QUB drama king's dream goes on with a trip to Oz
It has been a fairytale come true for Francis Mezza - the Queen's University drama student with Italian ancestry - as the final curtain comes down tonight at the Lyric Theatre on The Absence of Women in which he has been making his professional stage debut.
The dream will continue next week when director Rachel O'Riordan takes the play by Owen McCafferty on to Perth before opening at the Tricycle Theatre in London on September 13.
Francis (22), a final year student at QUB, was spotted for the role of the younger John when he had a walk-on part in Dockers at the Lyric - where he had previously taken part in a workshop production of Terrorism.
"I'm thrilled at what is happening to me so early in my career," says Francis, son of retired builder Francis senior and his wife Karen who live off the Antrim Road, north Belfast. They have been to the Lyric to see their son appearing with Peter Gowen, Ciaran McIntyre and Alice O'Connell.
Young Francis has been to Milan, but has yet to visit the Casalattico Valley near Casino, where his paternal grandfather came from. In the 19th and early 20th century many young people left the Casalattico region to settle in Ireland, among them members of the Mezza families.
The Absence of Women is the story of lonely labourers Gerry and Iggy - Belfast exiles - getting too old for work and wondering what comes next as they eke out their days in an English hostel.
They talk about how life was when they were young, but Iggy doesn't want to return home to Belfast because of something that happened in the past involving young John, played by Mezza.
Francis, a former pupil of St Mary's on the Glen Road, went to university in Newcastle to study law and then changed his mind and was accepted at QUB on his current drama course.
"One day I'm going to make a pilgrimage to Italy to research my roots and find out just where and how the Mezza lot had their beginnings in Casalattico - which I am told is beautiful," says the budding young actor. "I'm kind of unique in that I don't have a connection with ice cream, for which some of the Italians who came to Northern Ireland were renowned."