Anew McMaster, local actors and that little bit ‘extra’

Thespian’s theatre companies performed around Ireland in 1930s, 1940s and 1950s

Anew McMaster:  a tall, handsome man, with a very expressive face, who  had a commanding presence on the stage.

Anew McMaster: a tall, handsome man, with a very expressive face, who had a commanding presence on the stage.

 

The similarities between the actor, manager and theatre director Anew McMaster and Micheál MacLiammóir (who became brothers-in-law) are interesting, especially that both of them were born in England but recreated themselves as Irishmen. MacLiammóir went further in the recreation because he gave himself an Irish name (Alfred Wilmore was his original name) and learned and spoke Irish. 

Both were giants of the Irish stage, though it’s unlikely McMaster is as well remembered as MacLiammóir. Still, throughout the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s his theatre companies travelled around Ireland, performing plays by Shakespeare and other dramatists in towns and villages, for which he became very well known. 

McMaster was a tall, handsome man, with an expressive face and a commanding presence on the stage. When his touring company needed “extras” for a play, they found them in the towns or villages where they were putting on the performance. The stage manager had to find these extras and there wasn’t time for much rehearsal with them. 

Once a local youngster was recruited to play the messenger to McMaster’s Macbeth. He entered the stage and said nervously that he thought he saw Birnam Wood coming towards Dunsinane. With that, McMaster grabbed him by the throat, threw him on the ground and called him a “liar” and a “slave” in a loud, angry voice.

The poor youngster was terrified and, instead of saying the next line, blurted out: “Honest to Jaysus, Mr McMaster, that’s what that fellow out there told me to say!”

To play a scene in King Lear, the character who tears out Gloucester’s eyes would have a grape and a capsule of blood concealed in his hand. He would stick his finger into Gloucester’s “eye” and a great stream of blood would pour out. Then he would throw the “eye” on the ground and crush it under his foot.

On one occasion, three nuns who were in the front seats fainted and fell to the floor when this happened. When some of the actors asked McMaster if they should put a stop to the performance, he replied: “Let us continue. They enjoy suffering.” suffering.”

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