Robbie Walsh arrives an hour before his rehearsal is scheduled in Áras na Mac Léinn’s Art Room, a secluded calm contrasting to the foyer’s graduate-brimming storm. He awaits his actors, cool and composed, a seasoned director for NUI Galway’s Dramsoc.
This Semester, Walsh is assuming the director’s chair again for his favourite play, The Lonesome West by Martin McDonagh; a play he first read as part of his Leaving Cert Comparative Study. Dark, yet funny, Walsh feels the play deals with many issues still relevant in today’s society.
“Even though it’s set in the 90s, I think what’s going on in the play is very relatable in terms of alcoholism, suicide and Catholicism”, he says. “I hope people really enjoy it in terms of the humour, but I hope they see that there is a bit more of a serious message to the story”.
The Lonesome West, in Walsh’s words, charts the struggles of two arguing brothers, Valene and Coleman, in rural Leenane as they are forced to live with one another after the death of their father. Their constant Stepbrothers-esque contention is taken on as a personal challenge by the local alcoholic priest, Fr. Welsh who resolves to solve their squabbling.
While Walsh feels his original vision for the production is still on track, he admits that the directing process has made him think differently about the play itself; “I think it’s a lot more serious than a first read. On the surface I was like, ‘this is such a funny play, it’s hilarious’, but when you really get up and start performing it and start looking at the characters I think the content is a lot darker”.
Carrying experience from previous Dramsoc directing endeavours with plays such as Red Roses and Petrol, On Raftery’s Hill and The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Walsh was more than prepared for the casting challenge this year. Over 70 auditionees and 10-15 call-backs later, Walsh notes that the standard in Dramsoc is especially high this year, leaving him with the perfect cast. Having come to college with the aim to act, Walsh has found his happy place in the most commanding role of all.
“People are always like it must be the power, that you have creative control over everything – but I don’t think it’s that”, he laughs.
“When you direct, you put it so much work in and then you just get to sit back during the run and appreciate what’s happened. When you act, it’s all in the moment and then it’s over. There’s no kind of sitting back and looking at the work everyone’s put in. So, I think that’s the best thing about directing”.
Despite his experience, the pressure of directing this blacker than black comedy creates a nervousness and fear that drives the passion.
“It’s hard. It’s my favourite play and I’ve to be really critical of myself when directing it because I love the play anyway. I love everything about it”.
The Lonesome West by Martin McDonagh will take place in the Bank of Ireland Theatre, NUI Galway from 25-28 October. Tickets are available from the Socs Box at €5/€8.
-By Aisling Bonner