Lauren McCrory, the 22-year old Irish country music singer and star of the 1916 musical, Blood Upon The Rose, about the doomed romance of Grace Gifford and Joseph Plunkett, talks to Michael McDonagh.
The Grace Gifford story is remarkably sad and is the inspiration for next month’s big stage production Blood Upon The Rose, based upon the book Blood Upon the Rose: Easter 1916: The Rebellion that Set Ireland Free.
It’s a graphic novel written and illustrated by Irish author Gerry Hunt and was published by the O’Brien Press in 2009. The title comes from a poem by Joseph Plunkett, who was married in the night in the chapel of Kilmainham Gaol just a few hours before his execution for his involvement as one of the leaders of the Rising. This stage production of their story is, written and directed by Gerry Cunningham who has assembled a talented cast led by Lauren McCrory.
IW: Lauren, you have an important role as Grace. How did that come about?
“Gerry, the director, was actually a teacher at my school and he had done a production of Hairspray, in which I was Tracy. So when he was developing this show he just called me up and asked me to do a read through for the character and that was really it.”
IW: Was this production, inspired by some of the events in the 1916 Rising, originally produced to tie in with the 2016 Centenary?
“Gerry had originally written the production around the time of the centenary, but we did not actually take it to the stage until November 2017, we did not think it was going to go as big as it did. and then it just grew from that. It is just getting bigger and bigger.
“When we started, we never planned for any of this to happen, we started the show doing it in small local theatres in Northern Ireland and then in Belfast. We did the Waterfront and then we got a chance to go over to Glasgow and did the Armadillo Theatre at Easter last year but every time we do the show the crowd gets bigger and the demand gets bigger and that’s why Gerry decided that he wanted to go over and try London.”
IW: The Apollo in Hammersmith is a bit of a big beast to fill.
“We just go where are told to go, potentially it is going to be a hard sell to fill it it’s so big, but so far every show we have done has been a sell-out and we have had to put on extra shows in some places, so we have to be optimistic about London.”
IW: How many are in the cast?
“There are about 30 to 35 so it is quite a big cast. Our theatre company has just been formed for this show. It is very ‘amdram’ the way the production came together but the cast is very professional and we are very surprised at how far it has got being that it is an amateur drama.”
IW: Back in 1986, I worked on the record Grace the beautiful song by Frank and Sean O’Meara sung by Jim McCann. Is that the same song that is in your show?
“It is the same song that Jim McCann sang, it’s based on the Joseph Plunkett poem, and it is such a popular song. Even today it is ridiculous the amount of people who have recorded and sung the song and so many years on. It is still doing so well, and it goes down so well with the audiences.”
IW: Which is your first love, acting or singing?
“I trained in acting and performance, but I am a country music singer as well, more so over here in Ireland, than I would be an actress. It is the singing that has taken me to places, so in that sense everything ties in together.”
IW: You studied Language and Linguistics at university, did that help you understand the American jargon of country music?
“No, not really (laughing) because for me I never really did the whole university thing, I trained in acting, went on to University but did not actually finish. I was in a country music competition and that sort of took over.”
IW: That would have been TG4’s Glor Tire, which you won.
“It was broadcast on TG4 and was big for me as I went through the heats and then won it and was mentored by Barry Kirwan, Dominick Kirwan’s son, and he was great. Being on it gave me a lot of exposure as a singer. I was very young, I’m only 22 now.”
IW: Were your mother and father musicians?
“There was music all around from both sides, my mammy can sing, and my daddy can play music, but they never really did anything with it as it was more of a hobby to them.
“Because it was a hobby to them, I think they wanted me to progress with it as a profession. From a very young age I have been singing in festivals and competitions. I went to speech and drama lessons from the age of four and I went for dancing lessons and I had singing lessons from the age of 10. Then I was involved in various theatre groups when I was still at school. Later I worked with adults.”
IW: Why did you choose country music and not pop or something else?
“My father would have been a very heavy influencer of that. My daddy, from growing up in Ireland in very rural countryside, where country music was very popular, was very into country music, as it is huge over here.
“Philomena Begley lives four doors down from us, so Philomena was always there, and country music was always around as I grew up. My daddy listened to Big Tom and Jimmy Buckley. For me it was not one person but the music.
“When I was seven years old I got the chance to go to Nashville Tennessee, with the Line Dancers’ Competition, as my cousin was involved with that.
“From that, I got to experience the whole country music thing with the bluegrass, and all the other influences. I was the youngest person there.
“I was taken to the Ryman Auditorium at the Grand Ole Opry as part of a tour where my daddy said to stand on the edge of that stage and sing – so I did. I sang Down to the River To Pray. It was one of those moments in my life, I was looking at the big stained-glass windows from the stage and just wondering ‘Maybe one day?’. It all really came from that.”
IW: What do you think about the success of people like Nathan Carter and others, bringing a younger audience to Ireland’s country music scene?
“It’s now a completely different generation. I can see that when Nathan started country music wasn’t cool and you wouldn’t have liked it if you were younger, but he brought in a younger crowd and now it is cool for younger people to like country music.
“The ones who came to his shows are now growing up and some will be married and will have babies so there will be another generation again. You just have to move with the times, but it is a very competitive business, no matter who you are or what you are.”
IW: Is it harder now?
“Because it is so popular everyone thinks they can do it and get into the industry. It is very easily accessed, there are so many bars and clubs, and so many places especially around this area where country music is played.
“People think they can just go into a studio, record a song, make a video and put it out and it will be a hit. It is not so simple, it is the same as everything else, it is down to what you put into it and you have to work hard at it and be dedicated and try new things and work out what you want to do. It doesn’t happen overnight, it is very tough.
“I have always wanted to appear on a stage in London, so I am obviously getting excited about it and looking forward to it. To be honest, I’m overwhelmed and will believe it when it’s over. It is everybody’s dream. I’d love for it to be picked up and go to the West End, to do that. The thought of drama school in London has always appealed to me. I’ve never been, and I’d love to go.
“In 2012 I went over there to the London Stage school for the summer and did a workshop in Her Majesty’s Theatre, where Phantom of the Opera was staged. It gave me an insight into what musical theatre in London is all about and I’d have loved to do it but then my country music career just took off after I won Glor Tire. Give me a couple of years and I’ll be where I want to be.
“After London, we are going back to Glasgow for Easter Sunday and then we go to Dublin to the Olympia Theatre for two nights and then in September, we are doing the Opera House in Belfast. I’m sure if London goes well, we will be back there too.”
Blood Upon The Rose will be staged at the Eventim Apollo (which many of us still know as the Hammersmith Odeon) on Saturday 30 March, just before Mother’s Day and would make a very appropriate treat.