Here Comes the Judge – The Irish World

August 31, 2022

Neil Badge tells David Hennessy about joining the cast of To Kill a Mockingbird on the West End, how he witnessed racism firsthand, and how people still ask him to name his dad Ted character Henry Sellers ‘s lines.

Award-winning Irish actor Niall Buggy joins the cast of To Kill a Mockingbird in the West End.

The Olivier Award-winning actor from Dublin plays Judge Taylor in Alan Sorkin’s stage play based on Harper Lee’s classic novel.

Badge takes over the role of Jim Norton’s other Irish actor, known to television audiences for his role as Bishop Brennan in Father Ted, and for his work with Conor Macpherson.

And he’s not the only new actor, as Richard Coyle took over the role of Atticus Finch from Leif Spall.

While he’s been in theaters for more than 50 years, Niall says taking on a role in a production that’s already running is a new experience for him.

Neil told The Irish World: “I’ve never done an acquisition before, so it’s pretty new to me. But it’s a very exciting show.

“They’ve been doing it for a long time, and Richard and I have joined.

“He’s got a really tough job because he’s playing Atticus Finch. But he’s smart, so he’ll be fine.”

Memorably Jeff in Comedy Coupling, Coyle was last seen on the West End stage in the Oliver Award-nominated hit, ink.

When asked about replacing Jim Norton, Neal said: “It’s a little nerve-wracking, but it’s well worth doing.

“Because it’s such a wonderful piece of work, an extraordinary piece of work.

“It’s very important at all times, really, so I’m very happy to be able to do that.”

The production, directed by Bartlett Sher, has already received rave reviews from the Evening Standard, calling it “brilliant”, while The Telegraph said it “captures the spirit of the times”.

The adaptation from Harper Lee has been one of the highlights of this year’s West End season, with a sold-out performance at the Gielgud Theatre since it opened in March.

Niall Buggy joins a cast that includes Belfast actor and former Tir Chonaill Gaels footballer Patrick O’Kane.

The story of To Kill a Mockingbird is one of racial injustice and childhood innocence.

Harper Lee’s original novel has sold more than 45 million copies worldwide.

Set in Maycomb, Alabama in 1934,to kill a robinProvided some of the most indelible characters in American literature: attorney Atticus Finch, the hapless Tom Robinson, Atticus’ daughter Scott, her brother Jem, their housekeeper and caretaker Carbonia and the reclusive Arthur “Shh” Radley.

The story, its characters, and portraits of small-town America help and continue to inspire conversation and change.

“I saw this movie when I was very young.

“I remember being very, very moved as a child.

“It’s an extraordinary story.

“The story will come out, won’t it?

“A really good story gets people going into the theater to listen to it and find out what they can get out of it.

“Atticus was an extraordinary figure.

“But I have to say I’m starting to realise now that Judge is also an extraordinary character, maybe a little bit like the old Atticus.

“I think he might have something very spiritual.

“And of course he’s a moral man.

“It’s fun to listen to these people, these white people.

“Judge Taylor is an older white man whose thoughts and ideas about how people should live are very different from the racist ideas of his generation.

“They grew up that way, out of fear, I guess.”

Telled through the eyes of a six-year-old Boy Scout, the story sees Atticus Finch being called to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a young white woman.

Many biased townspeople disapprove, but the morally virtuous Atticus agrees to defend Robinson as best he can.

Scott and her brother were even mocked by other children at school.

“He (Judge Taylor) was the one who went to Atticus and tried to get him to defend Tom Robinson, who was convicted of this crime, and obviously he didn’t.

“But he went to Atticus thinking he could protect him and take care of him in some way. That’s what he tried and did.

“He’s a part of the town, Judge Taylor, but he really believes it’s time to make a difference.

“He said Tom Robinson should go to a jury trial, ‘It’s time for this to happen. I want Tom Robinson to go to a jury trial, it’s time.'”
Neil breaks into character here, where it ends into the stretched sound of the American South.

While his morals prevented Atticus from rejecting the judge’s request, it made him the target of his own lynching, so prejudiced against the people of the day.

“They want to see black people as bad people.

“That’s really its basic vulgarity.

“And then when they meet white people who don’t believe that, they think they’re colluding with these people.

“It’s scary. It’s going on, it’s not over.

“I think it’s not as bad as it used to be.

“I remember coming over from Dublin as a kid and I think I went to Paddington.

“I remember seeing these signs at bed and breakfasts, ‘No Blacks, No Irish’.

“And not long ago. I know I’m an old man, but it wasn’t long.

“It’s weird, that was 45 years ago, you know?”

Asked if he was against that anti-Irish sentiment, Neal said: “I mean I’m lucky because I’m in the theatre.

“You don’t get that at all in a theater.

“So I don’t experience that kind of hostility every day.

