Westmeath playwright Jimmy Keary.

Rathowen playwright looks forward to Athlone production

Prolific Rathowen playwright Jimmy Keary has written 24 three-act plays which have been staged up and down the country for years now by local drama troupes. For the first time, Athlone Little Theatre presents one of his most popular plays, the comedy 'The Two Loves of Gabriel Foley' from Wednesday, November 23 to 30 next, inclusive at 8pm nightly. For tickets go to www.athlonelittletheatre.ie or Eventbrite.

The Westmeath man took time out recently to tell us a bit more about himself and his writing.

When and why did you first start writing?

I first started writing fiction in 1970. I was only 12. I had been making up stories with toys and little model soldiers and cowboys for the previous year or so. Then in October 1970 I started writing the stories into a copybook. And 74 copybooks later six and a half years had elapsed, and I was 18 and at university.

I joined a drama group at university and then joined the Rathowen Amateur Dramatic Society (RADS) when I eventually came home. The RADS used to stage a concert and play every year and I started writing sketches for their concerts. I had never written comedy before. That was how it started.

I probably started writing because I was hopeless at sport, particularly football. Writing was my little retreat where all I needed was my imagination.

What inspired you to write your first play?

My first play was a one-act called 'Looking For Love'. I originally wrote it for a Gay Byrne competition, which was sponsored by Bewley's. Competition rules limited me to three characters. I thought a couple meeting on a blind date was a good format given the limitations. I wasn't inspired by anything in particular. However, I used little aspects and observations from my own life to flesh out the characters. The play got nowhere in the competition. But I reworked it and opened it out to include five characters and it was eventually staged in the Bog Lane Theatre, Ballymahon in April 1987.

How many amateur groups have performed your plays to date?

I wouldn't have an idea exactly how many drama groups have performed my plays, but I have counted the number of productions over the past twenty years or so. There have been over 400.

Having started acting and writing in the Rathowen Amateur Dramatic Society (RADS) what do you feel is the value of a local drama group?

I think local drama groups are invaluable. They provide a focal point for people in an area. They provide a social function through the long nights of winter. They also provide people in rural areas with access to theatre who mightn't normally get to theatres in towns or cities.

What makes a good comedy?

I think ordinary situations gone awry can make very good comedy. When I'm writing I always try to have characters with whom the audience can say: "I know someone like that!" Dialogue is also important. Comedy has a rhythm. If the dialogue is too wordy, it can kill the pace and flow.

Favourite one-liner?

I'll give a favourite one-liner from 'The Two Loves of Gabriel Foley'. After discovering Gabriel's Aunt Lucy in the bathroom, Hazel, who has an intolerance of the elderly, says: "Why aren't these people medicated?" It may not sound funny, but when it's in context and said in the right way, I find it very funny.

How do you feel seeing your words come to life on stage?

It's an indescribable feeling seeing my words come to life on stage. From the time I saw 'Looking For Love' performed and heard the audience laugh at something I'd written, it was addictive. I wanted more! And with comedy there's a much more discernible and immediate reaction for a playwright.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

I suppose Bernard Farrell and Neil Simon. I remember seeing Bernard Farrell's play 'Kevin's Bed' in the Abbey Theatre in 1999 and being very impressed by it. I was writing my first three-act comedy 'The Maiden Aunt' at the time. Those writers have written the sort of plays I like to see.

Where do you find the inspiration for your characters?

I find inspiration for my characters in everyday life. I'm a people-watcher. Even someone I only see at a distance in the supermarket, or a restaurant can be an inspiration. How they carry themselves and what they're wearing can be an insight into their characters. Even people I've met years ago can still be an inspiration. For example, Morag in 'The Two Loves of Gabriel Foley' is based on a tour guide I met in Lourdes in the early 1980s. She was larger than life and gathered people together by saying: "Come along, my butterflies!"

What do you hope people take away from your plays?

I hope they go home with smiles on their faces. I remember when Gabriel Foley was staged in the Glor Theatre in Ennis some years ago, I was told that an elderly lady went to her doctor the next day or so.

She spent so much time excitedly telling him about the play, that she left the surgery without telling him what was wrong with her.

What's your advice for Athlone Little Theatre who are performing 'The Two Loves of Gabriel Foley' from November 23rd to 30th?

Enjoy the rehearsals - the camaraderie and the craic. The good memories will linger long after the production is over.

Some of the cast of 'The Two Loves of Gabriel Foley' by Jimmy Keary with director Joe MacCarrick.