Sarah Lafferty spoke to local playwright Rosalind Scanlon, the woman behind the play about devoted Daniel O’Donnell fans, Lovin’ Daniel, and about the man himself.
Rosalind Scanlon has staged productions of her own 13 plays, and others including those of John B. Keane, Brian Friel and J.M. Synge, for The Lyric Theatre, The Riverside Studios, The Dublin Theatre Festival, The Irish Cultural Centre and The Stage Door Festival in Amsterdam.
Her own plays often feature strong female roles such as her one-woman piece about Irish suffragette Hanna Sheehy Skeffington at The Dublin Theatre Festival and Rouge, Rifles, and Revolvers about the ordinary women who took part in the 1916 Rising. Roz grew up in Fulham but her parents from Donegal drove her love of Irish Theatre.
Holidays back home during her childhood were, she says, inspirational: “Being exposed to the heritage of communities and stories switched me on to Irish Theatre.”
At eighteen, she began writing at The Royal Court under its Young Writers’ Programme. “The Royal Court in the 1970s was very exciting. I was around really great people that encouraged me,” she says. Sense of Ireland That 70s sense of ‘can do’ reached its peak in the 1980s with the Sense of Ireland Festival. “It had currach racing on The Thames, musicians such as Van Morrison, The Chieftains and Paul Brady, director Neil Jordan and playwright Tom Murphy.
It was a big moment in identifying the richness of Irish culture in London,” she said. The Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith where Roz and I meet for our chat has played a central role in her writing career. Her first play, ‘Simples of The Moon’ based on the tragic life of Lucia Joyce, daughter of James Joyce, was staged there. Lucia was committed to a mental hospital in her twenties and spent most of her life incarcerated until she died at seventy-five.
“I was interested in the theme of mental illness in women and their incarcerations in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. Women were locked away when there was nothing wrong with them. Lucia had a wild streak but was misunderstood. She’d been madly in love with a young Samuel Beckett who didn’t reciprocate her affections,” she says. Before she wrote the play Roz actually met Becket at The Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.
“I hardly even knew him at the time but I got the opportunity to talk to him and he was kind and handsome. He was the only person who wrote to Lucia till the day she died,” she says. Rosalind likes to work with both professional actors and community drama companies and encourages people, wherever she can, to take to the stage and really enjoys casting first time actors. It is, she says, because of “the raw honesty and authentic spirit community theatre brings.”
Her own Act Your Age group is made up of women over fifty-five who worked with her to produce 2013’s Wash House Stories at an old wash house in Fulham. The cast included women who had actually washed there during the 1960s and its one night- only performance was packed to the rafters. Daniel Among her own, most successful plays are Dance Hall Days and Lovin’ Daniel. Dance Hall Days had three runs at The Riverside Studios between 2003 and 2006. The audience sat around the edge of a recreated 1950s dance hall with a live band.
“For many the real-life stories we used reminded them of their youth or their parents who had passed away,” she says. Lovin’ Daniel was inspired by Rosalind’s own mother’s – and her many peers’ – huge enthusiasm for Daniel O’Donnell.
“I wanted to explore what inspires such devotion in his fans, what makes them tick?” she says. The women in the play have all overcome great odds in their personal lives and take hope and inspiration from Daniel. The real-life Daniel was very supportive, she says, and very kind and generous towards her production.
“I watched him on Strictly Come Dancing with my mother and loved that he showed no ego and was just up for having fun,” she says.