Rory Nolan as Ross O’Carroll Kelly

After twenty years of poking fun at south Dublin’s posh rugby culture, Rory Nolan reprises Foxrock’s main man at the Gaiety. This time he’s in his 50s.

Ross O’Carroll Kelly, Paul Howard’s satirical Irish Times mainstay, recently reached twenty years of printed tales. Howard’s rich, pretentious, egotistical and utterly hilarious rugby-loving character has had quite a ride. In the various tomes released over the years, he’s rescued friends from an African country he can’t pronounce, managed the Andorran rugby team, interfered in north-Dublin gang wars, and come up with more excuses for where he might have been last night than we could possibly recall.

The latest full-length offering, entitled ‘Operation Trumpsformation,’ was released last month In it the main man is knee deep in it again, while his dad is running a political campaign to build a wall around Cork, offending all comers, and wearing a suspiciously Trumpian hairpiece.

While the books are very much a present-day parallel universe, the theatre version of Ross runs to a different timescale: ‘Postcards From The Ledge’ leaves behind the present, and heads for the year 2029. The main man is running an estate agent, his daughter about to marry a man he loathes, and our hero still just a few good matches away from the Ireland squad, naturally. Rory Nolan plays Ross, as he has in the previous three different O’Carroll Kelly stage sagas, and this time he’ll be going it alone.

“I can’t wait for people to see it,” Nolan tells us. “‘Postcards From The Ledge’ has Ross on the cusp of fifty years old. He’s the managing director of Hook, Lyon and Sinker, and life has been good to him, Ireland is attuned in a way that it’s a good place to be if you’re Ross O’Carroll Kelly. We meet him on a day when he’s valuing a house in South Dublin, which turns out to be where he grew up, in Sallynoggin. Obviously, he’d rather it was in a different country. It’s conjuring up all kinds of memories for him.”

“At the same time, his daughter Honour is getting married to a guy he really doesn’t approve of. Maybe he’s everything that Ross isn’t. He’s on the road to total meltdown, and it just makes for great comedy. People love to see his up and downs, but I think they want him to get there in the end, too. I’m always surprised how audiences are always gunning for him. They really want  to see Ross win.”

Ross, of course, isn’t the brightest spark, and that’s part of the challenge for Nolan. “It is quite hard to act as stupid as Ross is,” he admits. “But Paul’s writing, I’ve really never come across anything quite like it. Playing Ross intertwines the comedy and the character. You have to follow the timing of what Ross is doing. It’s quite unaware. If you tried to acknowledge what was going on, it would fall flat on its face. There’s always something at stake for these characters, though, so it’s not just humor for the sake of humor.”

“The characters have a lot of heart. Otherwise, you’re just watching a guy meandering his way through life. It’s great fun. It can be quite overwhelming, the intensity of it all, too.”

Howard, of course, is key to the play. The prolific writer has now portrayed the cult icon in no less than 17 different novels (and a couple of spin-offs), and it’s proven an enduring satire. Naturally, he’s close to the play, too.

“Paul is so generous with his work’ Nolan explains. “This is a world that he’s created. He has great material, and he’s so completely generous and collaborative with it all. I can’t tell you what a treat is to sit down and read the script for the first time. I was on the bus reading it through, and I had tears streaming down my face trying not to laugh. I’m sure people thought I was having a fit. What’s amazing about it is there’s always stuff in his scripts that you play without knowing how funny it is. It’s a joy for an actor”

“I’m a born and bred south county Dubliner,” Nolan says of his ongoing role. “My accent isn’t that far away. I didn’t have the same upbringing as Ross by a long shot, but I went to a rugby playing school. Then I went to UCD, and I always feel like going there was like being on an observation deck for this, unknowingly. Being able to observe that kind of thing has helped me channel it. I’ve got friends with certain mannerisms that I find make their way into performances. I’ve been playing the character for ten years, though, so it’s almost second nature. People don’t want it too exaggerated, or too real. It’s got to be a comfortable middle ground.”

So what about this particular play – how will it work as a solo act?

“Little things happen through the evening, like a phone call or two, that turn things on their head,” Nolan tells us. “Ross is going through a bit of a change. He’s definitely not going to play for Ireland. Or is he? Come down, have a Heino and find out! It’s really really funny, but there’s a huge amount of heart. It’s a journey of self-discovery as much as anything else. We hope and pray that by the end of the show, he’ll be a different man to when he started out. You’ll come in knowing one Ross, and perhaps leave knowing another.”

“We started with ‘Between Foxrock and a Hard Place’ ten years ago, in the last days of the Celtic Tiger. Every time I step into the Dubes, there’ s a certain amount of pressure that comes with the role. People have a certain ownership over the character, and want him to be a certain way. The best compliments we ever get from doing all the shows are that it’s how people imagined it.”

Postcards From The Ledge runs at the Gaiety Theatre from October 22 to November 11, with tickets (on sale now) starting at €22.

This article is part of my weekly music column for the Dublin Gazette, reproduced here with permission. Note: this column is published in the Dublin Gazette several days ahead of on this website. The Gazette is a freesheet paper available across Dublin, published on a Thursday. Pick up copies at these locations

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