'If you can't be honest, nothing will change'
Aaron Monaghan has established himself as one our busiest actors, and with good reason - so why does he think Irish theatre is in crisis?
Aaron Monaghan seems determined to get himself into trouble. He has a genial and calm disposition, but he also has some controversial opinions about contemporary Irish theatre and he isn’t afraid to share them.
Monaghan is currently touring the country in Ride On! with Livin’ Dred, the Cavan-based touring company, after almost six months on the road with the DruidMurphy project, and his current role will run concurrently with rehearsals for his own adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which opens at the Ark on Saturday.
So it is with the caveat of someone who “has been very lucky to have consistent work” that Monaghan vents his anger about the working conditions of actors, the trends dominating new work in Ireland, and the “snobbishness” that attends “commercial theatre, amateur theatre, popular theatre, which is thriving . . . it’s the professional theatre that seems to be having a crisis”.
When Monaghan moved from Cavan to Dublin to train at the Samuel Beckett Centre at Trinity College, he “hadn’t had much exposure to theatre at all”. The key moment of meaning during his studies came not in the classroom, but when he went to see Tom Murphy’s play A Whistle in the Dark at the Abbey Theatre in 2001.
“We had this theatre history class and we were learning about things like pathos and catharsis, but it wasn’t really until I felt it in the theatre that I understood those words,” he recalls. “I remember thinking when I walked out of Whistle that I was a completely different person than I was when I walked in. Coming from a working-class background, I had thought that theatre was for educated people or middle-class people, and in some ways that was what the play was about.
“I remember thinking, this play is about me and my family. Even though my family wasn’t the Carney family at all, the characters were saying things in a way people in my family would express themselves.”
Performing the play with Druid earlier this year, then, was hugely significant for the actor, who has worked consistently since graduating in 2002. Much of his best work has been with Druid, under the direction of Garry Hynes (Christy Mahon in Playboy of the Western World, Billy in The Cripple of Inishmaan, Harry Heegan in The Silver Tassie, and three key roles in the recent Murphy cycle) and Monaghan clearly enjoys the experience of working with the informal ensemble that Hynes has gathered together over the years.