O’Kelly recalls first ‘Bat the Father’ show in Savoy with Brits outside

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Dublin playwright, Donal O’Kelly, will perform his signature ‘Bat The Father Rabbit The Son’ show in Derry’s Playhouse this weekend as part of its acclaimed 30th anniversary tour of Ireland.

Speaking ahead of the show O’Kelly, who will be familiar to readers from roles in feature films including, ‘Jimmy’s Hall’, ‘The Van’ and ‘Kings’, said he remembered a very particular atmosphere on the ground when he first performed his evisceration of proto-Celtic Tiger era Dublin in Derry in 1989.

“Following contact from the group 20:20 Vision, then marking 20 years of the British Army in Northern Ireland, I brought it to a festival they ran in August 1989, where I performed it upstairs in the Savoy Bar,” he told the ‘Journal.

“As soon as I started, the bar was circled by two armoured cars with their sirens blaring. It was the loudest show I ever did. I had to roar for more than ninety minutes non-stop, bestowing on me a pair of vocal chords that are indestructible to this day, half my lifetime later,” he joked.

‘Bat The Father Rabbit The Son’, which will be performed in the Playhouse on Saturday, March 2, at 8 p.m. has been described as “an explosive exposition of the generation that led us to boom and bust”.

Set in Dublin in the 1980s it features ‘Rabbit’ a self-made haulage magnate haunted by his dead father ‘Bat’, a former Citizen Army volunteer and pawn shop assistant. O’Kelly recalled that his second performance of the solo show in Derry almost 30 years ago had been as chaotic as the Savoy gig and the play itself.

“The following spring, in 1989, I was invited to perform it in a festival the City Council ran - the Foyle Arts Festival.

“It went on in the Foyle Arts Centre for three nights. On the last night, there was a bomb scare outside Strand Road RUC barracks, which was declared a hoax at about 8 p.m., when the show was due to start, I thought no-one would turn up, but to my astonishment a full house streamed up the pathway to the centre.

“Among them was Brian Friel. My lighting operator presumed the show was cancelled and didn’t show up.

“Once I saw the maestro going into the auditorium I knew I had to do whatever it took to get the show on. I had to push up the lights full myself as I went on stage, which made the stage like a sauna. At the end, one of the punters, a tall earnest-looking guy, came up to me and said, ‘I’ve been in jail with some of the hardest men I know, but I’ve never seen a man sweat through a suit before.’”

Tickets cost £12 and can be booked at https://www.derryplayhouse.co.uk/events/details/bat-the-father-rabbit-the-son/943