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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 17, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

    Sharing a room with superstars

    Laurence Mackin

    The other day I was on the wireless speaky box on The Kiosk, Phantom FM’s arts and culture show, reviewing Jane Eyre at the Gate and the Proustian enigma within a riddle within a self-obsessed bubble that is Fade Street.

    Inevitably, while discussing the former, the question came up about star names in theatrical productions, and whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that Andrea Corr is playing the lead in Jane Eyre, and what effect does having the likes of Alan Rickman playing a lead role over in the Abbey, in John Gabriel Borkman, have?

    The question was not so much a judgement on both actors’ performances – Andrea Corr acquits herself well in the role and while I would have reservations about the production, they wouldn’t be related to Corr’s acting. Similarly, I though Borkman was a fine production with some flaws, but Rickman handled the role effectively and convincingly. The question was more surrounding what the effects of having a superstar in the cast are.

    Sara Keating, my fellow guest on the show and a critic with his newspaper, made the point that Rickman’s performance had led to a surge in comments on the Abbey’s online discussion forum, which is usually a useful source of information and banter; however, most of these comments were directed at just how gorgeous Mr Rickman is in the flesh (no doubt Stephen Brennan is having the same problem in Jane Eyre) and how utterly, unbelievably fantastic the show is.


    So, in the glare of his leading lights, much of the chatter, and indeed the media coverage, has been hijacked by the fact that the Sheriff of Nottingham is in the room. And indeed, every person who heard I had seen Jane Eyre wanted to know how she of the diddley-eye music got on.

    All things been equal, I love the fact that big-name actors still find the time to earn their keep on the stage, and it is terrific for audiences to get the chance to see these actors up close. Film and theatre are such radically different beasts that you get a much greater appreciation of just how bloody difficult acting is when you see it in the same darkened room, as opposed to on an indifferent screen (in the same way that you get a much better idea of how good a musician is when you are at a gig, as opposed to enduring an episode of the Po-X Factor). Audiences get an appreciation of the craft, and actors get to hone their skills. Win, win.

    Also, the notion of these A-listers treading the boards seems kind of quaint when you take it out of context. Could you, for example, imagine a famous musician taking the time to play gigs with a local band for an extended run in his local venue? How great would it be, for example, to pop down to the Workmans in Dublin or Crane Lane in Cork and see Steve Earle cutting it up with a crack covers outfit?

    There are, of course, cold hard cash concerns to be considered. I’m pretty much in the dark when it comes to how much actors are paid at the theatrical level, and no doubt most A-listers do the theatre gig as a steady, perhaps lucrative earner in-between the larger cash-cow films; but surely musicians could do the same between albums and touring? Yet apart from the odd side-projects (that are often, let’s be honest, sub-standard) this doesn’t appear to be the case.

    So come on Steve, when are you going to set up that covers band? Oh, and if you need a bass player, I might be free.

    • Alan Rickman is such a fantastic actor, I would watch him cross the street because he has such style. My first introduction to him was as the villan Hans in Die Hard when I was 13. I loved him as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, he was just so bad. His presence saved that movie because let’s face it, Kevin Costner could not act his way out of a paper bag. He of course, was part of the ensamble Love Actually, my favorite,Christmas movie. The story of the couple he and Emma Thompson play is bitter sweet. Who better to star in Jane Eyre. He seems to remind me somehow of Ciaran Hinds in Persausion for some reason. I think the reason A listers do theater is so they can hone their craft in a way they cannot in films because for films the first consideration is commerical viability. In the theater the main concern is the material.

      Is Andrea Corr part of the singing group, The Corrs? Steve Earl sings the ubiquitous “Galway Girl”, love the song, even though I hear it everywhere I go in Ireland.

    • robespierre says:


      Any of us that saw Act Without Words or Play in London during the Gate does Beckett fest had a chance to see Rickman on the boards at the Olivier and he was rather excellent it has to be said. His timing is a matter of science. Much like his fellow actor in AWW Kristin Scott Thomas when I saw her play Madame Bovary in Paris.

