Thursday, 12 August 2010


Following his departure from the bank, when TP bravely struck out on his mission to be a professional actor, he made the most of the friendships he'd found when cosying up to the city's actors in their favoured watering holes.

Milo O'Shea, in particular, had taken a liking to TP and made possible his introduction to the tiny Pike Theatre.  He had also become friendly with Godfrey Quigley who invited him to join the Globe Theatre Company which resided in a mini-theatre (not much bigger than The Pike) above the Gas Company showrooms in Dun Laoighaire; and he had also made his radio debut in the famous sponsored drama, The Kennedys of Castleross also directed by Quiqley.  However, financially, TP's great dream was full of holes, especially as the Globe was run on a profit-share basis based on lean box-office takings.

All in all, a year after having quit the bank he was bringing in no more than a quarter of his previous salary. "I was down to two pounds a week which was exactly my rent, so I had nothing to eat and I couldn't approach people at home for money," TP  would recall.

It was at this stage that our hero conspired to get himself into The Abbey Theatre Company [Ireland's national theatre] and calling on his family's political connections he contrived to gain an interview with the Abbey's managing director,  Ernest Blythe.

Ernest Blythe
Abbey's Managing Director
"I made a 'b' line for the Abbey and I used my political connections because I had an uncle who had been in the first government and I went to see Richard Mulchahy [Dail Minister] who knew my uncle and, one way or another, I got an interview with Blythe."

Blythe's first verdict was not encouraging:  "Aghh!  Your Irish is bloody awful [Abbey players were required to be fluent speakers of gaelic] ... and your nose is a bit too long!" But then he cast TP a glimmer of hope, "I suppose we could take you on for the Christmas show and see how you get on."

TP's formative years as an actor were spent with Ireland's national Theatre, The Abbey, between 1953 & 1962. 

During that time he undertook over seventy different roles working his way up from small walk on parts with a few lines to principal player and indeed when it came to the renowned Abbey pantos, 'matinee idol'.

The home of the company was the large Queens Theatre, the original Abbey having burnt down in 1951. At 900 hundred seats in what was then a very small city, it proved to be a difficult space to fill and so the repertoire of those days was broad with an over-reliance on light 'peasant comedies'.

Nonetheless, it was one such comedy which gave the young TP his first 'in' to the Abbey Company.  Sitting idly in his digs he was called to the phone.  Waiting to speaking to him was the Stage Manager at the Queens.  How soon could he be there, he was asked.  As soon as you need me, he replied.

It transpired that one of the resident actors had failed to return from a weekend break on time and TP was required to go on for the actor that night.  It was a fortuitous and lucky break and for the following eight years, without contract, TP stayed as a member of the Abbey Company learning and honing his craft until January 1963 when he left for London only to return to Dublin for occasional theatrical appearances.

TP & Eddie Golden in 'The Plough and the Stars'

"T.P. McKenna with his fine singing voice, gift for comedy, thick wavy hair and strong well-shaped legs was the ideal prince for a record breaking six pantos." (Vicent Dowling)

"All Blythe cared about were the Prionsas in the Geamaireacht [Gaelic pantomimes].  I hold the record. I played Prionsa six times to Ray McAnally's five."

Vincent Dowling & TP
'Long Day's Journey Into Night'

'A Light In The Sky'

TP with Aideen O'Kelly in the pantomime 'Muireann and the Prince'

No comments:

Post a Comment