Peter Meets, Philly McMahon
Peter Meets, Philly McMahon
Phillip McMahon is one of those special people whose talent knows no boundaries. He is a master of words and has a vision that will go down in history with the greats before him. Philly began to find his feet in the creative world when he took up acting as a teenager in the Dublin Youth Theatre and ‘The National Youth Theatre,’ which later led to training with ‘The Abbey Theatre’, ‘Barnstorm’, ‘TEAM’, and ‘Pan, Pan’. Progressively, Philly was led down the path of writing, producing and directing. He won his first award, the ‘Spirit of the Fringe Festival’, in 2006 for his play ‘Danny and Chantelle (still here)’ - which he also co starred in - as part of the Fringe Festival. In 2009/10 he was appointed to the ‘Abbey Theatre Writer Association’. With this major accolade under his belt, he went on to write ‘All Over Town’, ‘I’m your Man’, ‘Investment Potential’, ‘Pineapple’ and the musical ‘Alice in Funderland’. In 2007 he became the other half of the pop-culture sensation ‘THISISPOPBABY’, which led Philly to working with the incomparable Panti, directing her critically acclaimed shows ‘All Dolled Up’, ‘In These Shoes’ and ‘A woman In Progress’. In 2015 Philly co-wrote ‘The Queen of Ireland’ with Panti, and Conor Horgan, which took the world by storm. In 2015, ‘RIOT’ was born, the critically acclaimed theatre sensation, co-created and directed by Philly and Jennifer Jennings, which went on to win best production award at the 2016 Fringe Festival. ‘RIOT’ has gone from strength to strength and is currently inducing audiences with sensory overload in Australia and will soon blow the minds of New Yorkers in February of this year.
In 2007 I approached Philly to see if I could paint him as ‘Saint Matthew’ for my 2009 exhibition, ‘Saints and Sinners’, he thankfully accepted. As I snapped photos and pencilled some sketches of him posing for me, I got to see a side of Philly that has remained with me to this day. That’s one of the amazing things about my job, when I get to paint or photograph people, there is an instant that is shared between the two of us. A fragility almost, a rawness. In that specific second of the lens snapping to capture and document that image, frozen, forever in time, a trust is born and responsibility lies in my hands. I saw one of the humblest of men I have met, there was a shyness to him that I found so endearing. There are no airs and graces to him; what you see is what you get, in such a refreshing way. Since then I have watched Philly go from strength to strength. He is a man you can’t help but root for in every avenue of life, present and future.
1. Do you have a favourite artist and what’s your favourite piece by them?
I’m always overwhelmed by Francis Bacon, and intrigued by David Hockney, but I’ve always adored French queer artists Pierre et Gilles. Their sense of fantasy, sex and pop culture has always spoken to me, and offered a window into a very glamorous world when I was a teenager in the grey boring Dublin suburbs. My favourite piece of theirs is ‘Mercure’ which was a leading piece in the group show ‘Masculin, Masculin’ at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris a few years ago.
2. What was the last exhibition you went to?
The last exhibition I went to was Queer British Art at the Tate in London. It had a lot to offer, but felt a bit flat, ultimately.
3. What’s your favourite book?
I’ve always adored Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim Two Boys. A gorgeous love story set in the lead up to and over the Easter Rising in 1916.
4. Who’s your icon?
Beyoncé. Like you had to ask.
5. I know you are an accomplished writer, but do you like to dabble in a bit of painting every now and then?
No. No no no no no no. I’m terrible at drawing and painting. Just awful.
6. What influences you on a daily basis?
The city is a massive influence on my work. Both Dublin, and the idea of city life. I have a fantastic group of creative friends, so there’s great cross-pollination of ideas and aesthetic. I also take a lot from pop culture; music videos and live stage shows.
7. What’s your favourite sound?
My dog is called Henry. He does a heavy sigh when he’s sleeping, and it’s the most beautiful sound ever. So, content.
8. What has been the single most important event in your career so far?
There have been a lot of magic moments. I guess the most important was staging my first play ‘Danny & Chantelle (still here)’ as part of Dublin Fringe Festival in 2006. With that first outing, I gained agency over my career and it was the start of a lot of brilliantly creative relationships.
9. What do you hope your contribution will bring to your community?
I’m interested in making Dublin a better place to live. Within my gang of collaborators, we talk about creating the conditions, through art, for emigrants to come home – about making home a better place. Hopefully, we help to make Dublin a vibrant and soulful city.
10. What is the hope for your audience when they encounter your work?
I like plays and shows to deliver an audience to a specific feeling. With RIOT, that was hope and joy. Mostly I hope that audiences see themselves reflected in the characters and themes, helping, in some way, to help them understand themselves and the world around them a bit better.
11. Who has been the most influential person to you and your work?
Various people for various reasons. Three that jump into my head are Jenny Jennings, my long-time collaborator. Panti, who I’ve made so much of my work with over eleven years, and Aideen Howard, who gave me my first break at the Abbey, and subsequently supported so much of my work.
12. If you could have dinner or a drink with someone, alive or dead who would it be?
Princess Diana – I want to hear first hand the story of her going to The Royal Vauxhall Tavern incognito with Freddie Mercury!
13. Do you think an artist needs to be tortured to create?
No. I hope that’s not true, despite torturing myself so much of the time.
14. What was the first piece of art you bought?
Smash Hits annual 1987.
15. Where’s your favourite space to get creative in?
Any rehearsal room. Bonus points if it’s warm and there’s a kettle.
16. What’s next for you?
I’m about to head on a world tour with RIOT. First up is Sydney, Melbourne, New York and 1. Toronto. Then, we (THISISPOPBABY) are presenting a programme of work as part of St. Patrick’s Festival called ‘Where We Live’. Full details on www.thisispopbaby.com