By David Hennessy
Currently impressing as Helen in a new production of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, Cork actress Sarah Greene can also soon be seen in the title role of the eagerly awaited Christina Noble biopic, Noble.
Sarah provides many of the laughs as the shin kicking and egg smashing Helen McCormick alongside a cast that also boasts Daniel Radcliffe, Padraic Delaney and Pat Shortt, in the first of McDonagh’s Aran Islands Trilogy. The story of McDonagh’s black comedy centres around Billy who wants desperately to get involved in the shooting of a movie taking place on nearby Inishmore, if only to escape his own mundane life. Billy is also infatuated with Helen and you could say all his endeavours are designed to show her there is more to him than just ‘Cripple Billy’.
Sarah tells The Irish World: “I’m having a ball. It’s a part I’ve always wanted to play and a show I’ve always wanted to be a part of. It’s lovely to come in every night and know you’re playing for a full audience and I think we’re all fairly confident that it’s a really good show. Michael Grandage (director) doesn’t do anything but the best. I’m having an absolute ball, living the dream.”
Sarah’s previous theatre roles include the title role in thisispopbaby’s and the Abbey Theatre’s hugely successful production Alice in Funderland last year. She also appeared as Amber in Guna Nua’s award winning and highly acclaimed production of Little Gem which won the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and led to a remounting of the production in New York as well as tours across the UK and Ireland.
Her screen credits include Bachelor’s Walk, Raw, My Brothers and The Guard. Appearing in The Guard, directed by John Michael McDonagh, and now The Cripple of Inishmaan means Sarah has now acted for both McDonagh brothers. How are they similar and different? “They’re two amazing men. They’re incredible. Their writing is similar: Their humour is dark, very dark and a bit sick and twisted. I don’t know if they are different.
“I mean they’re scary in the room, there’s no way to get away from that just because it’s his work and when you’re up there saying somebody else’s words, you want to do it justice and obviously being a fan of them, you want them to like you and you want to make sure you’re doing what they want, what they see for the part. But I think I am, I hope.”
Sarah mentions the sick and twisted humour, was she ever concerned about how a modern, politically correct audience might take a play with such dark wit? “Yeah and it is odd. Some nights, you can sense the audience don’t want to laugh because it’s so politically incorrect and on other nights, you can hear people shocked by themselves laughing, they’re kind of ashamed of the laugh. It’s politically incorrect but in 1954, it wasn’t. I don’t think these people are trying to be necessarily racist or homophobic, it’s wonderment more than anything else. It’s like: ‘My God, a coloured fella came to Ireland..’ They had never seen a coloured man. And then the section with Jack Elroy and Pat Brennan ending up kissing each other. It’s not going: ‘Two fellas kissing, yuk’. It’s ‘two fellas kissing who don’t even like each other?’ They can’t make it out. I don’t think it’s trying to be politically incorrect but it just is because it’s different times, very, very small island.”
Sarah, who is engaged to Being Human and The Hobbit actor Aidan Turner, applauds the London-Irish playwright for capturing the characters and mannerisms of an Irish community so well that the play’s island setting could be any small village in Ireland: “They obviously just have a knack for picking up the Irish way and the Irish wit which is a real talent, I think. Not everyone can do that, I couldn’t do that. I think we can all relate to these characters. We all know a Helen, we all know a Bartley and a Billy, everyone has a nosey neighbour like Pat Shortt’s character, Johnnypateenmike. Those characters are all over Ireland, I think in small villages. As a kid, we always went to Glenbeigh in Kerry and these characters are there and they all wind each other up. They all know how to press each other’s buttons and it’s quite theatrical being down there watching people interact with each other.”
Now that Martin McDonagh is the successful film director of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, as well as an Academy Award winner for his short Six Shooter, has Sarah imagined how good a screen version of The Cripple of Inishmaan would be? “Yeah, we keep talking about this. Why don’t they make it? I think it’s a great idea. I don’t know if that’s something Martin wants to do: Take his plays and make them into films but I think it would make a fantastic film. I’ll say it to him: ‘Now Martin, let’s have a word’.”
Also impressive in this current production is Daniel Radcliffe in the role of Billy who Sarah shares many of her scenes with. After coming to prominence as a child star, Sarah believes we are witnessing a rare talent come of age: “I think he is shedding the Harry Potter cloak and really challenging himself. And I’m just so thrilled for him that people have really taken to him in this show.
“I think he’s absolutely fantastic in this play and the work he had done before we even came in for the first day of rehearsals. He had all his physicality worked out. He really studied cerebral palsy, there’s a certain strand of it that he found that he wanted to be specific about. It (the play) doesn’t give any description of what is wrong with him or what his ailments are, it’s just very general so he went to great lengths to find out what it could be. I just think that’s great research on his part.
“It just shows that he doesn’t take these things lightly. He doesn’t want to offend anybody because I think some people are offended at an able bodied actor playing a disabled character and his accent is superb, he did a lot of work on the accent. He was a bit nervous the first couple of days mumbling the words. We’re like: ‘That’s brilliant, speak louder’.
For the full interview, see the July 13 print edition of The Irish World.