Friday, 18 April 2014

Interview Aidan McArdle

THIS year marks the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. Described afterwards as 'the Great War', more than nine million people were killed in combat in what was one of the deadliest wars in history.
When it ended in 1918 it was hoped it would be the war to end all wars but history has sadly proved that not to be the case.
It is perhaps not surprising then that museums, concert halls and theatres up and down the country will be staging various events this year to commemorate the centenary of this historic and tragic conflict.
The National Theatre is no exception, thanks to a revival of Sean O'Casey's The Silver Tassie which opens on the Lyttelton stage on April 23.
Written in 1928, it is set in Dublin during the war and centres on the dashing Harry Heegan who plays for his local football team. After celebrating his team's latest victory he grabs his kit and heads off for the trenches along with thousands of other Irishmen.
But a nightmare world awaits and the men are reduced to cannon fodder as the war progresses. Although Harry survives, he returns home months later, a cripple.
Among the star studied cast is Charlton-based actor, Aidan McArdle, most recently seen as Silvester in the BBC's drama Garrow's Law and as Lord Loxley in the ITV drama series Mr Selfridge.
We chat when the Dublin-born 44 year old is in the middle of rehearsals for the show in which he plays Harry's father Sylvestor Heegan and he's clearly relishing the experience.
"I'm really excited about this play," he enthuses. "I love O'Casey - I'm reading his autobiography at the moment - and I've always wanted to work with [director] Howard Davies so I knew it would be great to do.
"I also love the National. It's a brilliant place to work, a real luxury and although I'm at that stage in the rehearsal period where I get a bit nervous about it all, I'm really excited.
"It's a fantastic, powerful piece. It's wonderfully written though hasn't been given the credit in the past it deserves."
Warm, friendly and chatty, Aidan says he is also delighted to be working alongside fellow actor Ronan Raftery, who plays his on-stage son Harry.
"We both trained at RADA which has a buddy system and while he was there I mentored him. Now he's playing my son so it's a double thrill for me."
But he admits there is a poignancy to being part of the production.
"Although I live in Charlton now, I'm from Dublin originally which is where The Silver Tassie is set. About 200,000 Irishmen fought for the British army in the First World War but it's a part of Irish history that has almost been erased because of what happened with Home Rule.
"When I was growing up in the 1970s Irish historical narrative was very nationalistic and there was no sense of the huge numbers of Irish lives lost in the war.
"It was much more about the new republic and the civil war."
"Also, those who came back disabled from the war were an embarrassment and the state didn't know what to do with them. Some of the injuries were horrific and they didn't want to be reminded of that. They were treated very badly by the system.
"I think that's where O'Casey was coming from when he wrote the play. It's about the futility of war. These brave men fought for a cause and gave everything and for what?"
But he insists despite the subject matter it's not all doom and gloom.
"It's a tragi-comedy," he says. "Although it is set against the backdrop of the war it's actually a really funny play. In a way it is more about the impoverished backgrounds of these working class people and how they did what they were told.
"I think people will identify with them. They cope with it and get on with it and look on the bright side of things. It's much more about the different levels of humanity and how they cope in extreme situations.
"They keep on dancing, laughing and singing - they really do what the song says and pack up their troubles in their old kit bag and smile!
"That's what good theatre is all about though - when you get something serious happening in the midst of something funny - O'Casey is a master at that as he will throw in a line that's breathtakingly tragic."
And the experience has inspired him to explore more of O'Casey's work.
"I always wanted to be an actor - I was a total show off when I was a kid, getting a kick out of expressing myself on some level that wasn't just showing off - and I've been lucky to play some amazing roles in my career.
"I love O'Casey's work though. He was at the top of his game when he wrote this so I'd love to do more in future."
But for now his focus is on this current production, not to mention enjoying life in Charlton.
"I've lived in New Cross, Lewisham and Blackheath but love Charlton - it's a fantastic area," he says warmly.
"The Marion Wilson Park is lovely and I take the kids there as they like the ducks and cockerels. There is also an amazing little café in the children's park run by a Japanese woman. It looks ordinary but they serve tea in bone china - it's fantastic - a real jewel in the middle of the park."

The Silver Tassie is on at the Lyttelton until Thursday, July 3. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000  

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