Interview: Matthew Forsythe tells us about A Night in November

Millennium Forum, 22 September 2019

Above, Matthew Forsythe plays the role of Kenneth MacCallister.

A Night in November will arrive at the Millennium Forum later this month on the back of a recent sold-out run at The Lyric Theatre in Belfast during its 25th anniversary tour. 

The multi-award winning play from Marie Jones, the Writer of other hit shows including Women On The Verge Of HRT, Stones In His Pockets, Dancing Shoes: The Story Of George Best, Fly Me To The Moon, Christmas Eve Can Kill You, will star Matthew Forsythe in the lead role of Kenneth MacCallister.

We caught up with the lead man and he began by giving us a synopsis of the play. “It’s a journey of self discovery, a man questioning his own identity” explained Matt. “It’s someone who has grown up on one side of the street and never ventured over to the other until one fateful evening in ‘93 when he takes his father-in-law to a football match. For the first time he sees the hatred and then starts to question his own identity.

“I think that it’s very truthful and it strikes a chord with everyone. We have actually dulled it down quite a lot, but at the time it was even more hard hitting than it is now. With the turn that we have now put on it, it shows just how far our wee country has come.”

A Night In November

Matthew went on to explain further the changes which have been made to this new production. “Myself and the director, Matthew McElhinney, wanted to show just how far we have come as a society, as a country and also as football fans, both north and south” said Matthew. 

“We bring it back to present day at the start when Kenneth is in Paris watching Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland fans receive the Grand Vermeil medal [which the city of Paris awards to recognise individuals or groups who have made a "remarkable act on the capital", which Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland fans jointly received for their "exemplary sportsmanship" during Euro 2016]. Then at the end of the play we finish it off with a look back on that moment through a radio news real of both sets of fans picking up the medal and we go out singing Sweet Caroline.”

“I’m a Northern Ireland fan and was actually at the match in question as a 12 year boy when our school brought us” revealed Matthew. “I tried to put myself back at that match and it’s funny, because as a 12 year old boy growing up in the Protestant side of Lisburn, you never really understood the songs, you never really understood how awful they actually were. It’s only now when you look back you think that those songs which are in the play such as ‘Greysteel 7 Ireland 0’, and ‘Trick or Treat’, were probably actually sung. It was so normal back then, and I think now it’s right to highlight this because people probably think that it wasn’t as bad as that, but, yes, it actually was.

“It’s a historical piece and one person’s journey which I can understand because I took that journey too, but at a younger age than Marie was. I realised what these songs were and what direction I was going in, which certainly wasn’t because of my family, but because you grew up in school life and you grew up on one side of the divide and you start questioning yourself” reflected Matthew.

A Night in November has been entertaining audiences around the world since its premier in 1994 at the West Belfast Festival which had Dan Gordon at the helm. The monologue brings with it a lot of challenges and pressure, but it’s clear that Matthew relishes the role.

“The big thing that worried me was the ability to present it to the audience and be able to look directly at their faces. You’re feeding off their reactions and their energy. There’s no one else to play off onstage apart from the characters that I create so you really have to get into the mind of a schizophrenic person and be able to start up conversations with yourself until you feel like there are other people onstage with you and that you’re not alone

“I think Dan Gordon summed it up by saying that at the end of the few years he was performing the role, he was getting line prompts from the other characters on stage, the characters which he had created in his own mind. You can really visualise where these people are.

“It’s a big show too, two hours long and to keep the audience locked in for that length of time is a credit to the writing. It’s actually my favourite play of all time and it’s the one which I have always wanted to do.

“Because it is such a famous play and because if has been performed by a lot of people who I idolise, especially Dan Gordan, you don’t want to mess it up” laughed Matthew. “So there’s a bit of pressure too.” 

Football in Northern Ireland seems to be at a good place at the moment, and the national team are currently pushing hard to qualify for next summer’s World Cup finals having been drawn in a tough group featuring big hitters Germany and Holland.

“I’m quite surprised at how well their doing” admitted Matthew. “I think that they’re actually in a better position now as a squad as they were during the Euros. The type of football that they are playing is fantastic and really enjoyable to watch. I think that it’s going to be tough, and to get second in the group would be absolutely amazing. But I’m optimistic” laughed Matthew.   

A Night in November performs at Millennium Forum on Sunday 22nd September 2019, with tickers available here.


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