Hope & Redemption

10 July 2012 | 11:11 am | Paul Andrew

Actor/director Maeliosa Stafford is considered an expert in the work of celebrated playwright Martin McDonough. However this month it’s compatriot Conor McPherson who receives Stafford’s distinctive ‘Blarney Stone’ touch. Paul Andrew speaks with Stafford about all things Anglo-Celtic and the darkest side of the male psyche.

“My parents were involved in the theatre so I had been introduced to its spell from as far back as I can remember,” Maeliosa Stafford remembers. “They took me to see a touring production by Scotland's 784 Theatre Company when they came to Galway in the early 1970s. The show was called The Cheviot, The Stag, & The Black Black Oil, a lightning tour of the history of Scotland from the decimation resulting from the Highland clearances to the [then] current exploitation of the country's wealth and natural resources.”

Stafford's own theatre career began at a very young age due largely to his parent's involvement with 'An Taibhdhearc' (pronounced-ON TYVE YARK), a small Gaelic-speaking company in Galway. “I acted in my university drama soc and from there I was seen by a few of the members of the fledgling Druid Company, who asked me to join them in 1977. Under the inspirational Garry Hynes it just went on from there and the link has never been broken. It was a Druid tour in 1987 that first brought me here to Australia.”

In Australia, Stafford is well-known for his collaborations with John O'Hare and Patrick Dickson in O'Punksky's Theatre, a company versed in presenting the darker side of the heroic male. “Yes, it was on 1990 I directed Observe The Sons Of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme, a searing anti-war play that seemed to touch the Australian psyche. A group of young actors – all male twenty-thirtysomethings – who decided to stick together and keep going. We produced Little Malcolm & His Struggle Against The Eunuchs. As ex-pat Irish, English and Scottish we were drawn to plays that reflected our existence in an environment that was either striving to forge an Australian theatrical identity or doing second best representing European/British/Irish cultures; that is, our stories. At least that's what we felt at the time.”

It was this passion for stories of 'The Old Country' that saw Stafford invited to play Richard in the hugely successful Abbey production of The Seafarer in 2008 and again in its revivals in 2009 and 2010. “It was directed by Conor McPherson and I had a hell of an experience and a bit of an epiphany. It was, however, a really satisfying journey and I sought for three years to get the rights for O'Punksky's for the Australian premiere. I was drawn by so many aspects of Conor's creative mind, particularly his raw honesty. His characters are so brutal and so vulnerable. They have deep insecurities about most things in life and seem to lash out at the world when unable to cope or face its pressures.

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“Buried deep is a sense of care and compassion for each other when they're really tested. McPherson's writing is superbly insightful, and truly understands despair, violence, addiction and fear in the world of the male-in-crisis. He offers humour as part of the solution, but above all, he offers hope and redemption.”

The Seafarer runs from Wednesday 18 July until 12 August, Darlinghurst Theatre Company.