Your Only Man by Annie Caulfield
Directed by Marilyn Imrie
Production Manager: Sarah Tombling
Studio Engineer: Gerry O'Riordan
Studio Manager: Jessica Bowles
Executive Producer: Gordon Kennedy
Executive Producer for BBC Radio 3: Matthew Dodd
Absolutely Productions for BBC Radio 3 - Drama on 3 - 31.08.2008
Length - 90mins
When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night
-A pint of plain is YOUR ONLY MAN
When money's tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt
-A pint of plain is YOUR ONLY MAN.
Brian O'Nolan was an Irish writer, columnist and civil servant who wrote novels such as 'The Third Policeman' under the pen name of Flann O'Brien and popular satirical newspaper columns as Myles na gCopaleen, while at the same time working as a civil servant in Dublin under his real name.
This play imagines what might have happened had the three of them got together on the day when O'Nolan was asked to leave his civil service post.
O’Nolan spends the rest of the day remonstrating with his alter egos- Flann O’Brien and his satirical,
firey journalist nom de plume Miles na gCopaleen - as to the cause of his loss of employment, whilst delaying the
inevitable and unenviable task of informing his wife Evelyn.
- Brian O'Nolan : Ardal O'Hanlon
- Flann O'Brien : Dermot Crowley
- Myles na gCopaleen : Dara O'Briain
- Evelyn O'Nolan / Miss Fahy : Pauline McLynn
- Eddie Fahy, the policeman and everyone else : Lloyd Hutchinson
Writer Annie Caulfield’s background to the play:
I was writing a book about a journey through Northern Ireland. In the small border town my mother comes from, Strabane, I noticed a plaque on the wall of a house – Brian O’Nolan/Flann O’Brien had been born there. I’d always thought of him as the archetypal Dubliner. Strabane had been wrecked ten times over in the Troubles; I liked it they had this secret claim to fame.
I started rereading Flann O’Brien and reading about him, thinking I knew how the story went – but this wasn’t the typical story, the Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Behan story of a writer who has success and destroys themselves drinking. Brian O’Nolan held down a job, took on the task of looking after his orphaned brothers and sisters, wrote political and humorous newspaper columns and survived the most appalling bad luck. The alcohol seemed to take the edge off for him as he got up every day and took on the world. I liked him because I think that’s what human courage really is – not doing one big thing like climbing Everest – it’s facing daily cruelty, tedium and injustice with determination. I liked this man who just wouldn’t get knocked down and stay down.
Criticised for being parochial compared to the Paris dwelling likes of James Joyce and Samuel Becket, Flann O’Brien was actually ahead of his time in many ways. The absurdism and magic in the Flann O’Brien novels is cosmopolitan and modern. The strange anarchic humour could be written in to Monty Python, Black Books, Father Ted or The League of gentlemen. Flann O’Brien is funny about Ireland, loyal to Ireland - but he’s also very European, avant garde and imagined himself far beyond his restricted personal life.
From the Radio Times:Edit
An anarchic, surreal comedy requires a certain type of cast - lovers of the absurd. Writer Flann O'Brien was academically brilliant but crushed by his own alcoholism. Radio Times spoke to the four actors - all O'Brien devotees - cast to play out one of his final days.
Are you a Flann fan?
Dara O'Briain : "He has loomed large throughout most of my life. I was at the same college as him, University College Dublin. Me, him and James Joyce all ran for the post of auditor of the college's Literary and Historical Society... and we all lost."
Ardal O'Hanlon : "I am, but for years I was in denial. When I first got into comedy, I found him intimidating because he was so good. Like an ungrateful child, I rejected him. Not any more. As far as I'm concerned, 'The Third Policeman' is one of the finest comic novels ever written."
Pauline McLynn : "What's not to like? His work is funny, touching, charming ... you hear so many phrases in modern Ireland that have a real touch of the O'Brien about them."
Dermot Crowley : "I'm a huge Flann fan, and that's not easy to say this early in the morning. I grew up reading him, but was actually more aware of his newspaper columns as Myles na gCopaleen. People used to buy the Irish Times just so they could read him. They were the water-cooler moments of their day. We all discussed what he'd been writing about. He was that important to Irish life."
And why should the rest of us be interested in him?
Dara : "In the same way that James Joyce rebuilt the novel, I think O'Brien rebuilt the comic novel. He is one of those great Irish writers whose shoulders we are all lucky enough to stand on."
Ardal : "If you liked 'Father Ted', you'll like Flann O'Brien. I'm not saying Ted copied Flann O'Brien. but they shared similar themes and a way of looking at life. So many Irish standups owe a huge debt to his absurdist humour. "
Pauline : "Thanks to 'Lost', a lot more people are now aware of him [Desmond can be seen reading 'The Third Policeman' in one episode.], which is great. He takes you to another world and-as the play points others does it in a lot less pages than James Joyce."
Dermot : "He might have been writing in the 40s and 50s, but be was way ahead of his time. Wild flights of fantasy and black humour that took you to places you'd never been before. Yes, let's use that word... a genius."
What's Your Only Man about?
Dara : "It's about one day in Brian O'Nolan's life [O'Brien's real name], but he's accompanied by his two alter egos, Flann O'Brien and Myles na gCopaleen. I suppose it's about artistic temperament and how artistic temperament is often compromised over time. I mean, just look what's happened to Ken Barlow."
Ardal : "Flann O'Brien is regarded as one of Ireland's greatest writers, but this is not a celebration of 'Irishness'. I hate it when people are stuck in pigeonholes like that. It's a play about a man. A very complex man-that's why we see three very different sides to his character. Like the Holy Trinity. Or the Unholy Trinity!"
Pauline : "It's about a different Ireland, back in the days when men especially literary men-could be a martyr to the drink and it wasn't frowned upon. O'Nolan would have shared the same watering holes as the likes of Brendan Behan. Another terrible man for the jars. Thank God things have changed. These days, you're more likely to meet the reformed drinker."
Tell us about your character
Dara : "I play Myles, who wrote these biting, satirical columns, poking fun at the powers that be. Basically, he was a cynical smart-arse who took the mickey out of the news. I have to be honest here and say that it wasn't that much of a stretch for me to get into character!"
Ardal: "I play the man himself, Brian O'Nolan. I jumped at the chance to inhabit his shoes for a while, because I really did want to know more about him. He was probably a manic depressive, had huge doubts about his talent and drank heavily. Very heavily."
Pauline : "I'm Brian O'Nolan's wife. Not much was actually known about her, but the two were devoted to each other. She wasn't particularly arty herself, though. Apparently, she always thought she was going to marry a farmer."
Dermot: "I'm the novelist part of Brian O'Nolan ... I'm Flann O'Brien. It's not the first time I've played him. I was in a play called Flann O'Brien's Hard Life and getting heckled by this fella who seemed to have had a few pints. All of a sudden the heckling stopped and I asked my friend what'd happened. He said, Ah, he fell asleep on the stairs. He only woke up when we started applauding at the end. The first thing he said was, "Oh, Jesus. I've missed the interval"'. Flann O'Brien would have loved that."