As his uniquely Cavan play ‘The Night Joe Dolan’s Car Broke Down’ enjoys it’s tenth year of staging and is about to be launched in book form Thomas Lyons spoke to Padraic McIntyre and his publisher, Peter Fallon, about stories.
Like the fingers of Adam and God reaching toward each other on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel the inception of a story needs a unique moment to spark to life.
“I was in a pub one night. There were only four men there. It was a 60th birthday party. A one-man-band was playing the music. The men ended up dancing together, waltzing in twos. I was just an observer. I remember thinking that there was something beautifully lonely about it,” Padraic McIntyre is recalling one of the falling dominoes that would reveal a pattern that would transforms into The Night Joe Dolan's Car Broke Down.
This month the show is in its seventh run at The Olympia Theatre. Since the drawing of the first curtain in the Dublin venue it has been enjoyed by over 50,000 audience members. Now Ireland's pre-eminent literary publishing house, The Gallery Press, is to print the play in book form.
Written and directed by McIntyre, the show revolves around a cast of characters stranded in a pub with Joe Dolan on a stormy St Stephen’s night. In the last decade it has toured the country and its enduring popularity is down to an appeal that is at once specific, but also general.
Peter Fallon is the founder of The Gallery Press. As well as being one of Ireland's greatest living poets he has also published more than 400 books of poems and plays by the country's finest established and emerging authors. The names on the Gallery roster is a who's-who of Irish drama: Brian Friel, Tom Murphy, Eugene McCabe, Marina Carr, Thomas Kilroy and Jim Nolan. The inclusion of the Cavan story lends it a gravity beyond simple popularity.
“I read the play some years ago,” Peter told the Celt. “Much as I admired it and could see how it could work on stage I wasn’t convinced it was fitting into the kind of literary drama that we were publishing. But I always felt that I might have been making a mistake about that.
“A year or so ago Padraic and I opened the question again and I got a second chance. There is a kind of magic to the play. There is a twist in it that lifts it from other more ordinary work. It is purely coincidental that it is coming out in its 10th anniversary year,” the publisher said.
The playwright says that having Gallery Press printing the work is a notable endorsement: “I sent the script to Peter a few years ago and nothing happen. He watched it from afar and came back to me and mentioned that it may be something that he was interested in. They are Ireland’s leading publishers of drama, so it is an honour, not least because of the people they have on their books: Freil, Murphy, Carr, Kilroy and Nolan. For a play that is, in ways, relatively simple to be included with that gang is nice,” Padraic outlined.
“The dream of any writer is to walk into a bookshop and to see your work. Obviously as a playwright, firstly you want your play to be staged, but I grew up with Gallery Press being an icon of Irish theatre. The books of the plays are a staple in rehearsal rooms across the country. It is nice to see your book on the shelves in such illustrious company.”
As a poet Peter’s approach to the written word comes from a different source to that of the playwright. They are still bound by language and the heart of all writing: the story. The “Joe Show” lives as theatre, its appeal is the way the events move the characters about. Taking place in Cavan it has transcended its setting to capture audiences from beyond our borders.
Padraic explained: “It has been staged in Canada. I was interested to see if it would “travel”, or if it was specifically Irish. My fear at the beginning is that it was particular to Cavan or the Midlands. But as we went further afield the audiences continued to engage with it. They seemed to be getting the same buzz out of it. The Canadian players came back to me twice for extra runs. Then they brought it on tour to a different part of Canada, so clearly its appeal does go beyond the confines of our shores.”
That generality is something that Peter recognised in the play: “I subscribe to the notion that everything is local somewhere. If you identify a community and recreate it through all of its relationships and emotional strengths and meaning then it becomes not just local ground, but common ground. I think what Padraic has done is by focusing on a particular community, at a particular time, he has connected with something that is broader and more universal.”
The consciousness of the process is something that the two men have in common. When they speak of the process they have the fervour of the zealot.
“Writing is like a kiss, you can’t do it on your own,” Peter says. “People do write for themselves, and never show it to an audience, because first and foremost creative writing has to be its own reward, but you do have a hope that you will connect with a reader or a listener.
“The numbers that have flocked to see The Night Joe Dolan’s Car Broke Down have been astonishing. He is doing something that I have not seen happen since I read about what John B Keane was doing in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Keane’s plays were not being put on by the main theatres, but he was discovering, creating and building an audience. In some way I think Padraic has been doing something similar,” the publisher said.
For the writer of the play a nudge from another icon of Irish literature got things rolling: “I was working with Pat McCabe on The Dead School. I was talking to him about writing. I said I had two ideas and that I thought they were connected. I started to sit down and write them as a play and toward the end of Act One a knock came to the door. It was Joe Dolan and I just went with it. I had to go back and rewrite act one again, but it was part of the writing process. I was as surprised as anyone when he knocked on the door,” Padraic explained.
“It was McCabe’s advice. He said to me: ‘I didn’t know when I started writing the Butcher Boy that he was going to kill Mrs Nugent. When he did - it frightened me and I knew it would frighten the reader’. For me when Joe Dolan walked in I thought, ‘Where is this going to go?’
“I would tell people interested in writing to start. When you start you will be surprised what happens. I thought you needed to have the story fully formed before you sat down to type, but McCabe said, ‘No, if it takes you on tangents; then go with it. No one has to read it until you are ready to give it to them. Enjoy the process’.”
Outside the strength of the writing the actors that have taken part in the play for the last 10 years have added to what the show is. Some even added to the show before the script was completed: “I certainly wrote the Horse Munley for Conor Sheridan and I sent Liz O’Hanlon a very early draft because she came to mind. They came into focus as the play was being written. John O’Grady has been remarkable in his role. John said that technically Joe Dolan was a musical genius, there are notes there that it is not realistic that a man can reach, but he reaches them.”
Peter said that his viewing of the play did not sway his decision. The choice to bring the work to a wider audience was made by one simple fact: “Padraic has written a play that I think is exceptional in its way. He is such a creature of the theatre. All his instincts about directing, creating, writing, producing, acting are very true. I think publishing it is something right and something that Padraic McIntyre deserves.”
The publication moves The Joe Show on one more stage: “I thought it had reached its natural conclusion last year, but the Olympia came back and said that as it is the 10th anniversary of the show, would we stage another? I know people will laugh when they read this, but this is the last, last time in this general guise. We are all getting older, the actors have been so loyal to me and the play. I think at this stage many of them must be itchy to go on and do other stuff as well.”
Padraic says he is in the process of creating another work: “There is another nut I want to crack. My wife jokes that when I am arranging my study, tidying things up that I am nesting. Getting ready to write something. I think I will possibly do something shortly. Possibly something a little less linear, and maybe wider in scope.”
The book of The Night Joe Dolan’s Car Broke Down will be launched in Bailieborough library on Thursday February 1 a location Padraic feels is very fitting: “The launch in Bailieborough is a source of pride. That is the community it has come out of, it is written in that idiom. It is very much a Cavan play and to celebrate that in your home town is a wonderful thing.”