Saturday, January 16, 2016

Remembering Alan Rickman - A star turn in Kilroy's "The Seagull" 1981

Alan Rickman and Anna Massey in Thomas Kilroy's version of "The Seagull",
The news of the passing of actor Alan Rickman was extremely sad news for the vast amounts of people who had followed Rickman's varied career over forty years on stage and screen. Rickman, 69, was acclaimed for being one of the great character actors of his generation with a canny ability to enthral his audiences, from young and old, from  fans of Harry Potter to Dogma  or as an unequivocal De Valera in Michael Collins. Such was Rickman's charisma and presence, with an always distinct voice, was an ability to transform even a supporting character into a memorable and major role. You may not always remember the film but you always remember Rickman's character and all the great lines. (Sheriff of Nottingham: "That's it then. Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings . . . and call off Christmas!" (Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves)

Rickman like so many screen stars began his career on stage and throughout a glittering Hollywood career maintained a successful stage curriculum vitae. Rickman was reported to be a pupil of renown at RADA and developed his craft on the fringe and regional circuit of the UK in the late 1970s and 1980s. Michael Billington, theatre critic of The Guardian notes that:

All this came to the fore in a golden period at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the mid-1980s when he was a stubbly, neurotic Achilles in Troilus and Cressida and a mockingly cynical Jaques in As You Like It. But it was his performance as the dissolute Valmont, successively in Stratford, London and New York, that elevated him to star status. Playing opposite Lindsay Duncan’s Marquise de Merteuil, Rickman conveyed both the lassitude of the practised seducer and the growing self-disgust of a man aware of his destructiveness."

Poster from the Royal Court production of "The Seagull"
starring Alan Rickman. P103/115
It was during this time that Rickman would perform in a play by Irish playwright Thomas Kilroy. Directed by Max Stafford Clarke, the play was premiered at the Royal Court on 8 April 1981. The play would have its Irish premiere, produced by the Irish Theatre Company at Siamsa Tíre Theatre, Tralee on 30th September 1981.

The idea of the version of Chekhov's classic to be translated and moved from the Russian provinces and set in the West of Ireland case from the director of the Royal Court, Max Stafford-Clarke. He wrote to Kilroy as follows:

"Dear Tom, I have been talking with Joe Dowling about the possibility of the Royal Court and the Abbey mounting a joint production of THE SEAGULL. The idea is that the play should be cast with English and with Irish actors and instead of being set in Russia, should be set in the midst of an Anglo-Irish family . . . Would you be interested in doing a translation and would you have time for it?”

The adaptation that Kilroy would write featured Alan Rickman as Mr. Aston and the cast would also feature Harriet Walter, Alan Devlin and others. Within the Thomas Kilroy archive at the Hardiman Library, NUI Galway, the production files for Kilroy's Seagull offer a wonderful account of the development, writing and drafting of the play that stemmed from Stafford-Clarke's single letter. Billington would write in his 1981 review of the Royal Court London production:   It is a fine performance superbly backed by Alan Rickman's Aston."

Rickman's star ability to make any character and indeed any production his own and ensure it is most memorable for his audiences must be among the highest tributes for any actor. Both stage and screen will be far poorer with the loss of Rickman.

The Thomas Kilroy Archive is available at the Hardiman Library, NUI Galway and a catalogue is available to read here: 

Cover of rehearsal script of "The Seagull" by Thomas Kilroy,
for production at the Royal Court theatre, London. P103/115

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