I’m often asked how I came to do the show and the truth is, it’s a very complicated and somewhat roundabout story which I’ll try to explain in a moment. I’m sure, when I first dragged my friends here in Shropshire along to see it (first of all in my kitchen for a dry run before the “world premiere” in Allihies, West Cork – another long story – and then to the Wightman Hall in Shrewsbury) many of them had not known about my acting past. They had /have known me as Owen and Joanna’s mum, Brian’s wife, sometime teacher and more lately, an aspiring writer. The truth is, I am all those things, but I was also, in the eighties in Dublin, a working – or, more often, a resting – actor, secure in my identity as such if not in the amount of work I got. For a variety of reasons, I came to live in Shrewsbury once I’d met my present husband, Brian and, again for complicated reasons, I left actor Carol behind me and embraced my new life as wife and mother willingly. It was desperately difficult to quash the “yen” inside me, but life intervened, as it does, and I made some sort of accommodation with that decision. (Mostly, it was because of fear and insecurity; I knew no-one in Shrewsbury – much less anyone “in the business” – and had always relied on contacts already made over time or through my brother Peter, who was a well-known actor in Ireland and the UK at the time, to get things going. Doing it myself, initiating anything, seemed beyond possibility.)
I’ve performed this play by Irish poet and playwright Paula Meehan nine times now (sporadically, over the course of a year) and the idea for it was born about five years ago, so I can safely say it’s been a long time in coming. We’re off to Edinburgh with it in August for a two-week run (web link) – preceeded by an appearance at the Pittenweem Arts Festival on 3rd August (web link)
Fast-forward twenty-odd years to September 2009 (I know, it seems crazy, but life really does go by that quickly) and I’m organising a benefit concert for the Irish Hospice Foundation in memory of my brother Peter, who had died in January 2008, six months after my brother David. It’s on in the Sugar Club in Dublin, and with the help of my good friend Celia Willoughby and sister Sheila (whose cancer is, unknown to us, about to return in a few months) we’ve got a fantastic line-up of actors and musicians, all of whom had worked with and loved the brother. Honor Heffernan and her fantastic jazz trio, Stephen Brennan wearing his musician’s hat,not his actor’s one , the wonderful Zrazy, Barry Devlin (of Horslips, for God’s sake) singing a capella, Eamonn Hunt (off the tele and and old acting colleague of mine) Alan Stanford (who was a magnificent MC) the fantastic story-teller Brendan Nolan, Paul Bennett – who’d acted with Peter since the early days, ditto Garret Keogh and Susan Slott – and Catherine Donnelly, who wrote the wonderful Barry’s Tea radio commercial that my Irish friends will know and love, that Peter did the voiceover for, and the one and only Anita Reeves, fresh from her award-winning show at the Edinburgh Fringe and – well, if I’ve forgotten anyone please forgive me. There were also lovely tributes to Peter in the programme from Gabriel Byrne, Jim Sheridan and Brendan Gleason, who had worked with him over the years. (Peter had suffered a devastating stroke in 2000 which left him partly paralysed and with severe aphasia, but it was the return of his cancer that caused his death.)
Sheila and I at a photo shoot in St Stephen’s Green to promote the memorial gig in the Sugar Club. That’s Pete in the photo frame we’re holding. It was a fantastic night (we raised about 5,000 euro for the Hospice Foundation) and it brought back in a bitter-sweet rush all I’d been missing in the intervening years. Don’t get me wrong, I have a great family whom I love dearly, but this was a part of me that existed before them, and I’d missed it. I’d never lived on the exalted plane that these people did, but I’d been loosely connected to that world and that evening re-kindled something in me. Somewhere on the bill were The Bawdy Beautifuls, aka me and Annie Kilmartin, whom I’d first worked with when she was Artistic Director of Moving Theatre and who had offered me one of my first Equity contracts. (I was working as an extra at the time in the Gate’s production of Amadeus. Peter was in the cast (Alan was Salieri) as was Gerry Walsh, who had worked with Moving Theatre in the past. Gerry told me they were auditioning for someone who could play the piano as well as act. Who knew all that scales practice would lead to where it did?) Annie and I had enjoyed something of a moment on the comedy scene back in the eighties and though we’d both moved on and out of the business since, we’d stayed in touch. That night in the Sugar Club we had such great craic doing some of our old sketches that we resolved to work on something together again.
And so, I come, by roundabout fashion – much as my character does to her tale in Music for Dogs – to, well, Music for Dogs and how it all started. Why that script and how has the production evolved? Truth to tell, this piece is already so long that I should probably leave it till the next post to answer. Thanks for listening. As Jim Rockford would say, I’ll get back to you.