As theatres begin to re-open next week, Jermyn Street Theatre launch their ‘Footprints Festival’ running from 17th May to 31st July. The festival is a celebration of theatre and theatre makers and one of the must see shows of the festival, is Robert Mountford’s one man show ‘Vagabonds: My Phil Lynott Odyssey’. Read our interview with Robert Mountford to get a teaser of what we can expect from Vagabonds.
To book the show go to https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/vagabonds-my-phil-lynott-odyssey/. Dates are 25th May 7.30pm, 28th May 9.30pm, 29th May 5.30pm and 3rd June 7.30pm. If you cannot get to Jermyn Street Theatre, the show can be watched online – see the theatre’s website for further information.
What inspired you to write Vagabonds?
There were a number of factors, both professional and personal. I felt I was hitting a glass ceiling in my career and wanted to be more pro-active in making theatre and not just waiting for the phone to ring. I was working at the RSC with Meera Syal who said ‘you should write your own material’ – so I did. There are personal aspects in the play that I felt had universal appeal – coming of age, finding yourself, fitting in, overcoming hardships. When looking for subjects I couldn’t believe that nobody had tried to stage the story of Phil Lynott – a quite remarkable human being, who achieved so much and has a huge following of loyal supporters. A hero to many – so I started to explore the idea of heroes and why we need them in our lives.
The show offers a tangled tale of legendary singer Phil Lynott and your own story. Can you untangle the connection between yourself and Phil Lynott for us?
Tangled is the right word! I don’t want to give too much of the play away as much of it is about untangling this connection. When I started looking more deeply into Phil’s life and career, I found more and more parallels. We were both born in Birmingham, both mixed race, both raised in white families, both somewhat outsiders trying to fit in and find our own way. And in terms of career trajectory, although Phil and Thin Lizzy were hugely successful, nothing came easy. Every step was a struggle – people quitting or being thrown out of the band, bad luck on the eves of make-or-break tours, unlucky timing of single releases. I really related to that fight. I think most artists find their career path rocky, unpredictable, at times exasperating but something propels us to keep going.
Are you a fan of Thin Lizzy’s music and does it feature in the play?
Yes. I have an eclectic taste in music but bands with a grounding in live performance is where my heart is. Before I embarked on this project, I was familiar with Phil and Thin Lizzy but over the last ten years I’ve become captivated with their whole canon – which is incredibly prolific. While he’s associated with Rock, he was constantly re-inventing himself and experimenting with different styles – he kept trying things out. Really brave.
I don’t perform any Thin Lizzy music in the show. I was very keen that it was a play, focussing on the story I wanted to tell, which goes off on many tangents…I didn’t want it to feel like a tribute act, besides there are many very talented musicians and singers who can do a lot more justice to the music than I could.
Who is Cú Culainn? And why does he appear in the story?
Cú Culainn is an Irish mythological demi-god – in the same club as Hercules, Thor, and Ffion Mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool). He performed extraordinary feats of bravery and strength. We became increasingly interested in the ‘hero’ aspect of the story. We explore several strings of heroism, of which Phil Lynott is one thread. We discovered that the play was becoming a search or quest of discovery – hence the ‘Odyssey’ in the title – and that conjured echoes of mythology; how a hero – whether they be of ancient myth, iconic popular culture, or personal connection – is raised on a pedestal – that their presence becomes greater after their death. Cú Culainn was drafted in as the self-proclaimed model of what a hero should be, however berserk or exaggerated his feats may be.
Cuchullain (there are many spellings!) was also admired by Phil Lynott and is included in Lizzy’s epic song ‘Black Rose’.
You co-wrote Vagabonds with Chris Larner. How did you get together and how does this partnership work in practise?
I was hugely inspired by The Right Size – the theatrical tour de force of Sean Foley & Hamish McColl – I knew their plays inside out and all the words to the songs. When I was first at the RSC, the casts of Merchant of Venice and Alice in Wonderland were at a party and I started singing a Right Size song. The Mad Hatter then jumped up and said – “how do you know that? I wrote that!”. That was the absurdly gifted actor, composer, writer Chris Larner. We kept in touch and I told him my idea and thank God he wanted to direct and co-write it with me. We basically had three stories we wanted to tell and would come up with material and then meet up and try and see how we could get it all in. The play runs at about 70 minutes but we have hours and hours of beautiful and bizarre work that we had to let go!
You have had previous success with Vagabonds. Why did you decide to resurrect it now?
Every year in Dublin there is a gig called the ‘Vibe for Philo’, where bands and supporters from all over the world honour Phil Lynott. In January 2019 I was invited to perform it. Our small-scale, black-box solo show performed each night in front of 500-600 Lizzy supporters at a Rock Concert! I thought, how can we top that? – it felt like a good time to say goodbye to the show.
Then lockdown happened and the theatres closed, and I haven’t been on stage for fifteen months – the longest stretch since I was a baby. When Jermyn Street Theatre announced it was holding the Footprints Festival in London to celebrate the re-opening of the theatres it just felt right that Vagabonds should have another outing. It’s a show that means so much to Chris and I and over the years it’s meant a lot to others too. For that I’m overwhelmed and extremely grateful and I hope you enjoy it too.
Robert Mountford – Biography
In 2017 Robert was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the UK Theatre Awards for House & Garden (Newbury Watermill). Robert regularly appears for ‘Read Not Dead’ at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and has been a guest for acclaimed Shakespeare Impro Troupe ‘The School of Night’.
For Jermyn Street Theatre: Parolles in All’s Well That Ends Well, For RSC: The Merchant of Venice (World Tour), Much Ado About Nothing, Other credits include: National tour of Habit of Art (Original Theatre Company); Harold Pinter’s Betrayal (Salisbury Playhouse); Anita & Me (Birmingham Rep). He has played Macbeth, Prospero (The Tempest), Bassanio (The Merchant of Venice and Stockman (Enemy of the People). Robert has toured the US extensively playing Jacques (As You Like It), Leontes (The Winter’s Tale) and Laertes (Hamlet).
TV includes: North Square, One Night, EastEnders, Casualty, Doctors, Reverse Psychology, The World According to Bex, Michael Wood’s Story of India, London’s Burning, A&E, Silent Witness and Holby City.