Out of the Shadows


Tony Award winning Brid Brennan


By David Hennessy

Brid Brennan is famed for her portrayals of Agnes Mundy whom she played in the original Dublin, West End and Broadway productions of Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa, winning a Tony Award for the latter. Reprising her role for the 1998 film version, she shared the screen with Meryl Streep.


She has also earned two Olivier Award nominations for her performances in Rutherford and Son and The Little Foxes at London stages The National Theatre and The Donmar Warehouse respectively. Most recently seen playing the part of the mother in James Marsh’s tense Northern Irish thriller, Shadow Dancer, Brid can now be seen at London’s Theatre503 performing in Irish writer Ailís Ní Ríain’s new play, Desolate Heaven. A tale of the love story between two young girls, Desolate Heaven explores themes such as growing up too soon and how love can be dangerous.


“I am enjoying it,” the Belfast actress told The Irish World. “It’s an unusual play and it’s hard work but it is enjoyable. There’s a lot of play and invention involved in it so it’s enjoyable, yeah. I would describe it as quite a moving piece but one that has humour and wonder in it. It’s theatrical but it contains a huge element of storytelling. I’m playing three different characters. I don’t give too much away about the characters but they’re fun to play.”

Brid was first involved with a reading of the play at Liverpool Playhouse as part of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouses’ Everyword Festival: “I thought it was an unusual play, a really interesting form. It was just a reading but it definitely held me, it stayed with me. Then when they came back to me in November last year, I was definitely up for it because I had enjoyed the unusual qualities of this play and it definitely appealed to me.”

Are Brid and the rest of the team, including director Paul Robinson, looking forward to sharing the play with their public? “Well we had a few people to look at it today. You get closer to the audience and it gives you a bit of a boost. You do need an audience and it is very much about telling stories and telling a story to the audience so yes, that’s the vital ingredient and I suppose there’s an element of looking forward to doing that.”

Brid is joined on Desolate Heaven’s cast by two young actresses Evelyn Lockley and Carla Langley. Although new to theatre, they have both been impressing Brid: “They’re both out of drama school and it’s their first job. I am very impressed, they’re really good and they’re lovely girls. They’re extremely hard working and very talented girls.”

The venue for much new drama, Theatre503 has premiered more than 50 new writers since 2002, has won the Peter Brook Empty Space Award, been nominated for a Time Out Live Award in 2006, and won an Olivier Award in 2010 for its production of Katori Hall's The Mountaintop. Is it an exciting place to work? “This is my first time ever working here. I think it’s a very exciting, enterprising theatre and there’s a great buzz about the place and there seems to be a terrific commitment, enthusiasm and real joy from everybody involved.”

The film she has featured in most recently Shadow Dancer has just been released on DVD. Would Brid have a favourite between the stage and screen? “Well, I love cinema. I’ve always loved cinema so I do love films and would love the idea of doing them. But theatre is very rewarding because the writing can be so challenging and exciting and especially new writing and this is new writing. There’s great originality in it and you get wonderful language and so that makes me lean heavily towards theatre because you don’t quite get that same opportunity to plunge in in that way, to really enjoy the language  and savour invention (with film roles), but at the same time I love getting film work.”

Lead actress Andrea Riseborough has picked up a British Independent Film Award for her role in Shadow Dancer which has also been nominated for several IFTAs including one for Brid in the Best Supporting Actress category: “I am delighted with the response to it, I have to say. I think James Marsh is a really exciting director and I’m really looking forward to the next thing he does. He was such a good director to work with and somebody who gives you plenty of space and a chance to really feel out a part, a very exciting man to work with. Andrea’s a wonderful actress and she really committed herself to it and really lived it.”

For the full interview, pick up this week’s Irish World


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