Playwright and actress Áine Ryan told David Hennessy about bringing her one woman play Kitty in the Lane to the Brockley Jack for its London premiere.
London- based Tipperary playwright, screenwriter and actress Áine Ryan brings her one woman play Kitty in the Lane to London for the first time next month.
Áine has previously brought Kitty in the Lane around Ireland, to the Edinburgh Fringe and even to the San Francisco International Arts Festival.
However the forthcoming production will be the first full production and so it will be Kitty in the Lane as it was intended to be seen.
The play finds Kitty alone in her kitchen while her father is dying in the room next door.
Kitty wishes he would just hurry up.
She waits for her boyfriend and wishes he would hurry up too.
Áine told The Irish World: “Kitty is waiting for her boyfriend to bring her up the lane to a local beauty pageant that her friend is competing in.
“She has been put off the road for drink driving so she’s waiting for him and she’s also bringing her friend a very big present that she physically can’t lift.
“She’s already dressed. She’s ready to go: Makeup, hair done, everything is perfect. But he’s not showing up.
“So as she’s waiting for him, she’s drinking whiskey, chatting to the father.
“You learn about her life and by the end of the play, you realise whether he comes or not something very big is about to happen.
“Layers unfold as she waits for him and you realise maybe why he’s not coming.”
Áine is returning to the Brockley Jack after Paddy goes to Petra played to sell-out houses and earned five star reviews there in November last year.
From Upperchurch in Co. Tipperary, Áine holds a B.A (Honours) in Theatre and Performance from Goldsmiths, University of London and a Higher Diploma in Film and Television Production through Irish from WIT/ Nemeton.
Her work explores unrepresented voices from rural Ireland and themes of isolation, grief and female empowerment.
Áine also penned the short film First Date that has played at many festivals, including the Irish Film Festival London in November, and won many awards.
So where did the original idea for Kitty in the Lane come from?
“I wrote my thesis in college on young Irish women on the stage.
“How are young Irish women portrayed on stage? And who are they being portrayed by?
“It’s only really in the last 20 years that Irish women have really stepped into their power or been given a chance to step into that.
“Because in the past 100 years, or even 50 years, we’ve had the marriage law, we’ve had so many different laws like no contraception: To be a woman now is very different to my grandmother’s time.
“I think the contemporary portrayal of a woman in Ireland realistically is a much different person than back in the day where a lot of women wouldn’t have gone to university, they would have been mainly wives and mothers, that was their main role in society.
“And in those plays that I studied, that was a very prominent theme in that women weren’t the ones in control.
“If they had elders or if they had family members that were more important or more dominant, they were the ones that got to decide what happened with a woman’s life.
“I realised it should be a young Irish woman showcasing a young Irish woman, even if it’s slightly offbeat.
“But I think now women can step into their power and we have vastly more freedom.
“So Kitty is between the two worlds of being able to step into that if she wants to but at the same time (she doesn’t) due to the physical landscape, her family circumstances.
“Where I’m from in rural Tipperary, there’s a lot of very hidden roads and secret boreens and people living way off the main road and just that sense of isolation or being tucked away.
“There can be a lot of secrets back there.
“It’s not like in a town where your house is showcased to everyone, everyone can see what’s going on.
“I feel in these rural fields and these rural areas that you can have a very hidden lifestyle.
“I grew up on a main road but I know a lot of friends that have grown up down lanes and really tucked away so I was very interested to explore that.
“Kitty in the Lane grew from a girl who can’t leave.
“The land is physically isolating her. Her circumstances are isolating her and that’s her father: The fact that she’s kind of tied to the land now that he’s sick but she doesn’t really want to leave the land.
“All of that is in the Irish psyche as well, especially in rural Ireland: Not wanting to give up land or being anchored down when you own certain property or own a farm. Those power dynamics.
“And in the play, her brother has died so she’s the only one left with her father.
“And she doesn’t want to give up that connection of the land because it’s hers, and she doesn’t want to leave.
“So I was just interested in exploring a character that is from a place I know but kind of in an extreme sense.”
As Áine says, she has also lost her brother and is about to lose her father but her relationship has always been difficult with her parent with her mother out of the picture.
“It’s just her and her father.
“She doesn’t have a good relationship with her father.
“He’s been quite a dictator really to her all her life, and now he’s sick and vulnerable so she’s the one caring for him.
“In ways she doesn’t want to abandon him but she’s not happy about the fact that she’s kind of stuck with him either.
“In one way, it’s good for her because no longer can he kind of physically dictate to her because he’s not able to really walk anymore.
“He’s stuck in a bedroom all day.
“But at the same time, emotionally, he’s still able to overpower her, just by being there physically.
“Actually, the name of the thesis I submitted when I was in college was Daddy’s Girls, Irish women on the stage, because a lot of it is about relationships with fathers like in Sive (John B Keane) the way she’s able to be shipped off from her uncle to this much older man and just the fact that- it’s kind of changed slightly in contemporary but it still exists where- women are often more of a product.
“And I think for the father, Kitty is like a product that’s able to do the land.
“But for some reason, she just can’t leave so she obviously has an emotional connection to the land as well herself.
“She doesn’t want to go anywhere.
“She’s happy doing the farm and she’s happy in her environment and she’s actually happy in her community.
