Elaine Murphy Interview

January 31, 2010

Rounding up The Abbey’s By Popular Demand season, which saw the welcome (Terminus) and not so welcome (The Sea Farer) return to the Abbey and Peacock Stages of some of its most talked-about shows, is Little Gem, the award winning debut from actor/writer Elaine Murphy. Ever since its much-raved-about appearance as part of the Fringe in 2008, it has played to sold out audiences in Edinburgh, London and New York, snaring its scribe some serious accolades ranging from the Fishamble New Writing award to the 2009 Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh. Not bad for a woman who only wrote it because she couldn’t be arsed walking to the library.

“I initially started writing the piece as a vehicle for myself,” she tells me when I meet her for tea in The Abbey. “I had an audition and I was to lazy to go to get a new monologue. I had this idea for a script. The youngest character came from that. Then I had this idea for the granny’s character. I started thinking about how I was going to bring them together in a play and that’s how I came to write the mother.”

“When I finally finished writing it I was too old to play Amber and too young to play Kay or Lorraine and the last thing I wanted, after spending so long writing the bloody thing, was to be in it myself, so I left it in Paul Meade’s hands.”

Little Gem is a simple story, based on three generations of women from Murphy’s native Artane. It chronicles a year in their lives. A simple play, in monologue form, with no extravagant sets or costumes.

“I find that a lot of the time when I go into a theatre I don’t recognise the characters on stage. I wouldn’t meet them in my everyday life. With Little Gem, I think, the audience members recognise themselves more in the characters, particularly if you see it in one of the suburban theatres like the Civic in Tallaght.”

As the latest in a long, long line of Irish writers finding their voice in monologue form I wonder what it is about this mode of theatre that makes it so attractive to emerging playwrights?

“I was talking to Abi Spillane about it, whose own debut Punk Girls featured three actors delivering monologues, and we agreed that it’s just a matter of getting the piece up and getting it out there. If you do something really simple, with no set changes, just three actors who can literally set up shop in your living room, people are more likely to take a risk on you.”
It also provides new writers with a much greater vehicle to present their voice. “You can tell so much more of a story and go anywhere. People forget that it’s just one actor speaking because they are presented with all these amazing images going through their heads.”

In Little Gem the role of Amber proved the most difficult to cast. “This play has a really big elderly fanbase, because the Kay role is so much fun, and to get them to listen to what a 19 year old has to say and to really care about it, you really need someone strong in the role.”
As a writer and an actress is she dreaming up any juicy roles for herself to bring to life on stage?

“I’m playing with it. You write a piece and you think about whether you can see yourself in it or whether somebody else would be better off in the role. There’s always the question about whether I’d be able to have enough distance from the piece to do it justice.”

“I do miss acting though. I have a small part in a romantic comedy called Happy Ever After which is out in January and its nice to just walk in, get your script, get dressed up and off you go.”

She finds writing quite lonely. “Your cast create this bond and the production have this bond, and there is a little part of you that’s looking on, waving the piece goodbye.”

Little Gem runs at The Peacock Theatre from the 19 January – 27 February. Tickets priced between €15 and €18.


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