Play that gets to the heart of local papers

Garret Keogh and Michael Hayes in Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye.
Garret Keogh and Michael Hayes in Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

Playwright and director Jim Nolan always had a special ‘grá’ for newspapers. “As a young kid, The Evening Herald came into our house every single evening and, as a child, you’d devour the cartoons, then go to the sport and then there was a syndicated column called The Washington Merry-go-Round, written by an investigative journalist called Jack Anderson,” he recalls.

That column, which was syndicated all over the world, carried the strapline that Jim still remembers: “Who knows what evil lies in the heart of men? Jack Anderson does.”

Spurred on by such grandeur, Jim had a couple of brief moments as a child and later as a teenager when he wanted to be a journalist. While his career path took him to theatre, he retained that love of newspapers.

Last year, he brought his love of theatre and newspapers together in the play, Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye which was staged to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and with a fine cast that include Garret Keogh Ema Lemon, Ciáran McMahon, Deirdre Monaghan and Michael Hayes.

It’s set in the offices of The Inishshannon Chronicle as Ireland is facing a General Election, the town is attempting to mark the 1916 Centenary by celebrating a tenuous connection to the Rising and the staff are under threat as a conglomerate takes over the newspaper. The editor is on a collision course with his new bosses, who undermine everything he believes in. Add in a missing solicitor, a Latvian man who believes he’s Jesus’s brother, and a ferret on the loose in Mass and the stage is set for trauma.

The Irish independent described the production as “an old-fashioned, well-made play, about old-fashioned, well-tested moralities”.

Jim was always fascinated by local papers and the relationship between them and their communities. That was especially apparent in the local notes pages, he says, and he read them religiously.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.