Musician speaks about challenges of role as Irish emigrant in 1960s
Irish musician Tommy Fleming has spoken about the challenges and rewards he has felt in taking on the lead role in a musical about an Irish emigrant.
‘Paddy’ tells the story of an Irish man leaving his home and starting a new life in London in the 1960s.
“It’s about those who went to work in Britain in the ’60s and were often forgotten,” explained Fleming. “This is a universal Irish experience — everyone knows a ‘Paddy’. At Castlebar, the response was incredible: I’d never seen so many adults crying. I knew it was a powerful piece. But even I was surprised. From early on, it was clear we had struck a chord.”
Fleming is a singer-songwriter and had never acted before, but he has proven to be a massive hit on stage.
He admits the play came to him at the right time, as he was looking for a new direction after more than 20 years touring.
Acting is proving a different challenge for Fleming but one he is relishing. He said: “It is very draining. It is much more difficult than doing a show of 22 songs. When you’re singing, something can go wrong and you don’t have to worry about it. That’s just part of the performance. With the play, I can’t mess up. People are relying on me. You really have to be aware of what’s happening.
“Getting to grips with the script was the hardest part. It had 260 pages of dialogue. That’s akin to learning a book from beginning to end. So it’s at the start that the challenges are there. Once you get into the character, the lines are less of a problem.”
The character, Paddy, leaves Ireland during the 1960s to start a new life in London, and as he becomes more distanced from his homeland, he finds his identity evolving in order to survive.
Fleming said: “I based the character on my father and on two of my uncles on my mother’s side. He becomes two very different people over the course of the play. Starting off, he’s green and honest. However, as he has success in London, he grows more ruthless. It is a very interesting character-portrayal. You see someone go through a lot of changes.”
“It’s so much bigger than I had ever anticipated,” Fleming said. “One of the reasons, I think, is the honesty: it doesn’t pull its punches. This isn’t your cliched musical theatre — it’s not a musical drama.”
Ireland has always seen large numbers of emigration as people have been forced to move away in order to survive.
However, Fleming points out that leaving Ireland was not always as easy as jumping on a plane like it is today.
“Emigration was very different 45 or 50 years ago. In 1964, it took as long to go from Castlebar to London as from Dublin to Sydney today. The world has become a very small place. It felt a lot bigger back then.”