Arts Q&A: Theatre director Stephen Kelly on Sam McBride, Rosemary Jenkinson and Peter Kay

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, theatre director Stephen Kelly

Stephen Kelly, artistic director of c21Theatre Company

1. When did you think about a career in theatre and what were your first steps into it?
I developed a real taste for it when I landed the roles of Pharaoh in Joseph and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in school. The buzz of that first applause, or laugh, from the audience was addictive. I had a bit of a gap through post-primary as I was heavily into sport, but picked it up again when I joined the Lyric Drama Studio Belfast. David Grant gave me my first role in Marat/Sade at the Lyric and I was hooked. After studying at Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, I moved back to Belfast to set up c21 Theatre Company in 2005 with the great Peter Quigley.

2. Best gigs you’ve been to?
The Police at Stormont in 2008, Mumford & Sons at Phoenix Park, Dublin in 2015 and Peter Kay at Belfast's SSE in 2016.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?
I loved the Motown era, so definitely Stevie Wonder and his band.

4. The record you’d take to a desert island?
Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison. It reminds me of a special person.

5. And the book?
I'm currently reading Sam McBride’s Burned, so I’d take that for some light reading.

6. Top three films?
Animal Kingdom, This is England and Dead Man’s Shoes.

7. Worst film you’ve seen?
Something is saying Rocky V inside my head. I think there was a character called Tommy ‘the machine’ Gunn. Two hours I’ll never get back.

8. Favourite authors?
Frank McCourt, William Shakespeare and Rosemary Jenkinson.

9. Sport you most enjoy and top team?
I’m a big sports fan. My dad was heavily involved in sport and passed that on to me. I volunteer for the local athletics club, North Belfast Harriers, and I am a regular park run participant. I also broadcast on Radio Ulster for Irish League football and I'm a Manchester United supporter.

10. Ideal holiday destination?
I'm a big fan of Australia. The Northern Territory is stunning and the people have a unique way about them. Beers and barbecues help.

11. Pet hate?
Bad manners.

12. What’s your favourite:

Dinner? Thai green curry.

Dessert? Hot rhubarb pie, with ice cream.

Drink? Irish Coffee (made correctly).

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?
Aidan. We’ve been hanging out since he moved into my estate in Ballymena at the age of 11. We ended up living on Bondi Beach together before we finally settled in Belfast. Now our sons are good mates as well. Funny how things work out.

14. Is there a God?
Eric Cantona.

:: Stephen Kelly, artistic director of c21Theatre Company, will direct well-known Northern Irish actors Richard Clements and Maria Connolly in Rosemary Jenkinson’s new comedy Dream, Sleep, Connect, about disconnection in the digital world. It continues at Belfast's Lyric Theatre until February 22 (, then touring. Visit for details.

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