Interview with On Blueberry Hill’s Jim Culleton, David Ganly and Niall Buggy

Posted on 4 March 2020

Sebastian Barry’s award-winning play had sell-out runs in Dublin and New York and now it's heading to London’s Trafalgar Studios for a limited 8-week run only. London On Blueberry Hill tickets are expected to book up just as quick so make sure you secure yours soon! Both David Ganly and Niall Buggy will be reprising their roles guaranteeing London audiences will be in for an hour and a half of gripping storytelling.

We recently got to catch up with On Blueberry Hill director Jim Culleton and the stars of the play David and Niall. Read below to see why they think Barry’s play has been so successful and why they think it will continue to be so.

Q&A with Jim Culleton, David Ganly and Niall Buggy

1. The show sold out in Dublin and New York; do you think it will have similar success in London?

Jim Culleton: It really is anti-Ireland in a way, because it’s a story very much set in Ireland; two characters who lived in Ireland all their lives, and we kind of wondered how it would be received outside of Ireland. In New York, the audiences really, really loved it. There’s something really beautiful and universal about the play. The fact that there are specific references to places in Ireland makes it's more truthful and real.

Do you think the cultural references translated when in New York?

Jim: Absolutely yes! When the characters mention someplace that’s a posh area or a lovely area and the audiences hear that they can relate that to a place that they know. So, we’re really hoping the audiences in London enjoy it just as much. There’s something about Sebastian’s writing and the performance from David and Niall that they really connect with an audience in a really immediate and visceral way.
David Ganly: There’s a real hunger for Irish stories here. Thinking back to The Ferryman last year, well we’re the next-door neighbours and its always interesting to see what the next-door neighbours are doing.
Jim: There was always a passion for Irish stories, and this just happens to be set there. But it's universal.

2. What is it about On Blueberry Hill that resonates with audiences?

Jim: It's beautiful! We’ve been performing it for a few years and so we’re revisiting it here at Trafalgar Studios. It's extended to our London family and team which is fantastic! I think there’s something about it that people engage with.
David: You understand a bit more about life after you’ve seen it which is one of the real main functions of theatre. I think what Sebastian has written is something we can all learn from and enjoy.
Jim: I think that’s exactly it. Theatre has the power to bring you to these people that you might otherwise cross the road to avoid. There are these two guys at the beginning of the play and they’re both in prison and have done some terrible things and yet after an hour and a half, you get to know them. Theatre has the power to increase our sense of empathy. We’ve all done things we’re ashamed of and maybe not things as terrible as these two [characters] but we don’t know if maybe our lives had gone differently, or if we’ve made different choices we regret. Audiences really connect with that. They think “If I made a mistake in my life, would I want to be forgiven for that? And how would I want people to view me?” It lets people see what’s under the surface of all of us and it celebrates humanity in that way.
David: It also asks the audience if they would have done any different if they were in that situation. It asks us to look at ourselves and our own sense of moralities and it does this with some of the most incredible writing. Some of the words that these men say that utterly belong to them but come through Sebastian – they are gifts for us as actors to say.
Niall Buggy: People have really related to it and it means something to them. There’s something within everybody that taps into it and that’s the joy of it really.
Jim: In rehearsals there are shivers up your spine at the more beautiful lines. It reminds me of something that Sebastian said to us in rehearsals last time, that these two guys are like characters who’s feet are in acid and by doing the play we’re putting crowns on their head because these people have done terrible things and we’re celebrating their lives. It’s the importance of ordinary everyday things and its very special.
Niall: We are so blessed to be given this play!
David: Everywhere we’ve done it as well, people have waited after just to touch you and check you’re okay because they’re not. That’s an incredible thing. Like Niall says, it affects people. You don’t just come and listen to a story. It really haunts people.
Jim: To go into the theatre and sit in the dark and allow yourself to be sucked into the words and the stories and the character; people really enjoy that different pace of life.
Niall: It’s a great ability of a lot of Irish playwrights – storytelling. It’s the gift of theatre and to be a storyteller in theatre is the ultimate gift. 

3. What do you think you will take away with you after working on this play? Has it taught you something new?

Jim: I think working on plays and for audiences attending plays, its an opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. This play particularly is so vivid and engaging and it really lets you see the world from the perspective of people you might avoid. As well as doing it off-Broadway and in Dublin and having such great runs and now doing it here at Trafalgar Studios, we’ve also done it in the prison where its set in Dublin and that was an extraordinary experience; to do a play about two prisoners for an audience of 150 prisoners. It certainly got their seal of approval which is a relief.
David: I feel a responsibility of telling an untold story. This is the first time I’ve read a play about people that would normally not have their tale told and the very essence of this piece is that these two men have to tell their story. Some of the prisoners were stunned that anyone would even be interested in telling their tale because they thought they were just forgotten people. But there is a responsibility on us to do that.

On Blueberry Hill tickets are now on sale for performances beginning from 5 March and spanning across an 8-week run until 2 May 2020. Be sure to book your tickets now to see what audiences and critics have been raving about!

🎫 Book your On Blueberry Hill tickets here.

By Jade Ali

A love for theatre stemmed from my love of literature and music, but the West End on my doorstep opened up a whole new appreciation and passion for all things stage-y