Friday 15 December 2017

On a trip to Skerries -- The family snapshots that show Sheridan boys before they were famous

WHEN your brother has 15 Oscar nominations it can be easy to slip into his shadow, but Peter Sheridan has no such fears.

While his better known sibling Jim was shaking hands in Hollywood, Peter was happy to work the theatre circuit at home.

"The thing about films is that it can take three, four or five years to get a film out. It's a long, long process and I am not that patient.

"At least with a play, you can get it up and running. There's much more immediacy to theatre. Films are very long term," he told the Herald.

These images show the Sheridan family growing up in Dublin in 1957, well before fame beckoned.

Jim went on to direct six major movies, but Peter says he always found theatre a more emotional medium.

In 2000 he did dip his toe into the film world by directing his own production, Borstal Boy, but for the most part it's all about stage productions.

He tells how his interest in performance arts was piqued by a young rapper on a visit to a inner city school.

Many children took part in a talent show at his son's school, but one in particular caught his eye, said Peter, who believes schools could be doing more to give youngsters "an entree" into drama and theatre.

"A young Chinese boy came on -- rapping in Chinese. The other kids loved it even though they didn't understand a word," he said.

"This was communication of the highest order."

It was "really important" for schools to be proactive and encourage young people to "strut their stuff."

Participation is the key to it all, said Peter, who comes from a family steeped in theatre.


But he freely admits: "I was totally lucky. I knew nothing about theatre or the stage until my dad started the St Laurence O'Toole players."

The impetus behind that decision was the death of his brother Frankie, Peter told the Herald.

In April of 1976, their family was torn apart by the death of 10-year-old Frankie from a brain tumour.

"My father went from being man who never missed work to a man who never went to work," Peter says in his new book, Break A Leg.

"Da became an actor because the only other option for him was to give up and die.

"He decided to fulfil his lifelong ambition and he never would have done it if Frankie had lived.

"It took Frankie's death for him to realise the importance of embracing his dreams."

Peter said that Frankie's death was a seminal point in his life -- and totally changed him also.

His father had always dreamed of being an actor and started a local drama group.

"My mother had worked in the Theatre Royal and Da loved all the old vaudeville stars, people like Jimmy O'Dea and Noel Purcell," he said.

"I was 15 when Frankie died and Jim was 18. I wasn't involved in theatre before that," Peter said.

He speculates now that their involvement in drama was also a way of coping with the grief.

But he loved the Sean O'Casey plays put on by his father. "We were totally caught up in it," he said.

He points to the story of Billy Elliot and said it's so important for young people to get an open door into dance, music or drama. He now works with young people in the National Association of YouthDrama.

Poignant pictures of Peter and his siblings as young children on Skerries Beach in 1957 show a happy family, not knowing how Frankie's death would drive one brother to go on to be one of Ireland's leading writers and another to be a Hollywood director.

Peter said that when he sat down to write his new memoir he had a lot of memorabilia to draw on from the 1960s and 1970s, including theatre programmes.

His book tells how he put on theatre productions on a shoestring and created a vision and a reality out of next to nothing.

He was one of the founder members of Project Theatre Company and has worked with the Charabanc Theatre Company and the Royal Court Theatre where he directed his own plays, The Liberty Suit, in collaboration with Gerard Mannix Flynn and Emigrants.

Peter is also the author of 44 -- a Dublin Memoir (1999) and Forty-Seven Roses (2001). His new book, Break A Leg, is published by New Island Books and is priced at €19.99.


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