John Connors in “Ireland’s Call.”
By Peter McDermott
Film and TV star John Connors wants to see more working-class stories told by working-class actors.
The Dubliner said working-class people are often portrayed on screen, but by middle- or upper-middle class actors, whereas the converse is rarely the case.
His new show, “Ireland’s Call,” which he will perform in its U.S. premiere on March 2 as part of this year’s Craic Festival, was written by him in part to help rectify that situation.
“It’s about James and his friends growing up in Coolock [North Dublin]. And having fun and dreaming of going to Ibiza and having a laugh. There’s a love story there, but there’s a critical eye pointed at the Irish establishment,” said the “Love/Hate” and “Cardboard Gangsters” actor.
The story takes in three generations of James’s family. “Fifty years in an hour!” Connors said with a laugh.
It covers the heroin epidemic from the 1980s on and the emergence of gangsterism over the past couple of decades.
“That makes it sound really dark and serious, and it is that, but it’s also really funny as well,” Connors said.
The critics have agreed. The Irish Times’ Mick Heaney, for instance, commented during the show’s September run in Dublin that “the charismatic Connors brings vivid life to his character, whether consumed with anger and despair, or unleashing profane asides with verbal vim. And for all its bleak worldview, it’s a drama with a dogged faith in people, not least the flawed but appealing James.”
“Ireland’s Call” could be seen as an extension of the actor’s role as an advocate, not just for working-class people, but also for his own Traveler community, which he said is the most oppressed of Ireland’s minorities.
“The most discriminated against by a wide, wide margin,” he told the Guardian in a filmed interview (available on YouTube).
Connors is comfortable in the role of spokesperson, coming as he does from a long line of activists. “My grandmother was a feminist without realizing it,” he said in that interview. “I have a spotlight now. People listen to me.”
His advocacy begins with the forthright telling of his own story. When he was 8, his father committed suicide; at 20, that “viable option” loomed for him. “Seven and a half years ago,” he said, dedicating his best actor award (for “Cardboard Gangsters”) to his dead father at the 2018 Irish television and film awards, “I was sitting in a little box bedroom in the darkness, contemplating suicide.”
His brother reached out at that moment. The two googled “acting classes” and “Dublin” and somehow John Connors talked himself into an advanced class at the Abbey Theatre. The first session didn’t go particularly well, but the teacher saw something in him and insisted he return.
His mother saw a huge change in him after that first session and she also encouraged him to continue with it. Connors put the transformation in him down to the power of creativity.
He told his story at the American Irish Historical Society in New York last year, and spoke, too, about his many projects, including a documentary he’s directing.
“I’ve been going over to New York for the past four or five years now. I love it,” he said. “I absolutely love the place. I’ve a lot of good friends there.”
Connors mentioned in the latter category the Craic Festival’s founder Terence Mulligan, Brian McCabe of the American Irish Historical Society, his son the writer Daniel James McCabe, actor Johnny McConnell and writer Colin Broderick.
“They are great people,” he said.
Connors feels “patriotic” in the Big Apple knowing now its crucial links to the Irish revolution of a century ago.
“Any other time I leave Ireland I don’t feel at home,” he said, “but I feel at home in New York.
“I really look forward to every trip over there,” Connors said.
John Connors will perform “Ireland’s Call” at the Craic Fest 21 – Music Fest, March 2 at the Mercury Lounge. Loah and Julie Feeney will also star as part of the musical part of the program on that night. Doors open at 7:30. Show starts at 8 p.m. Advance tickets ($18) at www.thecraicfest.com.