Aisling Loftus is recognisable from her roles in dramas such as Mr. Selfridge and the BBC’s War and Peace. The Nottingham-Irish actress can soon be seen at the Donmar Warehouse in Caryl Churchill’s Far Away.
Acting since the age of nine, Aisling emerged from the Television Workshop which has also produced stars like Jack O’Connell, Vicky McClure and Samantha Morton. Named as a Star of Tomorrow by Screen International in 2008, Aisling came to prominence with roles in The Borrowers, Public Enemies and Good Cop.
Far Away takes you into a world sliding into chaos with the world at war. Aisling’s character Joan works as a milliner but can’t ignore the bloody events taking place outside. The play also stars Jessica Hynes who is well known from The Royle Family and Spaced.
Aisling told The Irish World: “It’s about, ‘How does the world end up at war? How does that escalation happen? What does it look like?”
Aisling says the play seems especially poignant at the moment with so much talk of borders, walls and identity: “There’s a lot of binary thinking. There probably always has been but you can particularly see it now: ‘You think this so therefore you’re bad’ or ‘You voted this way so therefore you’re bad’ which is in some way comforting, isn’t it? To go, ‘I’ve got very clear lines in the sand’ but the reality there’s more nuance to it than we’ve almost got capacity to conceive.
“We’re all probably in the grey area in some way but that’s in its own way quite frightening. You want to feel you can trust in the goodies and the baddies. A lot of the research we’ve been doing informs the play.”
The play begins with Joan, as a child, seeing her uncle loading bloodied children into the back of the van. Her auntie, played by Hynes, tells her to keep what she saw to herself but assures Joan her uncle is taking the children to a better place and that they are the good guys.
“I think what she sees flips her world upside down. You know when something happens and it is the end of your innocence on some level? Be that something minor like finding out Santa isn’t real but it means that the whole world has a wash of a different colour over it.
“Then in the second act, there’s a war on many fronts raging and the journey to that point is very plausible and that’s a frightening thing, I think the play’s very unsettling in that way.”
In a time when everyone and everything must pick a side, Joan finds herself asking what side of the war features of nature like streams, grass or flies are on.
In the Sky News era, war’s horror can be brought into your living room in slickly edited and packaged bulletins: “You know it’s really important to know what’s going on like knowing what’s going on in Syria and knowing what’s going on in Iran at the moment.
“A friend at my gym’s partner’s Iranian and his family were really pleased that General Soleimani had been killed. The last thing I had seen on the news was people protesting him being killed in the streets and then I’d listen to a podcast about his place in things regarding Syria and the support that Iran has given (to uphold the Assad regime). It just makes you think nothing is black and white and in the binaries. It’s all complicated and complex and that’s actually reassuring and frightening at the same time.”
Aisling is returning to the Donmar Warehouse after performing Brian Friel’s Aristocrats there in 2018 with a cast that included Elaine Cassidy and Emmett Kirwan.
“I really like it here. If I could work at the Donmar all the time, I would. It’s such a brilliant theatre and they programme such interesting stuff.
“I absolutely love Brian Friel. I would love to do Dancing at Lughnasa or Freedom of the City. I went on a whole thing of reading all of his plays and just falling more in love with them. He’s just such an incredible writer, isn’t he? If I ever got an email come through, ‘Do you want to do this Brian Friel play?’ I probably wouldn’t even need to see the play, I would say ‘yeah’ straightaway. I absolutely love him.”
Aisling’s parents are from Drumcondra, Dublin and Roscrea, Tipperary. She has acted in Irish films such as Death of a Superhero and more recently Property of the State, the film that told the story of the 1994 murders of Imelda Riney, her three-year-old son Liam and Fr Joseph Walsh in Clare. Aisling played the sister of disturbed killer Brendan O’Donnell.
Having already done Dublin for Death of a Superhero and Donegal for Aristocrats, Aisling took on the Clare twang for the 2016 film about the brutal killings: “Before doing accent work, I would only really be able to identify Tipperary and Dublin because that’s where my mum and dad are from. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you somebody had a Cork accent until The Young Offenders and I’m sure that’s not what everyone from Cork sounds like.”
Family holidays as a child invariably included travelling to Ireland to see family there: “My mum would take us over, and we would see some of my dad’s side in Dublin and then spend a week or more in Tipperary with my grandma and my family around there. I remember going to Cork, to Kerry, Galway and Clare, all the west coast really. Big chunks of my holidays were in Ireland.
“I think I had a little Irish accent until I went to school or nursery and I was talking to other little kids from Nottingham and then you sound like your friends, don’t you? I’ve been living in London the last ten years and part of me thinks that a bit of the Nottingham has disappeared out of my accent. If I spend a weekend with my mum, I sound a little bit more Irish.”
It was early in her career that Aisling played Gemma Adams, the second victim of the Suffolk Strangler Steven Wright in the BBC’s dramatisation of the 2006 murders that took place near Ipswich. The murders featured heavily in the press both nationally and internationally: “I think it felt like it was an important take on what had been a very salaciously reported story. I was 20 or something at the time so I took it seriously, I really wanted to be good enough and not let anyone down. I think there are definitely things that are just light entertainment and then there are things that have a greater meaning. I didn’t take that fact lightly that there was a real young woman who was so tragically killed. It didn’t pass me by.”
Far Away is at the Donmar Warehouse from 6 February to 28 March. Donmarwarehouse.com