As the old saying goes, write what you know. For Cathal Ryan, this has proven to be very true in the context of his latest play. It’s about hurling, and as his second name indicates, he is from Tipperary.
“As I joke in the play, you’re born with a hurley in your hand in Tipperary,” Cathal says. “I started my hurling days with Durlas Óg, the juvenile club in Thurles. Then I moved just outside Thurles to The Ragg, my hometown, and went hurling with Drom & Inch.
“When I began to pursue theatre a bit more seriously, I kind of hung the hurley up for a few years. It’s only recently now after coming out of drama school that the fear of injury has settled a bit and I’ve transferred to Civil Service GAA Club up in Dublin.”
As you can see, hurling was and still is a big part of Cathal’s life. And a play centred on hurling fitted in with what Cathal hopes to do in theatre, show the everyday extraordinary.
“When I was in the Lir Academy our head of acting once said, ‘Actors exist because they need to bring the everyman to life.’ And that’s what I’m really interested in,” Cathal explains.
“If you think about it, the play is about a young guy from rural Ireland – there’s not going to be a car chase in that play, there’s not going to be an exploding helicopter, but his inner turmoil is the exploding helicopter and it’s just as interesting.”
Celebrations and explorations
Pucked will open the Clonmel Junction Arts Festival on 30 June. It will run until 2 July and the festival as a whole will run until 10 July. As well as the play being written by Cathal, it’s also a one-man-show in which he plays all the characters.
Its protagonist is Matty Daly, a young man who aspires to make his senior club team, but what happens when your dreams fall out of reach?
Cathal describes the play as: “A young man in rural Ireland falls in love with hurling by the nature of his upbringing and, like myself, is more than happy to spend hours pucking off the wall at the side of his house.
“It’s that moment where he gets a bit older and he has to go, is ‘Plan A’ going to happen?’ It’s him going, ‘Well I’ve dedicated my whole life to this. It’s all I want and it’s all I’ve thought about, what happens if that doesn’t happen?’ Maybe is it the story of Cathal Ryan, if Cathal Ryan didn’t fall in love with theatre?”
The play, Cathal says, is a celebration of the GAA. In tandem it also deals with a few different themes, including toxic masculinity and individualism.
“This is a celebration of the GAA. And toxic masculinity is part of sport.
“It deals with the struggles of the GAA both on and off the field, the pressures that young men put on themselves. I find we talk about peer pressure a lot, but also from my experience of being in that rural Ireland setting and being in the GAA, there’s the pressure put on you, but I actually think the biggest source of pressure comes from yourself.
“You’re going, ‘What if people talk about me? What are people saying about me?’ You kind of put yourself on a pedestal, because really, everyone’s getting on with their own stuff. No one cares about you, but you’re worried everyone is talking about you.”
The road less travelled
Individualism is something that’s important to Cathal. In comparison to his contemporaries, Cathal was a little later coming to theatre. Owing, in part, to his love of hurling.
“Growing up as a young man in Tipperary hurling is your thing and you’re so happy to immerse yourself in that. I was so happy to immerse myself in it, that it probably stopped me exploring other avenues, like theatre.
“Hence why I wasn’t one of those people, like the people who I went to college with, who had been in stage school since they were three years old. I joined my local drama group, Inch Players, in transition year to try something new. It was me and a load of adults.”
Having got involved in theatre, Cathal decided to study arts and performing arts at NUI Galway (NUIG) after school. “By God did I make up for lost time when I went to NUIG. I was in the drama society and carrying seven scripts around. I’d do a performance at night time and then go to the library until 3am to get an essay done. I got swallowed by the bug when I went to Galway.”
It was in NUIG that Cathal realised he wanted to be an actor. After college he went to study at the Lir Academy in Dublin, which he graduated from last November.
For Cathal, the ultimate outcome from Pucked would be that people can relate to it and feel a little bit more comfortable in their own skin.
“I don’t want to teach anybody anything, because I don’t think I’m in a position to teach, but if people watch me – young men in particular - and go, ‘Jaysus, what that character is saying, I’ve said and I’ve felt.’ If they relate to Matty Daly – watching me Cathal Ryan – and go, fair play to that lad for saying that you can actually stand out from the crowd and have a voice.”
As Cathal hopes to show in Pucked, two different loves can be married, such as his of hurling and theatre.