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Des Keogh

Keogh tells of Shaw’s fair ladies

ON foot of the hugely successful The Love-Hungry Farmer, Glór welcomes the return of Des Keogh in his new production, My Fair Ladies, on Thursday, June 25.
Celebrating his 80th birthday this year, one of Ireland’s most renowned actors and performers, Des Keogh gets to fulfill a life-long ambition to play legendary Irish man of letters, George Bernard Shaw.
Following the phenomenal worldwide success of his show, The Love-Hungry Farmer by John B Keane, which he also adapted, Des has written, adapted and performs in a hugely entertaining new play, My Fair Ladies, about the many ladies in the extraordinary life of one of the greatest playwrights of all time.
“I’m very well, in spite of my advanced age. I’m in good form and I still have the energy to do it, thank God,” said Des.
“I’ve done adaptations but I haven’t written anything original. My last one-man show, which I had a great time with, I adapted it from John B Keane’s letters. That was The Love-Hungry Farmer, which I also did in Glór and all over Ireland and in many places abroad as well. I had a great time with that,” he said.
“This one on George Bernard Shaw, I’ve put it all together myself and a I’ve done a lot of research and based it on his own letters and his own writing but it’s probably more an adaptation than an original work,” Des said.
In the play Bernard Shaw shares anecdotes about the loves of his life, which included leading actresses of his day like Pat Campbell and Ellen Terry, and elaborates on his forthright views on marriage and celibacy.
Shaw was a prolific and controversial author and critic. His many plays included Pygmalion, which was turned into the phenomenally successful musical My Fair Lady.
“He’s such an extraordinary character and a multi-faceted character. I suppose I did have a fascination with him over the years, though I haven’t been in many of his plays.
“I’ve been in a couple all right and one of my favourites is Arms and the Man, which I’ve been in a few times playing different parts. Then, going way back to the early days, I was in Heartbreak House with Hilton Edwards at the Gate Theatre.
“The late Donal Donnelly, he was a great Irish actor, he did a one-man show on George Bernard Shaw called My Astonishing Self, and I asked him if I could see his script and he very kindly gave me carte blanche to use it. I’ve referred to that when I was putting my own together but I decided to go down a very different route because Donal was dealing more with Shaw’s views on religion and things like vivisection and Fabianism and things like that and I don’t go into that at all.
“I decided to concentrate on the women. Shaw was, dare I say, very long-winded at times and I didn’t want to be that. I did discover when I was researching and reading about him that he did have quite a number of ladies in his life. I decided that’s what I’ll concentrate on,” Des said.
“It’s quite taxing but now that it’s up and running and I’ve been playing it now for the last six weeks, I find it easier. Now that I have it in my head and don’t have to sort of worry anymore about remembering what’s next.
“I’ve made a lot of changes. I started it off in a very nice theatre in Clontarf for three weeks and during that time I made quite a few changes. I was discovering as I went along that certain bits weren’t automatically working as well as I had hoped, or I wanted to add in little bits here or there. But over the last few weeks, it’s more or less set and settled,” he said.
“I like working in Glór but it can be a little tricky for a one-man show because the whole auditorium is so wide. If you have a full house, which of course, we all hope that we will, it means that you have to take in the people on both sides, where in most theatres you can just play out towards the front.
“It’s very nice though to get a big crowd in Glór and, I must say, I’ve enjoyed being there a number of times,” he said.
“I’ve visited Clare a number of times. We go to Connemara every year but I’ve spent a few holidays in Ballyvaughan in one of those lovely thatched cottages and I have enjoyed it very much.
“I’ve also played a bit of golf in Lahinch. I haven’t played for about five years. In the old days I used to play a lot with Frank Patterson [his late brother-in-law]. Frank was a great pal of mine and he was a very keen golfer.
“Sometimes we would take off and go for a couple of days golfing together, maybe in Ballybunion or over to Lahinch. But that’s many years ago because poor Frank died over 15 years ago now,” Des said.
Des has just completed two sell-out runs of the acclaimed revival of Moll by John B Keane at the Gaiety Theatre Dublin. In 2014, he appeared in the world-premiere production of Dreamland by Jim Nolan, for which he was nominated for an Irish Times Theatre Award.

By Ron Kirwan

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