A Tribute to Tom Hickey
Aras an Uachtaráin, Dublin, Tuesday, 4th May, 2021
A Tribute to Tom Hickey – for Lee
I was there at the start and I feel privileged to be invited by Lee to be here at the finish.
Tom and I and Timothy Mc Donnell were Deirdre O’ Connell’s first students when she came to Ireland in 1963 at set up the Stanislavski Studio at the Pocket Theatre in Ely Place with the mission of bringing the Stanislavski system of Actor Training to Ireland.
Tom, indeed all of us, spoke of what an amazing and magical time that was and how Deirdre revolutionised our thinking on theatre. By her inspiring training she gave him the means of developing his great talent as an actor.
Tom understood how to practice the techniques, and make them his own, and to continue to grow and evolve the art in him for his whole lifetime. His commitment to his work to developing his art as an actor was total.
When we founded Focus Theatre he played the main male character in many of the great classics of the European and American stage, these were the plays that the Focus ensemble theatre produced. People still speak of his great performance as Creon in Anouilh’s Antigone, as the Rev. Shannon, the man of God, the alcoholic in Tennessee Williams’, The Night of the Iguana, of Uncle Vanya in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and Jean in Stringberg’s Miss Julie and his roles in plays by Lillian Helman, Henry Millar, Beckett, Dorris Lessing etc.
Tom was ageless, he had a dignity, and a maturity beyond his years and I have been astonished in the last number of days to realise how young he was when he played those mature characters so believably, I thought he was much older than he actually was.
Some of our greatest memories of Tom are from our public performances in our Focus Improvisational Theatre. These were ensemble plays created on the night full of drama and humour and were a huge success with the audiences, who all loved them.
Tom of course became a household name with his performance of Benjy in the Riordans, the first great country-life drama series on RTE. As time passed he knew he needed to move on and return to the stage, which he did so successfully and inspiringly in all the main threatres, like the Abbey and Druid, and with the great contemporary Irish playwrights and Directors. Playwrights like, Tom Murphy, Frank McGuinness, Marina Carr, and Tom McIntyre with whom he collaborated on many avant garde productions.
A unique feature of Tom work was how he sought out characters that were outside the norm, the outsiders, the deviants. The amount of creative work he did to get to understand the psyche of these people, and portray or inhabit them so truthfully resulted in a performance that was a unique and cathartic experience for the audience. I was maybe never so shook in an audience as I was by his performance in Marina Carr’s – On Raftery’s Hill. He worked to inhabit his characters and expose them with authority and truth and emotional depth.
With a strong personality and a commanding and lovely presence he elicited respect and warmth. He was great company in a group, loved conversation and had a great and wicked sense of humour, and yet had a sophisticated reserve. He was also always kind and generous and warm.
Actors who trained at the studio and worked in Focus Theatre developed such a bond of understanding – indeed of love, that they always remain part of the Focus Family. There was a special love for Tom as maybe the father figure of the Stanislavski Studio or the big brother figure, so the grief at his passing, and his loss is deeply felt, but like Deirdre and so many others will always be still part of the family.
May his dear great spirit rest in peace, in perpetual light and happiness.
Michael and I send our deepest condolences to Lee and the extended family.
Sabina Coyne Higgins