Brenda Blethyn Interview

February 1, 2010

When it comes to pulling in the big guns to tread across our boards Irish theatre has been caught pretty short of late. So this month’s production of Haunted at the Gaiety Theatre is very good news indeed for those counting the box office receipts. From the pen of the woman Philip Roth calls ‘the most gifted woman now writing in English’. (Edna O Brien) it’s a play about guilt and loss and stars two-time academy award winner Brenda Blethyn as a woman whose husband (Niall “I MADE THE BBC” Buggy) has secretly been giving away her clothes in return for elocution lessons off a young inguine.

Considering she is one of the few actresses able to have a film career past forty, without bitching about the lack of worthy roles being offered to her, I wonder what has tempted her back to the more rewarding yet fiscally unsound stage. “Edna has this wonderful ability;” she says moments after stepping off the plane from England. “In a time when we are all reduced to texting and emailing, where eloquence seems to be a thing of the past, to read a play that is so beautifully written is a total joy.“ A memory play that deals with loss, guilt and love, its heartbreaking yet funny, a celebration of language coming out of the mouth of these very ordinary people. “All the characters have a love of language and it deals with the human condition, about your own sense of inadequacy. But it’s also hopeful because the central character acknowledges it.”

The part was specifically written for Blethyn after O Brien caught her performance as the wrung-out former Southern belle Amanda Wingfield in the 2008 revival of The Glass Menagerie. The controversial Irish writer was so enamored with what she saw she sent Blethyn a rejigged version of an old telly play she had written at the start of her career in the hopes that Blethyn would fall for the part. Blethyn, who at first resisted the persistent O Briens gentle reminders, was thrilled with what she found when she finally sat down and read it. “I LOVED it. With a passion. Absolutely loved it. I called her straight away. I sent it to (the director) Braham Murray who also loved it so much he not only agreed to direct but actually made room for it in the Royal Exchange’s schedule.”

Not that it inflated her ego that one of the world’s finest writers had sculpted a beaut of a role for her. In fact she wasn’t even aware of Edna’s work before starting rehearsals. “I’d never read a word. I’d heard of her but I’d never read her novels. Given her delight at the language in O’Brien’s play I ask her if today’s playwrights’ disappoint her with their preference for short, sharp often-crude prose. “Well it only reflects what’s going on in the street. Everyday life. There is leisure about writing. In an age of speed it was just such a pleasure to read her script.”

To hear most actresses of a certain age bang on you’d swear the parts dried up when they did (Remember Sharon Stone calling Meryl Streep an unmade bed?). How did Brenda not only continue to find work but hit her stride on what is considered the wrong side of forty? “I don’t have any issue with the size of my parts. All I care about is whether it’s a good part. I don’t mind playing parts that are not overly sympathetic. I don’t always have to play the goody. I’m loved in life; I don’t need to find that love on stage as well.

“The mother is often the band-aid, the tea maker, the door opener. But for me someone who opens and shuts a door is still a character. You want to know if they like this person they’re letting in.”

The play opened to rave reviews in Manchester in May and Brenda has hooked up with Buggy, Murray and the rest of the Haunted crew in Dublin to rebloc the piece for the Gaiety stage. “Its the first time we have played the play with a proscenium arch because in Manchester we acted in the round.” She’s exited about the possibility of making new discoveries during this process and hopes Edna is there to give her few cents in the rehearsal room. “Whenever you re-rehearse something you uncover something new, its inevitable. It’s one of the joys of being in theatre because you keep finding new layers every time you perform a piece. “Since most plays are classics , the writers are dead so it’s a privilege to have Edna there. If I’m doing something she doesn’t like id rather know early on. It’s her work of art as it were.”

Haunted runs from the 4th-13th of February at The Gaiety Theatre. €25, €30, €32.50, €35, €37.50, €40, €42.50, €45.00, €47.50


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