      I think the only truly successful A-lister that I saw in a Gate production however is Frances McDormand in A Streetcar Named Desire. She had earlier played Stella and won a Tony for it so it was a play she had great feeling for and she is in addition to being a multiple oscar nominee (and one time winner) as good a character actress as there is out there.

      Similarly, while hewn from a different tranche on the stardom list, Brian Dennehy is an immensely powerful stage actor. I have seen him in two O’Neill plays, one in Dublin – The Iceman Cometh and I think his take on the Bull McCabe will project me to sit in a theatre that sells ice cream and half the punters bring tae and hang sangidges to.

    • Mary Mc says:

      I am one of those waiting with bated breath to see Mr Rickman tomorrow night… i’d happily watch him count peas if I had to.

      Re the merits of big name actors in “local” productions there’s a twofold benefit I feel. As commentator said, how great it is to see an actor on the stage as opposed to the big screen. There are no re-takes on the stage darling! I’ve had the benefit of seeing Ian McKellan, Frances De La Tour and Maggie Smith when I was in Australia and Antonio Bandares in NY a few years back and they blew me away.

      But aside from us mere mortals seeing these known actors when they come to the Gate or The Abbey, the revenues they generate and interest in the arts they bring is vitially important…especially in these low economic times when funds are being cut stage left, right and centre.

      The West End in London actively encourage celebrity actors – albeit some rather dodgy choices at times – they draw the crowds and revenues.

    • Laurence Mackin says:

      Jennifer – Die Hard is still my favourite Christmas film.

      Robepierre – Yes, the prospect of Dennehy as the Bull is intriguing. I remember seeing John Hurt do a Chekhov double bill a good few years back and for the first time thinking ‘ah, so that’s what acting is’.

      Mary Mc – Enjoy it, it’s a good production and you are spot on with the retakes comment. There is no doubt that A-listers generate more revenues, but at what cost? Are those extra punters worth the (I’m assuming here) higher wage bill of the production? Also, I remember an interview Kevin Spacey gave where he was talking about running the Old Vic and how he kept having to cast himself in productions, not because he wanted to act, but because he was guaranteed to get good ticket sales, regardless of the play or production.

    • Laurence- Yes Die Hard is one of my favorite Christmas Films, as Bruce Willis’s classic line is still very endearing to me. It is not my absolute favorite though, that would be a tie between Love Actually (Alan Rickman, of course) and “The Ref” (as in Referee) staring Irish-American Comedian Dennis Leary (star of the show Rescue Me), about a burgular that takes a bickering family hostage on Christmas Eve.

      Didn’t Stockard Channing recently do a play in Dublin as well, she is a great actress. As is the amazing Frances McDormand, and Dame Maggie Smith. I think plays give them a chance to show off their acting chops because let’s face it most of what Hollywood comes up with, cannot even begin to touch the quality of Tennessee Williams, Sam Beckett, etc. Hollywood could never have churned out Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Streetcar Named Desire , two plays I can never get enough of. Plays tackle the range of human emotion and condition better than film because it is right there on the stage, without the distration of special effects. All a play has is a few props, and the ability of the actor to tell the story. It is amazing how whole feel of a play can change depending on who is playing the lead.

    • rebelrepublica says:

      Alan Rickman…gorgeous…? He’s an accomplished actohhrrr darling but gorgeous I think NOT!
      A bad case of big fish small pond I methinks…
      Theatre is not lucrative… they do it beacuse they are actohhrs it’s in the blood you see darling…and they’re luvvies and their ego’s are so fragile they have to be constantly adhhhored…
      All that voice projection…it’s OK on stage but give at rest otherwise…Time to Exit stage left…with a hey nonny no….
      ‘The question was more surrounding what the effects of having a superstar in the cast are…’… English darling English…!

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