Star names help Aidan McArdle to keep the ball in the air

Dublin-born actor Aidan McArdle tells Bridget Galton he likes working with two big theatre names SHARING a stage with Dame Eileen Atkins and Imelda Staunton is perhaps every actor s dream – and nightmare. Aidan McArdle may have bags of RSC and National

Dublin-born actor Aidan McArdle tells Bridget Galton he likes working with two big theatre names

SHARING a stage with Dame Eileen Atkins and Imelda Staunton is perhaps every actor's dream - and nightmare.

Aidan McArdle may have bags of RSC and National Theatre experience behind him, but he's anxious about the Bafta-winning company he's keeping at the Almeida Theatre.

"They are all absolutely superb in a way that makes you think 'Jesus I'd better up my game here'," says the nervous Dubliner.


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"It's basically keeping up, trying not to let the side down. It's an ensemble piece but luckily the bulk doesn't fall on my shoulders. All I have to do is not drop the ball."

McArdle is appearing at the Islington venue in Frank McGuinness' There Came A Gypsy Riding.

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Set in remote Connemara, it portrays McKenna family matriarch - played by Staunton - gathering her clan for a macabre 21st birthday party in the holiday home where her son committed suicide.

Buried emotions are unearthed when eccentric cousin Bridget (Atkins) arrives to expose a family secret.

"Frank McGuinness is one of the seminal Irish playwrights so to be in a premiere of one of his plays is a privilege," says 36-year-old McArdle, who cites the playwright's previous work Someone Who'll Watch Over Me and Observe The Sons Of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme as examples of poignant, riveting theatre.

He is finding the bedding in of a new play similar to "jumping off a diving board".

"I had an objective view some weeks ago. But in rehearsal you lose all sense of perspective. You don't have a clue until you see how an audience responds to the story. You have to find the rhythm of the play - you end up stepping on laughs you don't know are there."

McArdle plays the McKenna's eldest son, a conciliator who turns up to this bizarre party to placate his tough-minded, controlling mother and wealthy father.

Preparation for the role involved digging into his personal experience of grief.

McArdle, whose father died two years ago, broke down while talking to director Michael Attenborough about losing his sister and niece in the Boxing Day Tsunami two years ago.

"I ended up crying which is so lame. But it was sparked by the play because it deals with stuff like that. It's almost a catalyst that enables you to process feelings of grief. That seems like an evening of sheer hell but although it will be a very emotional evening, it's actually a very funny play."

He's keen to emphasise that despite it's subject matter, McGuinness has spun something more substantial than a mere ghost story.

"The play is about the ghosts that people leave behind in the people who have to remember them. It is a play about grief but I wouldn't want to go to see a play that was about grief. It's not full of wailing and crying, it's much more entertaining than that .

"It's people trying to cope and deal with their life. This is a family that says nothing to each other. They want to get through this trauma without having to deal with the stuff that families do - but the unresolved issues keep popping up. They realise you can't actually control these situations or your emotional life."

McArdle studied at University College Dublin where he was a contemporary of writer Conor McPherson in the drama society.

He then trained at RADA, won parts at the RSC, including Richard III and Puck, and at the National Theatre in A Prayer For Owen Meany.

For the past two years he has worked exclusively on screen including playing Dudley Moore in Channel 4 Peter Cook biopic Not Only But Always, an ex-lover in the marriage drama Perfect Day and a pilot for a BBC comedy called Green.

For now he is finding being back on stage quite "scary".

"There is a leap of faith involved with any artistic endeavour. You do your best to be as truthful as possible and hopefully people will feel it rings true.

"My gut instinct is this is a good one, the cast are almost too nice - I'm sure providence has something in store to f*** it all up."

There Came A Gypsy Riding runs at the Almeida until

March 3.

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