Seamus O’Rourke spoke to David Hennessy about his one man show Indigeston before he brings it to The Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith this weekend.
Seamus O’Rourke is an award-winning actor, writer and director.
He brings his new one man show Indigestion to London this weekend for its UK premiere.
Although it is a story that can frequently be funny, it is a story with mental health and serious topics under the surface.
The show depicts a man, whose name we never hear, telling the story of a life always slightly out of his control.
It is the story of a simple rural man who is shipped off to London at the age of 17, who goes through bouts of depression, obesity and anger issues, who finds and loses love, comes back to Ireland to more misfortune and mayhem but in spite of everything it shows: ‘There is hope for all of us, no matter how bleak things might seem’.
Seamus told The Irish World: “It’s a strange play because people kind of laugh their way all the way through and yet there’s very poignant subjects at the heart of it which is kind of unusual and for my part it makes it all the more satisfying when I do it.
“It’s probably my favourite piece that I do.
“It’s basically about a man who has some anger issues. He doesn’t drink but he has a problem with food and becomes very overweight when he’s over there (in London) so he has all these demons and he’s trying to sort them out and he eventually gets sacked and has to come back to Ireland.
“His story is kind of going from one catastrophe to the next and yet in all of it he somehow manages to cope.
“It’s a thin line going between humour and the subjects that I’m dealing with.
“People watch it on different levels, some people find the humour and craic of it great and that’s okay, and then other people see the other side of it, a man dealing with all sorts of mental issues and depression. People don’t want to go to a play about depression but they have no problem going to a play that’s lots of fun.”
The character Seamus plays is inspired by a real person he once met. He was struck by how he had had a hard life but remained upbeat and positive.
“I met a fella at a wedding once and he didn’t know who I was so he wasn’t telling me a story thinking I might be interested in putting it on paper but he just told me this story and the reason I was so taken in by it was because he was this very ordinary country man but he had this amazing way of telling me his story.
“People in West Cavan- I live in Leitrim but I’m right on the border so these people are my neighbours and- They have this amazing, very forthright way of telling a story and cut out all the nonsense and they get straight to the point which makes for a really funny way of telling it but fascinating.
“I was fascinated with this guy and there’s little bits of what he told me in the story but I also wanted to I think we all in some way have our demons and this was written before Covid but at the same time a lot of people when we were given all that time to ourselves, a lot of people were having problems just filling in the time and sometimes when we get too much time to look at ourselves we can become very down,” Seamus laughs.
“It was inspired by this guy and I don’t give him a name in the play because it kind of means that he’s every one of us in some ways so that’s where the paly originated and because I’m from a rural background all my stuff has that rural colouring. That’s Indigestion.”
It was during the time of the Covid lockdown that Seamus was invited onto the Late Late Show to do his piece Away goes McGinty which Ryan Tubridy himself said perfectly reflected his own mood if not the nation.
Looking back on that time now Seamus says: “There was a time during it where anyone in entertainment had no outlet so our only outlet was social media.
“I wrote a few pieces at that time and it was a tough time and people were suffering in lots of ways and people were losing friends and then there was also the PC brigade, you don’t want to mention anything that might offend anybody and some people who just get condemned for trying to be funny in a time like Covid but I mean we have to be able to laugh. It’s what kept some people going during it.
“It’s a strange time and this (Indigestion) character doesn’t have any inkling of being PC or saying the right thing, he’s just saying what is in his head which a lot of people have said is very refreshing because we’ve all become so clean and trying to say the right thing which means saying very little.
“Nobody’s going out to offend anybody or any of that, we want to tell a story but I want to have a reality about it. Pretending that we are all squeaky clean is not going to do anybody any good. Within the character I can say certain things that wouldn’t be PC but I’m not saying them, the character is saying them.
“With social media, I get this sense sometimes in society the tail is wagging the dog and no matter what you do someone will have a problem with it, an issue with it and someone will have the time to message you and say you offended a grandpapa in Tyrone.
“I always say a lot of things were very wrong and in trying to put them right the pendulum swings far too far the other way and so it’s always about finding the balance and at the moment we’re just swinging too much towards the squeaky clean and nobody being able to say anything and no matter what you say it’s going to offend somebody and therefore you get to a point where you can’t have any opinion or any dialogue because it all has to be put through the sieve of political correctness.
“The character that I play is not aware of all of that so he may say things that may not be the proper way to say it but that’s the character.
“He’s just a rough Cavan man,” Seamus laughs.
