Sam McCready Interview: No Surrender
Eastside festival • Strand Arts Centre • 03 -& 04 August 2017
By Conor O’Neill
It’s been a busy few months for Sam and wife Joan McCready. A sell out run of their acclaimed A Time To Speak, the memoir of their friend and Holocaust survivor Helen Lewis plus his latest work, another adaptation, this one being Robert Harbinson’s No Surrender about the life of a young boy from East Belfast growing up in a one parent family after the death of his father in the poverty stricken decade that was the 1930s.
Aptly the show will run in the Eastside festival at the Strand Theatre on 03 -04 August. McCready spoke to CultureHUN about the adaptation, his hopes for the present and future and the world of actor/writer and director. The new piece is of course produced by he and Joan’s Two-For-One Productions with Joan taking the director’s role.
On the adaptation he says, “First of all it’s loving the material you’re working with. I first read it just after it was first published in the 1960s and was immediately taken away because it’s about a life I totally understand. I could connect with the going to all the gospel halls, the sectarianism, the 12 of July celebrations and also I was very close to a number of Catholic friends so the whole book spoke to me in a very powerful way. At the same time I always wanted to bring it to the stage but there is a difference to what is on the page for the reader and what they can deal with and what works theatrically on the stage. There are a lot of descriptions which are in the book are terrific but won’t work on the stage. The stage needs action, physical action and so that’s one of the demands on adapting is finding the action at the same time retaining the quality of the writing and the quality of speech that’s there.”
As for stage setting etc, Sam continues, “Our work is about absolute simplicity, the power of the story. There’s one chair on stage and lighting. I sing some of the songs with no accompaniment. It boils down to what I believe in the end the nature of theatre which is the story telling as one person connecting with the audience. I find it very exciting. In the past I’ve done some work with elaborate staging and lighting but in the end theatre is about the acting and text. As Shakespeare said it’s basically ‘the boards, the acting and the story’.
“The wonderful thing in the story is that it’s about one lad having to survive and he survives by his wits and kinds of things we would not approve of, you know stealing, lying and all sorts of things. That’s the only way he can survive in the environment he finds himself in. But at the same time there is always that energy towards nature and the country, the birds and I love that, the combination of having to survive and dreams of some other way of life.”
Given the dialect and the Northern Irish centric theme to the book I ask if he believes the play will travel well? “I think the universality comes from the struggle of a young fellow growing up in a working-class background whether it be Chicago, somewhere in Australia or in Durham, London or Dublin, there’s that common experience. Having read it to some people they identify with it whether there from America, English or Irish. Some of the dialect is difficult for people outside this country and I retain that. I won’t lose it or the quality of who we are. It is about here and that is so wonderful for me to want to share that.”
With its staunch Protestant background I wonder if this play could have been performed to audiences, especially Catholic ones, 30 years ago? His answer is a simple “No.” McCready goes on to elaborate, “First of all is I’m growing all the time. I don’t think I would have even thought about it 30 years ago. At that stage I was an actor using other people’s material. In more recent years I’ve become to see myself more as an interpreter of literature, of memoirs of other people and to share those as a writer, performer and director with an audience.” I again try to move the idea on as our political scene has very much differed during those years, Sam continues, “You could be right but I think the universality of it would have made tremendous sense, some situations may have had more edge but the issues of today are pretty much the same as 30 years ago. We have papered over some-things but the basic lack of trust between Catholics and Protestants, Unionists and Nationalists is as rife now as 30 years ago… I am so aware that nothing has really changed. At any moment if there was one major incident it would blow up again. The one hope I have is in the young people. I sense that more and more of them have rejected that past and it’s irrelevant to them but the older people are still entrenched.”
As for the physical nature of the show, McCready says, “It is pretty exhausting. He has terrific energy as a character and it makes demands on me. One of the things about being an actor is that you transform on stage. When you enter their world you’re not tired. If you have a cold during the day as soon as you step on stage the cold disappears and you have no explanation other than the character doesn’t have a cold.”
As to what’s next, will the play tour Ireland, America and so on? “Absolutely. It all depends on how it goes. You can put all the right ingredients in and something doesn’t work, you don’t know until you have that audience there. We both feel positive about it and in the light of that there are all kinds of potential to tour it round the country. There’s a message in it which is very important for everybody to know whether it’s in this country or in the South of Ireland.”
On a final note Sam says, “My nephew who shares my name is a professor at the University of Ulster and has been working on community relations throughout his professional career came to a reading I did and he said, ‘I knew you were doing this and I thought ‘Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, he’s going to be beating the Orange Drum’ Sam goes on, “And you know we’ve had enough of that. He came out of the reading so delighted and said, ‘You didn’t bang the drum and the is the possibility for change’.” McCready finishes, “I think that’s the key to this performance.”
One, two, and surely not three McCreadys can be wrong. For booking info contact firstname.lastname@example.org