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Making a splash

Callum McGuire told David Hennessy about Red Fox Theatre’s Catch of the Day, a story that features the Queen, Eamon De Valera, some nuns and a fish. It comes to Soho Theatre this week.

Red Fox Theatre are bringing their Dingle- inspired play, Catch of the Day, to Soho Theatre.

Described as ‘a raucous and little-bit-political play with a lot of heart, a lot of laughs’, Catch of the Day is based on an unbelievable true story.

The play tells the story of an incredible day in 1966 when a very rare and valuable sturgeon fish was caught in Dingle.

One had not been caught in 400 years and has not been caught in Dingle since that day.

But a young boy who didn’t understand the occasion threw the fish, and the fortune it was worth, back into the sea much to the horror of the whole town.

Callum McGuire, who is a producer with Red Fox Theatre as well as one of the show’s creators and an actor in the show, told The Irish World: “It’s a cracking little story.

“I couldn’t believe I had never heard this story before.

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“Back in 1966 in Dingle, they caught a sturgeon, the fish you get caviar from.

“It’s a really rare fish in Irish waters. One hadn’t been caught in 400 years. One hasn’t been caught since.

“The fish is caught and everyone’s really excited and everyone’s on the pier.

“There’s a wee little lad called John Brosnan, who has jumped down inside the boat and the whole town is saying, ‘Pop it over, toss it over’.

“And he picks it up and he throws it over back into the sea.

“He gets mixed up because everyone is saying, ‘Throw it over the side’.

“He throws it back in the sea. Half the town chase after him, and the other half try and chase after this fish which is worth about €4,000 in today’s money.”

The story then takes something of a political turn.

“And it turns out as well to be a royal fish which means if one is caught in Irish waters, it has to be given to the Queen of England.

“Of course, that’s not an option.

“The people of the town hatch a plan to send it to Eamon De Valera as sort of two fingers up to the Queen really.

“Somehow they had a contact for De Valera in the town. They call him up and he said, ‘Thanks very much but could you please give it to the poor Clare nuns in Kenmare’.

“The nuns were expecting this fish but of course, it’s been thrown back into the sea. There is no fish.

“However, later that day, another boat comes in with an even bigger sturgeon.

“One hadn’t been caught in 400 years and one hasn’t been caught since but on one day in Dingle in 1966, they caught two.

“The fishermen are like, ‘This is the answer to our prayers. We can just send this fish to the nuns’.

“However, for political reasons, because he was incarcerated by De Valera, the skipper of the second boat obviously doesn’t want to give the fish to Eamon De Valera.

“He decides to send the fish off to London to sell for the highest price.

“The story goes that the fish did go to London. Someone did buy it but then the person who bought it gave it to the Queen of England.

“So it’s just a fantastic story.

“As miraculous as it, it’s a true story. And it’s beautiful.”

Coming to the West End and Soho Theatre in particular is bringing the play ‘full circle’ or ‘home’ as it was in the theatre’s bar where Callum and others had the very first discussions about it.

“We’ve been given this opportunity which is fantastic because it was our goal.

“As soon as we set out with this show, our dream was to always have it on at the Soho.

“It’s been something we’ve been dreaming about to have the show on there for a long time.

“When we were first talking about it, when I was back in drama school, I got my friends together to sort of tell them about this idea.

“And weirdly enough, there’s a photo of us in our first ever meeting at the Soho Theatre, in the bar, discussing the show.

“It kind of feels like we’re going full circle, we were just talking about it over a couple of pints back in 2018 and now it’s actually on in the Soho.

“It feels amazing.”

Inspired by a documentary he had heard about the story, Callum shared the story with some drama school buddies at the Soho Theatre.

“I got some of my drama school buddies together and I just sort of told them about this idea.

“I had heard the RTE documentary and couldn’t believe that it was a true story.

“It was after one of our showcase shows at the Soho where you kind of perform to agents and it was during that hubub where people are meant to be going off and chatting to agents and people were just sat at the tables wanting to hear this story and wanting to get involved.

“It feels kind of almost like coming back home.

“It’s fantastic.

“It’s just amazing that we’re able to bring it full circle and all the guys back in Dingle are really excited.

“Bar one of the actors, we’ve got the original cast coming back for the London run.

“We’re all really, really excited because it means that it is kind of the original team back together.

“The Soho Theatre has been amazing.

“They have been very much mentoring us as well, which has been great.”

Callum’s family come from Kerry, and the play aims to educate the audience about Anglo-Irish relations and history.

“It’s been great for explaining Anglo- Irish relations.

