach their goals and potential. The world record breaking feat we’re having on the 27th of April, it’s something to follow on from next year with but also to create more awareness in the month that we’re in.”
“It’s great, 12 years on from when I started the campaign, to see the supportive following we have now and the amount of people that have educated themselves on autism and the amount of children’s lives we’ve changed over the years. It’s all going in the right direction, thank God.”
Keith will be making his London stage debut when he plays Stapler in Bill Roche’s A Handful of Stars.
“As an individual and as a person, this is definitely the most rewarding job that I’ve done in the entertainment business over the last 20 odd years,” the former Rovers Return barman says of his latest role.
“I love the process because it’s such a wonderful experience, the whole start, middle and end: Putting the performance in, changing it, trying it a different way, taking direction, trying to portray what the director sees and compromising what you see and then coming up with a plan that you both agree on. The time that you’re given to develop the character and then you go and perform this character onstage every night, it’s just so rewarding as an entertainer.”
A Handful of Stars centres around tearaway Jimmy Brady who refuses to abide by the rules of his community where shotgun weddings are only outnumbered by violent outbursts in the local pool hall, while Keith’s character Stapler is an ex boxer in Roche’s violent tale set in Wexford: “I was later getting into the acting than I was anything else and although we might still feel like we’re 19, unfortunately we’re not anymore. I’m 40 this year so initially reading the script the part of Jimmy Brady would definitely be a role for an actor. It’s an actor’s role because you’re being given an opportunity to show emotion on every different level so it’s a fantastic role to play, it’s a great opportunity for whoever gets to play it.
“The part of Stapler equally is a fantastic role. Even when he’s not onstage, his presence is felt because he’s spoken about an awful lot in the scenes that he’s not in and I’m too old to play Jimmy Brady. Playing the older character now, (I’m) the guy that has more world experience and he tries to take the younger guys under his wing and guide him in the right direction and be a kind of big brother to the younger loose cannon. I’m a father, I’ve an 18 year old son, I’ve a 14 year old daughter, I’ve had a lot of world experience so I do believe I can bring a lot to the character of Stapler. It’s a great role for me to get.
“It’s great the fact that it’s an Irish play because that takes a bit of the pressure off and it will be great to see who comes along to see it. Obviously we’ll get a lot of Irish people living in London coming along but I’m sure we’ll get a lot of the London audience as well.”
Duffy has done much theatre work in Ireland, including some work with Druid and is very much looking forward to performing in front of an audience much smaller than he would have with Ronan, Shane and Mikey on their recent 20th anniversary tour: “To be honest, maybe different from other actors, but I love the small theatre: I just think it’s so intimate and I just believe that the audience will definitely feel a part of the show. For me, a theatre of this size, there’s only 63 seats, it’s absolutely terrifying. Most of my performances as part of the band would have been on a much bigger scale, anything from ten thousand to twenty odd thousand, and that stuff I do in my sleep, it’s kind of second nature, but going onstage with this real intensity, it’s terrifying and exciting at the same time.”
Keith can be seen in A Handful of Stars at Theatre503 from April 30 to May 24. For more information, go to: www.theatre503.com.