A Day In May: actor Conor Gormally speaks about the play and his hopes for change in marriage equality in Northern Ireland

Conor Gormally Interview

By Conor O’Neill

Belfast’s Lyric Theatre sees Colin Murphy’s A Day In May hit the stage for one night only on April 11th. Belfast actor, Conor Gormally, speaks about acting, how every act is a protest, and his hopes for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland.

Based on Charlie Bird’s interviews with people directly involved with the inspirational campaign that saw marriage equality introduced in the Republic of Ireland on May 22, 2015.

Gormally, who is an openly gay man said in a press release: “As an actor in this play, it’s an honour to create characters based on real people from the extraordinary campaign for marriage equality in the Republic. The audience in Belfast will feel the joy of that referendum results day, but it will also be bittersweet as we still don’t have marriage equality in Northern Ireland. Whilst we can celebrate the victories of our queer siblings across the border, we cannot yet celebrate our own.”

CultureCrush NI wanted to find out more.

When did you choose to become an actor?

“My sister, who is ten years older than me, I saw her in a play when I was eight-years-old and I remember saying to myself, ‘Yes, that’s what I want to do’. I stuck at it and she didn’t.”

Conor Gormally

Did you have to audition for the part? Can you tell me how director Gerry Stembridge chose you for your role?

“Yes, there were auditions. I think once we got into rehearsals he had a certain idea of who he wanted to play what parts. We play multiple roles, some smaller roles were just handed out here and there. For the major characters he already had a good idea for who he wanted to play what role before rehearsals. I guess that was for a variety of reasons, such as age, gender and various things like that.”

The play is based on real events, your main role is Niall – based on Donegal protestor Noel Sharkey – why the change of names?

“I think that was a device used by the director to make it clear that we are not trying to impersonate or trying to do a true-to-life representation of the people involved. Instead what we did with the writer’s words was to create characters based on that. It also means that it’s our interpretation of what they said.; whilst we’re looking at specific stories that are real, these stories are universal to LGBT people all over Ireland. Instead of trying to impersonate one person’s story we’re trying to put it in a wider context.”

A 2018 MORI poll found that 68% of people in Northern Ireland agreed with marriage equality. The majority vote in the Republic was 61%. The same poll found that 82% of 16-34 year-old were pro, 75% of 35-54 years-old and 47% of the 54 years-old plus. It’s a matter of ‘When?’ rather that ‘If?’. Would you agree? And would you care to give a speculative time-line?

“I agree that it will happen. It’s such a sticky situation and laws obviously take a long time to change. It will happen, it is just something that has to be pushed more because it’s taking too long.”

A day in May full cast

In the press release you used the word ‘queer’ twice. To many this would be derogatory. Do you feel the LBGT community freely using the word ‘queer’ is reclamation  of the word?

“I think the word ‘queer’ is now used by the LGBT as an umbrella term that spans the whole community. I was in the past used in a derogatory way. I suppose that is a reclamation of a word that was once derogatory but is now celebrated.”

A day in May pic one.jpg

You don’t claim to be a protestor or an activist, but do you think small acts can be a protest?

“Yes. I think that by having shows like this, this play being unashamedly pro gay marriage and pro LGBT rights, I think even that is an act of protest because it us about queer people being allowed to take space in the mainstream, which often we don’t get to see. I think that’s very important. It’s like what I said about writing this play can be like the Pride event; a celebration and a protest. It’s saying, ‘We’re here and our experiences matter’, and that should be celebrated.

Standing ovation dublin

Do you expect any controversy regarding the play? In recent memory certain groups would be protesting outside the theatre. What do you expect from the Northern Irish audience?

“I have great hope for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a lot more inclusive and accepting than it has been in the past. I’m hoping this play and speak about these issues without there being a blow-back. Even from I was 18 I have seen the difference in Belfast and it really makes me hopeful and proud of where I am from.”

*I interject: Some might argue a protest would be beneficial as it would highlight the issue?

“Quite possibly. Maybe it would reinforce that we’re still not equal and there are still issues that we need to push on. I think that marriage equality is such an important issue that we need to fight for, but equal marriage does not end the struggle. It is one law and a signifier and would be a very visual step in the right direction but I don’t think that {the change in law} means that things are fine. I don’t know if people were to see a protest they would think, ‘Yes, we do have more work to do’.

“We can’t be complacent, we do have to keep fighting, we do need to ensure that queer people are 100% accepted in Northern Ireland.”

I believe the Lyric is just one stop in a tour, where else are you playing?

We have a few dates in Dublin and one night in Galway.

Tickets for the Lyric performance are going fast. To book your visit http://www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or phone the box office on: 02890 381081

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