“We use it as a vessel to educate our audiences on Anglo-Irish relations because people in Ireland would be aware but English audiences don’t necessarily know.

“A lot of people have come up to us saying, ‘I had no idea’, and that they want to educate themselves more from watching the show.

“This company sells itself as children’s theatre for adults.

“It’s not forcing it down someone’s throat. It’s just explaining it.”

During the show, the actors often break character and speak directly to the audience. They have been described as reminiscent of Monty Python and Horrible Histories.

“This show, not only is it educational, but it’s what I think everyone needs at the moment: Escapism.

“It gives you a night out where you can sort of forget the woes of the world, and just have a great night.

“Megan, the writer/director, says it’s like a secret vegetable.

“If you want your kids to eat their vegetables, you have to chop up the carrot and the celery and everything really small in that lasagne so they’ll eat it.

“So that’s kind of what we mean about the little political edge, that it just has a small bit of education in there, which people don’t feel it’s shoved down their throats, that they can kind of sit back and learn something whilst having a great night out.

“Megan, the writer/director, says the play is kind of her learning through Irish history herself.

“And I think that’s a really lovely way of doing it, we explore with the audience, and it’s a discussion as well.

“So it’s not just shoved down people’s throat, they can actually have a discussion with us.

“It’s a conversation as well.

“I think now with Brexit and things like that, it is more important now more than ever to kind of understand what’s going on and to listen as opposed to just shouting at people, just listening is a great way forward.”

Since its launch in 2018, Catch of the Day has had an award-nominated run at Edinburgh Fringe and critically acclaimed shows in London and Oxford.

Its West End run comes after sell-out UK and Irish tours and poignant performances in Dingle.

It has also had a sell out run for a week in Dublin at the Smock Alley Theatre.

But it is probably when it returned to Dingle that the shows were most poignant as the story was developed with the community of Dingle’s support and the testimony of those who still remember the famous day in the town’s history.

“We managed to take it back to Dingle back in 2019.

“It was one of the most special performances we’ve ever done in our careers because it was just so important for the town.

“And I think what’s been lovely about doing the project is that we felt so involved in the community of Dingle.

“The guys in Kerry had a say in how the show is made.

“We’re constantly changing the show. Someone will come up to us, ‘Oh, this person was a bit more like this’.

“Or, ‘Here’s a detail of what it was like in the town at the time’.

“So it was been lovely that they felt personally invested in it as well.

“It’s their story. It’s not our story.”

Callum admits it was nerve racking to bring the play back to Dingle but has been overwhelmed to see the town take it to their hearts.

“They were so lovely and so welcoming and they embraced the show so much.

“One of the wives, Maureen Walsh, came to see the show.

“Joe Walsh, who is one of the main characters, has been gone for quite a few years now.

“She was saying it brought him back to life for her.

“It was brilliant and it was everything he was like, she was saying.

“That was, I think, unbelievable.

“And it showed us actually how important it was to tell this story and for more people to hear about it.”

The play would have to return to Dingle again for a longer run due to high demand.

“What was fantastic was that people would come and see the show and then the next day you see them again but they’re bringing their kids saying, ‘This is important. It’s important that the kids see this’.

“There was a guy who drove all the way down from Tralee, just dropped off his kids and was like, ‘They need to watch this show. I watched it last night. I’ll be back to pick them up in an hour’.

“It was fantastic.

“It’s everything we wanted it to be.”

The play returned to Dingle again just in May.

“We did two nights in Dingle at the festival.

“It was quite funny. We had the actor John C. Reilly, the Hollywood actor, come along to see it which was great.

“He was great gas, he really enjoyed it.

“It was really lovely going back.

“It was really funny.

“Some of the guys were putting us up. They were talking about this show that had come to Dingle back in 2019, telling the story about the Dingle sturgeon story.

“We were like, ‘That’s us’.

“It was really funny how they completely changed. They were like, ‘It was great’.

“It was so funny how the town hadn’t really heard that we were coming back and as soon as they did, within a couple of hours the shows were sold out.

“They were so ecstatic that it was back and bringing more people.

“I was on Radio Kerry about two weeks ago, just before my wedding because I got married two weeks ago, but it was quite funny because I was on there and they got wind of it.

“They gave me a big congratulations and immediately after John Brosnan, who the story is about, gave me a phone call straightaway.

“He was giving me all his love and affection and was saying he can’t wait to come over (to London) to come and see it.”

Catch of the Day is at the Soho Theatre 15- 20 August.

For more information and to book, click here.

For more information on Red Fox Theatre, click here.


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