“But of course I knew it existed.

“Certainly it’s pretty scary looking out the window outside the bed and breakfast.

“It was shocking to see a lad coming over from Ireland.”

While it’s a classic story, To Kill a Mockingbird can have a particular poignancy in the era of Black Lives Matter.

“I was on the subway—I love New York. I love the whole vibe of the place—and a young girl who had just spoken to her parents showed up.

“She was in a group of black people and this woman came up and she said to me, ‘I have to sit next to you’.

“I said, ‘Why?’

“‘Because I can’t sit next to them’.

“She pointed her finger at them.

“I just said, ‘Well, you’re not going to get a chance to sit next to me’.

“I got out of the car because I didn’t want those people to be more disturbed by her horrific behavior than they were already.

“We’ve been encountering it in one form or another, not just in black and white, but in various ways. I guess it’s all out of fear. I don’t know.”

So bad for a little girl…”Oh my god. Terrible.

“But hopefully she knows that’s not the case for everyone.

“Well, I can only hope.”

Niall has been acting for 54 years, but laughs, “I haven’t counted yet”.

Of course, he counts from the days when he came to London as a young man. He has been stationed here since then, although he often returns to Ireland to work.

But his history in theater goes back even further, as he was 11 when he was looking for his first audition.

“I ran away from home when I was 11. But I just escaped the day.

“Then I went to audition at the Theatre Royal in Dublin, which is an old big variety theatre because I used to sing a lot as a kid. I still sing.

“I was a very unhappy kid, so I thought that would be my saviour.

“But I ended up going to convent school and then to convent.”

Have you ever thought about doing something other than acting? “No, not really.

“No, it’s always been there.

“Yes, always in my heart and soul.

“always.

“I’ve never done anything else.

“I do not know what to do.

“Some people think I don’t know what to do.

“You always object to that.”

Badge has starred in the works of Brian Freer, Sean O’Casey, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, Conor McPherson and Martin MacDonald.

It looks like he’s definitely performed for all the greats.

“How lucky. These great writers.”

Are there any great playwrights whose plays he has yet to perform but still has ambitions to do? “I’ve done a lot of Friel and Tom Murphy.

“I like all of them.

“But if I get the chance to create some more modern Irish playwrights, I’d be happy too.

“I work with a girl named Sonia Kelly.

“She’s a wonderful young writer, and I wrote a play for her called “Furniture” about two years ago.

“She’s great. It’s great to work with her because we’re on tour with this show.

“It was actually five little plays and we had a lot of fun.

“Come on, anyone.

“I think it’s also a great work.

“A great, great, great work.

“So I’ve been lucky enough to be around people I’ve been with and people I’ve worked with, and Aaron Sorkin has adapted to that. It’s been a phenomenal adaptation. Yeah. Very exciting. Yeah.”

Niall and Paul McGann performed for London-based Armagh director Gavin McAlinden at Tom Murphy’s The Gigli at the Finborough Theatre.

“I had a great time,” Neal said of that production.

The Irish World reports on the work of Gavin McAlinden, an award-winning director whose performance house and theatre company provides actors with the opportunity to gain experience.

Neal said it was “very important” for young actors to benefit from his experience.

“You have to be there to encourage and pass on what you may or may not have learned, and to try and help, to be there.

“But I’ve been feeling insecure and nervous about it all the time, but eventually that feeling goes away and you get into this game and let it do what it has to do to you.”

Budge has won numerous stage awards. He is the winner of the Drama Desk Award, and he also won the Irish Times Drama Award for his lead role in Brian Freer’s Uncle Vanya.

He also won an Oliver Award for playing Brian in Dead Funny.

“No, I never thought about it,” he said with a laugh when we brought it up.

“But thanks for reminding me.

“One of my favorite characters is Brian Friel’s character named Casimir in Aristocrats.

“Casimir got about 15 awards for it because I took it to New York and won the Obie and a lot of stuff. Suspension.

“It’s nice to get an award, but I’m not saying this with smug humility, it’s your role that really gets the award.

“If you get the good parts, you can see that you’re probably good at it.

“But they have to be good characters.”

Many will remember Neil’s appearance in Father Ted.

Neil plays BBC celebrity Henry Sellers who arrives on the island to judge a talent contest.

But Ted didn’t realise Henry was a “terrible alcoholic”, he was fired from the BBC and he wasn’t too happy about shouting the now iconic words “I made the BBC”.

With Father Ted becoming so iconic, do people remember the character Neil? “God, they did it.

“About four weeks ago, in Dublin, I was walking down and two policewomen Gardai stopped me and said, ‘Oh, Henry Sellers’.

“They made me say on the phone (‘I made the BBC’).

“They asked me if I wanted to speak.

“So I did.”

To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre until November 19th.

For more information, click here.

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