'Good Vibrations is like a cross between a gig and a biography of a revolutionary'
Ahead of next month's Lyric Theatre production of Good Vibrations, which tells the story of record label boss Terri Hooley in Seventies Belfast, Helen Carson talks to lead actors Aaron McCusker and Niamh Perry about their latest roles
Northern Ireland's own godfather of punk Terri Hooley will be centre stage next month when the curtain goes up on the theatre version of Good Vibrations. To mark 40 years of the iconic record label, Portadown actor Aaron McCusker, whose many TV roles include Shameless, Dexter and Fortitude, will play Terri. Meanwhile, Bangor-born singer Niamh Perry, who shot to West End fame after appearing in Andrew Lloyd-Webber's TV talent search show I'll Do Anything, portrays his first wife Ruth.
The stage play, which will be at the Lyric from September 1-30, has been adapted by the team who co-wrote the movie biopic - Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson - for which the pair were nominated for Outstanding Debut at the 2014 BAFTA Film awards.
Terri (69), who has a teenage son with a former partner, became a legendary figure in the Belfast punk scene in the Seventies, opening his independent record shop Good Vibrations and signing bands Rudi, The Outcasts and The Undertones among others.
He achieved cult status when Radio 1 DJ John Peel declared that The Undertones' hit Teenage Kicks was his favourite song, and even had the lyrics "teenage dreams so hard to beat" engraved on his headstone.
Terri said of the latest retelling: "I'm very proud that we opened up nightlife in Belfast when the city centre was a no-go area for many people.
"It didn't matter if you had green hair or orange hair, it mattered that you were a punk. They were my heroes."
Bangor-born actress and singer Niamh Perry (28) lives in London with her husband Ollie Hannifan, a musician. She plays Terri's first wife Ruth. She says:
This role is the first time I've ever played a character who is still alive. I met Ruth early on before we started rehearsing and I'm in awe of her. It was so nice to have her sitting in a room opposite us with Terri.
Because I wasn't born in the Seventies, I did my research by reading books and watching films including the movie Good Vibrations to understand what that era was like.
I haven't worked in anything in Northern Ireland for years. The last time I was at The Lyric was in 2011 so when Des Kennedy (the director) called me to ask if I would do Good Vibrations I ran back.
There are people in the cast who are younger than me. In fact, they were born in the same year as the Good Friday Agreement. In this play we live and breathe the punk era when Northern Ireland produced some of the best music in the UK and Ireland - as it still does.
What struck me about Terri and Ruth is that they were part of a group of people who wanted to rise above the Troubles and sectarian division and be bigger than that. They cared a lot about what was going on here politically but wanted to focus on other things.
They wanted to shout from the rooftops that it didn't matter what religion you were because all they cared about was the love and passion they had for music.
When I met Ruth, I thought she was very cool - she is the sort of person you would want to be your friend. She was instrumental in supporting Terri when he began his business and the bands he got involved with - from The Outcasts to Rudi and The Undertones.
She still talks about him in such a nice way - they were madly in love with each other and it was wonderful to hear her say that.
The Troubles affected my parents more than they have ever affected me. I wouldn't have wanted to live in Seventies Belfast because of the political situation, but a lot of people feel that way.
I love wearing the clothes from that time on stage and our costume department has done a great job recreating the styles.
I was a wannabe goth as a teenager and always copied whatever look my sister Ciara was wearing.
I also loved Avril Lavigne and by 2004 I was a bit grungy which was cool then. Being a fan of Avril Lavigne was how I met my husband. We were both performing in Mamma Mia! and got talking about the song Ska8r Boi in an ironic way. Now it's our song.
We got engaged early last year and married here just nine weeks ago.
We kept our wedding quiet because it is a sacred thing."
Director Des Kennedy, (35) from west Belfast, now lives in London with his partner Michael. He says:
When Jimmy Fay (executive producer at The Lyric) first approached me about directing a stage version of Good Vibrations I thought it was a terrible idea following on from such a brilliant movie. I didn't want to be the person who messed it up.
Having agreed to do it, we spent two years in workshops with writers producing it for theatre. The difference in a play is that it is about live music. There is a live band on the stage and you have to leave the house to experience it.
The writers Glenn Patterson and Colin Carberry adapted the script for the performance and we're delighted to be telling Terri's story in this way.
There is lots of live music and the show will feel like cross between a gig and a biography of an actual revolutionary. There's no better time to be telling this story.
Poverty in Northern Ireland is endemic, there are no opportunities for young people and the people in power are more than happy for us to be divided and stick to our 'side' rather than come together to address these issues.
Punk was young peoples' way of saying 'that's not good enough'.
I'm not going to accept the society you are offering me so I'm going to rip my clothes, paint my jacket and desecrate your national anthems.
Terri harnessed this energy, showed there was an alternative way of living, and showed the value of bringing people together through music.
These ideas were radical at the time and are as important now as they ever were."
Actor Aaron McCusker (38), from Portadown, now lives in Manchester with his wife Jennie, a theatre producer, and their two children Sam (8) and Corey (5). He plays Terri Hooley in Good Vibrations. He says:
Terri is a force of nature, a larger-than-life character and he invited me around to his house when I took on the role.
There is no pressure on me playing the lead role after the success of the film Good Vibrations where Richard Dormer did a great job.
I've been encouraged to play him in my own way so it doesn't worry me.
For me getting Terri right for the stage is a work in progress.
Like Niamh, I've never acted in a play where my character is still around and the Seventies music was all new to me. I'd never heard of The Outcasts before but watched their Ulster Hall performance and was blown away.
Their lead singer Greg Cowan told me the first time they ever went into a recording studio they didn't really know what they were doing. But he is an unbelievable frontman and I would love to have been around then to see them live.
Terri has told me how busy Belfast was in the Seventies and how punks used to meet in Cornmarket and in front of the City Hall. Goths meet there now so that's one thing that hasn't changed.
He used to run around in a group of hippies who were into music and it was their outlet during the Troubles.
Being a teen in the Seventies would have been great because of the music but I'd have really loved to been around as a young person in the Eighties.
I would have been a punk at that time. I'm not sure what colour I would've dyed my hair - pink or orange maybe - goodness knows what my ma would've thought of that.
When I was growing up I was out-and-out grunge with long hair, a Pearl Jam T-shirt and Doc Martens boots.
Nirvana was an important band for me then and I'm still a fan of local music. I loved Therapy? then and now.
My brother Rory was a raver and was a regular at Circus Circus but I absolutely hated dance music.
This show is a great mix of live music and drama. One minute you are telling a story, then someone grabs a guitar or starts playing the piano and singing.
And I'm very jealous as I can't play an instrument, but wish I could."
Good Vibrations will be at The Lyric Theatre, Belfast, from September 1-30. For tickets and more details tel: 028 9038 1081 or visit www.lyrictheatre.co.uk