Shepard enjoys a rare status

The cast of A Particle of Dread - including in the back row - Iarla McGowan and Judith Roddy. In the front row are Stephen Rea, Sam Shepard and Nancy Meckler.
The cast of A Particle of Dread - including in the back row - Iarla McGowan and Judith Roddy. In the front row are Stephen Rea, Sam Shepard and Nancy Meckler.

In the dance studio on the top floor of the Playhouse American actor and playwright Sam Shepard sits in front of his typewriter each day as he watches his latest work take shape.

Now in the fourth week of rehearsals, just over a week before the eagerly- awaited return of the Field Day Theatre Company, the cast of A Particle of Dread are rehearsing from morning until night. As Sam watches them work the tap of the typewriter is a constant presence - and a reminder of the exciting genesis of a new play by one of the world’s most renowned writers.

For two young actors, Derry-born Judith Roddy and Letterkenny man Iarla McGowan, the chance to act in such a play, on a stage, at home has exceeded their widest expectations of the City of Culture year.

“We are being spoonfed all the nicest sweets,” Judith said during a break from rehearsals.

We are sitting in Java, a quick cup of tea in hand and the man himself, Sam Shepard, has just knocked on the window to wave in at his young cast members.

“It’s always a privilege to be in good company,” Judith said. “And to be honest I’ve found that the higher up the ranks you go, the nicer people are. They have nothing to prove. The generosity that has been shown to us by Stephen (Rea), Sam and Nancy (Meckler) has been overwhelming - and these are high players.

“It’s really about the work.Everyone wants it to do well but we have been allowed to have an input, to feel a part of the process.”

Iarla admits that starting work on a new play brought with it a certain sense of “vulnerability”.

“I think we all felt that at the beginning of this, that sense of excitement and trepidation that comes with a work which hasn’t been staged before. But we are slowly but strongly getting there.”

For Judith, who has been a long-time admirer of Sam Shepard’s work, the opportunity to play the role of Annalise/ Antigone has been a dream come true.

“People fall over themselves the world over to get a chance to be a part of a Sam Shepard production - and we have a premiere right here in Derry. I could not have imagined having this opportunity. I never thought I would get to work with him at all.”

Speaking of the “ripples of anticipation” which are preceding this production, Iarla - who plays the role of Harrington, an American police officer - said: “I’ve never really done a play in Ireland before and here I am doing an original work, and a Field Day play at that, in the City of Culture year in Derry.

“It doesn’t get any better than that. I’d say it makes for a very attractive proposal to come to Derry to see such a show.”

What is certain is that, for a wide variety of reasons, A Particle of Dread will be a must see for theatre lovers, fans of Field Day and all Derry folk.