Saturday, 11 September 2010


"In the early '50s I used to be entertained on buses and in coffee shops by a young bank clerk who could fantastic imitations of Hilton Edwards, Michael MacLiammoir and the poet Patrick Kavanagh.  He not only could reproduce their voices but his face changed while he talked so that he seemed to resemble the people he was impersonating and his phenomenal memory enabled his to recall their actual dialogue with uncanny precision.  

When Kavanagh  saw the impersonation of himself he commented: "It was like looking at myself in the mirror after a hard night".

One night the young man confided to me that he was giving up impersonations and going to be an actor.  He felt it would be bad to keep on imitating people when he would be  addressing himself to the more serious task of creating characters on stage.

His name was T.P. McKenna"

(Ulick O'Connor, Sunday Independent, 4th March 1973)

This lead quote by Ulick O'Connor suitably introduces the process by which TP transformed himself into a straight, professional actor.

The Pike Theatre was a small, independent theatre company founded by Alan Simpson in 1953 with his wife Carolyn Swift in a Herbert Lane mews close to the Grand Canal.  Seating just 55 theatre-goers it was run as a private theatre club and presented the work of new writers, most famously of which was Brendan Behan's The Quare Fellow  and the second English language production of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot.

It was here in 1953 that TP would make his professional stage debut as John Buchannan in a production of Smoke and Summer by Tennessee Williams, supporting Maureen Toal and Milo O'Shea.

Irish Independent, 16th March 1954
However, somewhat more prominently he would make his mark as a revue artist of talent with a gift for mimicry in the Pike late-night summer revues presented as the Herbert Lane Follies.

The revue form has so long been discarded that it almost needs re-explaining.  Written by Carolyn Swift with music provided by George Hoddinott, the Follies were a collection of sketches and songs which were cleverly comic and touching on satire.

They were to prove highly popular in the stultifying environment of 1950s Dublin which was noted, resented even, for its all too provincial outlook.

Among TP's noted impersonations were those of the director Lennox Robinson and the poet Patrick Kavanagh.

Irish Independent, 4th August 1954

TP as Lennox Robinson in Further Follies
Irish Independent, 25th Jan 1955

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