Do you get some poignant reactions when you have been performing it? “That is the most satisfying thing about doing the show.
“A lot of people say ‘I was that soldier’ or, ‘I know someone who had that kind of a life’.
“But I think at the end of the play there’s also this great sense of hope and there is a way out and although things might seem so desperate at a point in your life but we will eventually work our way around them.
“The problem with mental illness and any subject with our mental health is that we end up coming up with this cliches like ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ and ‘it’s good to talk’ and we love to throw these cliches out there and then leave it alone.
“But I suppose what I’m trying to say is that it’s not that easy and you just have to depend on a little bit of luck along the way and certain people and work your way out of it but the hope is you can get out of it, you can get back to some sense of normality and that fun and laughter and friendships are all part of that.”
Although inspired by that man you met, is it a personal story to you? “We all have versions of mental issues and as I said to someone, ‘I don’t have depression but I often had a hangover which is very close to it’.
“If you keep the hangover going, you could end up with fully blown depression.
“In some ways it’s such a vague thing.
“At least when you’re physically sick you can point to the spot and say ‘that’s what’s wrong with me’ but mental illness, some people aren’t happy with the way they look or not happy with loads of different things,
“For me I always had a problem- you might laugh but- I was never very comfortable in social circumstances and then I get up in front of 300 people and bare my soul for an hour which seems a very strange thing but sometimes it’s probably easier to do that as a character than to actually talk about yourself.
“I try to channel that into theatre and plays, I suppose there’s a personal story there as well.”
This is a return to the ICC for Seamus brought his play The Handyman there last year.
“I had a great few days there the last time.”
Seamus, who has written his memoir Standing in Gaps, has acted in the work of great Irish playwrights like Tom Murphy, Conor McPherson, Martin McDonagh and John B Keane.
He won RTE Best Actor in 2010 for the role of John in McPherson’s Shining City. He was RTE Best Supporting Actor 2011 for playing Pato Dooley in McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
He was also nominated for an Irish Times Theatre Award for Best Actor for his work in Mark Doherty’s play TRAD.
“I’ve always said it’s a bit like getting your driving license.
“You can be driving around and thinking you’re okay but you’re not fully convinced you’re a proper driver until you have your driving license and it’s a bit like that.
“We’re all very vulnerable as actors and not sure, it’s nice every now and again to get some sense that maybe you’re not too far off the mark.
“At the same time for me that’s in the past and it’s nice in the moment and it gives you that little bit of a gee up but then you’re onto the next thing.
“I know all the football managers say it as well, You’re only as good as your last performance.
“You would never sit back and go, ‘I’m so delighted I’ve done something’.
“It’ snice to have it there in the memory bank but you certainly wouldn’t be taking it out and rubbing it every day.”
Seamus also played Maurteen in The Kings of the Kilburn High Road by Jimmy Murphy, the poignant tale of six men who left Ireland to work in London only to return when one of them was in a box, at the Gaiety Theatre Dublin.
“I have to say that was one of the really nice things that I worked on.
“Nice isn’t probably the word but I heard so many stories after doing that play and I remember one time doing it in Donegal in a place where theatre wasn’t a huge thing but I met so many men afterwards who came to me and said ‘I was that soldier’.
“That time in the 70s and 80s, there’s still a little bit of it: We’re inclined to celebrate the success of the Irish people who went to London and made a success of themselves but it’s not as easy to remember the people who went over there and fell through the cracks and maybe got in on the drink.
“And the play was all about those guys that got lost in the cracks. There was this horrible thing that went on for years where people put on the good suit and came home and flashed the money around and pretended that they were going really well.
“I worked in America for a few years and it was the same thing, the façade we put on when we came home.
“I lived with an uncle of mine for a few months and he went to New York in 1958 and he only died a few months ago and every day I spent with him he talked about Ireland. It’s the strangest thing to live your life talking about a place that you tried so hard to get rid of and want to go back to.
“That’s a poignant thing in The Kings of Kilburn High Road.
“There is a great story and I would love to develop it. I met fellas in London the last time I was over who were born in London, fellas who were steeped in Irishness and Irish history and fellas who even played football for London who were born in London.
“Their story was that in London they were treated as Irish and when they came back to Ireland they were treated as foreigners and they kind of had no real place where they felt they belonged.
“They were neither one nor the other.”
Seamus O’Rourke performs Indigestion this Saturday 11 March and Sunday 12 March at The Irish Cultural Centre.
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