“The land is actually belonging to her mother so I think she feels that emotional connection to the land as if it’s her mother and her maternal family’s as well.
“So that’s a strong point of association with her that if she’s on this land, it’s hers.
“The father is ruling it right now but when he dies, it will be fully, fully hers.
“If he is to die, she is going to be free of that dictatorial parent, but at the same time, she’s not gonna go anywhere.”
The play is directed by Jack Reardon who is also from Tipperary.
Jack studied directing at The Lir Academy, Dublin and went on to work with Ireland’s leading theatres including at the Abbey, The Gate and with Landmark productions.
Jack’s recent credits include a sell-out tour of Cathal Ryan’s Pucked.
“I really like having that extra input.
“Jack is an extra eye and an extra creative force in a very good way.
“He’s already breathed new life into it by giving a new design idea and it’s important considering I’m acting in it as well to have an external pair of eyes because you can’t really see yourself on set.
“I’m very happy to have someone like Jack who really knows his stuff about theatre to come in and kind of give it that extra bit of energy and a fresh opinion on everything.”
Along with Sive from John B Keane, Áine studied characters from Marina Carr’s On Raftery’s Hill and Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West. These playwrights were two big influences on the writing and the play has been likened to McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
“It’s like Marina Carr and McDonagh combined together.
“It’s like McDonagh in the sense that there’s a very strong dark humour in it but it’s very raw like the kind of things Marina Carr writes so it’s kind of a combination of both of them.
“There is a lot of humour in it.
“It’s a play that definitely touches on emotional and dark, heavy issues but there is a lot of laughs in it as well.
“And it’s got an ending that I think will challenge a lot of people for better or worse.”
Broadway Baby said Kitty in the Lane was, ‘An intense, poetic study of loneliness, cruelty and rural isolation’ and ‘a mesmeric continuation of the Irish literary tradition.’
Edinburgh Guide added: ‘Kitty in the Lane does some of the things Irish contemporary drama does best.’
Fringe Review said: ‘This is visceral monologue, in the hands of a superb performer.’
“It’s been described as like The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” Áine says.
“Because similar with that, it’s about a woman who probably hasn’t lived to her full potential.
“Kitty is bursting with potential but is she going to get a chance to actually reach her potential?
“And it’s about all those women that don’t maybe reach their potential simply because of their isolation.
“And the fact that your geographical location can be kind of a hindrance to your development in life simply because you’re so removed from everything.”
Áine first performed Kitty in the Lane at The Source in Tipperary and other Irish venues before taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015 and then being invited to San Francisco.
But only now is it going to be done as it was intended.
“It’s never had a really full production.
“I said when I do it for London I want a very strong visual lighting and sound production. It’s never had proper sound design before.
“So this is giving the play the kind of the production values it deserves.
“Now I can properly have the set I want, the lighting I want, the sound I want, the design I want.
“So this is like the premiere of the play with what I want.”
In November Áine brought her play Paddy Goes to Petra to the London stage to a warm reception.
Starring Brendan Dunlea, it was the story of a middle aged farmer who finds a new lust for life on a Christmas trip to Jordan.
The titles hint at the difference between the two shows. While Paddy went somewhere, Kitty is staying put.
“Paddy goes to Petra is a very different show than Kitty in the Lane.
“But I think going forward Kitty in the Lane is more the style of show I am going to be writing because I’m trying to put women front and centre of my work.
“So Kitty in the Lane, even though it’s written before Paddy goes to Petra, it’s probably closer in alignment to my values of what I want to showcase going forward.
“But they still obviously both have that theme of isolation.”
And grief, is grief a common theme also?
“Yeah, she is grieving.
“Grief for some reason plays a massive part in what I write about.
“So grief is a huge thing in Kitty in the Lane and like Paddy goes to Petra, it’s grief that forces you into these other worlds of perhaps mental deterioration, and that’s certainly the case in Kitty in the Lane.
“But in Paddy goes to Petra, he goes to Jordan whereas in Kitty in the Lane, she’s physically stuck, she goes nowhere.
“So it’s about the isolation and the emotional deterioration that can come when a person spends a lot of time on their own, or maybe with just one other person not seeing the outer world.
“I think a lot of people do live kind of an unsociable life in rural Ireland or any isolated part in the world, parts of rural Ireland can be incredibly isolated in the landscape and then if they’re working the farm, they’re only meeting themselves every day- Occasionally they go to the mart.
“And that’s Kitty’s lifestyle. She’s in a very sparsely populated area.
“A character in the play is Salisha and that’s the only girl that she was with in primary school so she has had very few people in her life.
“And often they can be the wrong people in your life.
“So if you’re not meeting a vast array of other people, sometimes other opinions can kind of gnaw away at you and I think that’s what happens to Kitty.
“I think it’s a good piece for the Irish community to see.
“It’s obviously all set in Ireland and Jack is Irish so we’re both from Tipperary.
“So it has a strong creative Irish input but I wrote the play in London.
“I’d love people to give this show a chance and to come and see it.
“I’m very excited to show it to audiences.
“There’s cake, whiskey, all the trappings of a good Irish drama are involved in this.”
Studio Perform Theatre present Kitty in the Lane written by Áine Ryan directed by Jack Reardon Tuesday 2 – Saturday 13 May 2023 at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH.
To book, click here.
For more information on the company, click here.