By David Hennessy
The first original production of Molly Sweeney by Brian Friel in London is showing previews this week with an entirely Irish cast. Dorothy Duffy, who has appeared in The Magadalene Sisters, will play the title role while her husband Frank is played by Ruairi Conaghan, who was seen onstage last year in The Donmar Warehouse’s producton of another Friel play Philadelphia, Here I Come.
The play tells the story of Molly Sweeney who has been blind since infancy, while her husband Frank is devoted to trying to find a cure to help her see again. When they meet pioneering ophthalmologist Mr Rice, played by Stuart Graham, who offers to perform an experimental operation to restore her sight, Frank persuades Molly that she has nothing to lose.
But when the supposedly successful operation is over, Molly finds it difficult to adjust to the strange new world of perception that she encounters. After 40 years of sightlessness, she starts to realise that the gift of vision has some terrifying consequences. The story is told from all three perspectives and Dorothy, Ruairi and Stuart took a break from rehearsals to tell The Irish World about their preparations.
“It’s a complicated play,” Dorothy Duffy begins. “It’s interesting because one of the things people just assume in the play is that Molly would be better off if she could see and it’s not always necessarily the case. We don’t always know what is best for somebody else and just because somebody has a disability, doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with their life.”
In preparation, Dorothy went to a visual centre in Surrey where she got an idea of life for those who can’t see: “I spent the morning with one of the women. It was great to spend some time with her, ask her some questions and see how independent she was. We had a wander around and it was interesting walking around… There’s a whole pedestrianized area in Surrey: There were benches, there were bins, there were signs, there were things all over the place. And I looked at it, I didn’t think there was anything funny about it but when she started telling me about what an obstacle course it was for her, you start seeing the world from someone else’s point of view.”
Ruairi, who plays Molly’s husband, continues: “When we went to the visual centre, we met a number of extraordinary women who were dealing with issues around blindness. The centre is run by a man who is married to a blind woman and I wanted to know a little bit about him so I took him aside and had a little chat with him. The accusation that is thrown at Frank is that this is a project for him: That he wants to look after and care for this woman because there is not much in his life. This gentleman (centre manager), he was really attracted to and fell in love with this woman because he felt he needed some strength and order in his own life.”
Stuart Graham spent time with some real life ophthalmologist surgeons for his preparation to play Mr. Rice: “I was lucky enough to be able to observe a couple of operations and talk to a couple of ophthalmologist surgeons and fully appreciate just how specialised a field it is. It was news to me that some ophthalmologist surgeons specialise on the front of the eye and some specialise on the back so it’s more specific than just an eye surgeon. I was delighted to get the opportunity to watch some of those fellas at work because they’re extraordinary people.”
For the full interview, see the March 30 print edition of The Irish World