By David Hennessy
A London-based Antrim actress is back onstage after being diagnosed with a brain tumour back in 2015. There was a time when Clíodhna McCorley would have found it hard to imagine returning to acting as her recovery included learning how to stand up and walk again. This month, she acts in Maev Mac Coille’s Tell it Slant at The Hope Theatre in Islington.
Clíodhna was just 24 and making progress as an actress in London when her world was suddenly turned upside down.
Clíodhna told The Irish World: “It was a shock. I was fit and well one day and then the next day I just started to have seizures and fits and within 24 hours was given a diagnosis of having a large brain tumour and needing brain surgery.
“It’s not a diagnosis I think anyone could prepare themselves to hear but particularly when you’re 24 and think you’re young, fit and healthy but I am so very lucky I had the best healthcare and treatment.
“I was taken care of so brilliantly and I am so thankful to say I am one of the lucky ones and have had an amazing recovery.
“If anything it has completely reinvigorated me. You just can’t take anything for granted and it’s spurred me on to take risks and do what makes you happy because life’s too short not to.”
Since recovering Clíodhna has made it her mission to raise money for hospital charities such as when she ran the London Marathon in 2018. “I could not believe how much support got behind me. I raised about £10,000 or something absolutely insane for The National Brain Appeal which is the charity of the hospital that saved my life so it was really important and very special.
“I had never ran before in my life, ever, until after my brain tumour. It kind of just felt quite significant that I could use something that I was, post-surgery not able to do to help others i.e. Not being able to walk and then being able to run.
“One of the reasons I was really passionate about giving back is because though I’ve had a hugely successful recovery and a very happy ending that is not the case for the majority of people.
“I’m not sure why I was one of the lucky ones but I kind of feel like I need to not take that for granted. I just want to remember I’m lucky and try and give back as much as I can.”
Things were happening for young actress Clíodhna when illness struck but her time away meant she had to start over in terms of building up contacts and getting her name out there. However, she now feels she is back to where she was: “For the first time I feel like I’m back in that place that I was before I got ill.
“Thankfully that dark time feels a very long time ago and I never thought that it would. Life is good and I am well.”
Tell it Slant is the London debut play of Dublin playwright Maev Mac Coille and the first full production of the company she set up with director Erica Miller, Merry Spinsters. It follows two press officers who have to deal with an unexpected crisis. Clíodhna and her other lead actor will alternate the lead roles reversing the genders of the characters each night so you will see her being vulnerable or more dominant depending on which night you go.
Maev wrote the play’s characters without specific genders to push back against gender roles and sexist story structures.
Maev told The Irish World: “It seems to change the story even more than I thought it would. Moments between characters play very, very differently depending on who’s on whose side of the dynamic. I won’t say it’s going to be an entirely different show but depending on which side of the flip you see you’re going to have a somewhat different experience.
“One character expresses more vulnerability in the story. There is a sense that how we perceive that, it does shift based on if it’s a man or a woman who is in that position and being pursued. I don’t want to make it sound too predatory but we’re more used to seeing that dynamic with a woman in a vulnerable position and a man pursuing so when you flip it, it does change quite substantially how the scene plays.
“It will be interesting to see what the audience thinks.”
The setting is one the playwright is more than familiar with as Maev Mac Coille’s day job is as Communications Manager in the House of Commons.
“After the Grenfell Tower disaster, I was reading a couple of articles about what their press team went through: A press team that is not used to vast amounts of attention, I think it’s fair to say, suddenly getting phone calls from every newspaper on the planet and every TV station, every journalist within a 500 mile radius wanting something from them, probably more than a 500 mile radius to be honest.
“For the press team, trying to get to grips with a catastrophe of that scale was really, really difficult. We’re all news junkies now. Everyone’s on their phone, everyone’s reading the headlines, everyone is obsessive. A lot of people don’t really know how the news gets made.
“Irrespective of my own experience, that’s something that is quite important for us to know. If we’re going to trust the news and we’re going to trust what we’re hearing about the world, we need to understand how it comes to be.
“Having said that, the reason I’m able to write it is because I’ve had that experience. I’ve been the person who has answered the phone and had the equivalent of a hand grenade go off.
“I was in the press office during the March 22 attack and helped effectively manage that response. We had press from everywhere coming at us. Having been through that certainly informs what is going on in the play.”
Clíodhna adds: “There’s never been a time in my life where this idea of fake news has been more talked about or more relevant. Unfortunately for us, crises are never very far apart: Natural disasters, fires in Australia, Grenfell Tower, terrorist attacks, the lorry that had all the dead bodies in it in Essex…
“These crisis stories are unfortunately things that happen too often. Whom I never thought of until I read this play is who are the people who have to deal with that story to make sure that it doesn’t misrepresent what happened, it isn’t offensive to the people who are affected or the families of those who have passed away depending on what the story is.
“Also, how much can good news or corrections cancel out the fake news and the bad news. People hold on to the thing they saw that was most dramatic. If someone says ‘that person isn’t guilty’, you never forget the fact that they were accused.”