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Just like a dream

Cork actress Máiréad Tyers told David Hennessy about the Shakespeare reading that sees her working with Dan Stevens and Rebecca Hall, acting for Kenneth Branagh in Belfast and being in the ‘throes’ of finishing studies and launching a career when the pandemic bit.

The health crisis and repeated lockdowns have not stopped Máiréad Tyers from Cork getting started in the acting industry.

Although she had not even graduated from RADA when the first lockdown first came in and curtailed her classes, the young actress will be seen opposite Dan Stevens and Rebecca Hall in a rehearsed reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare directed by Jenny Caron Hall to be streamed live on 31 March.

She has also appeared in Kenneth Branagh’s forthcoming feature film starring big names such as Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciarán Hinds and Dame Judi Dench.

Máiréad told The Irish World: “I feel really lucky. It’s been really lucky what’s come my way and I feel lucky as well because a lot of it is the work that I really want to do.

“I really want to do loads of Shakespeare in my career and I want to do a lot of Irish work as well like I was able to do with Belfast.

“I feel exceptionally lucky to be doing this much in the last year when we’re in a crisis, in a pandemic. It feels great to be working.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream is such a magical and mystical play. It’s scary but hilarious at times as well. It feels really playful and joyful. I’m really excited for it and I can’t wait to do it.

“I’m playing Hermia. At the start of the play her father tells her that she has to marry one of the men, Demetrius, and unfortunately Hermia can’t be satisfied with marrying Demetrius because she’s madly in love with Lysander. So she kind of stands up in front of the whole court and says, ‘Well what are you going to do if I don’t marry Demetrius? I don’t want to marry him. What are you going to do if I don’t?’

“Basically he says to her, ‘If you don’t marry Demetrius, you will die’. So she’s given a death sentence at that point and the story goes from there for her.

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“She then runs away with Lysander into the woods and then there’s lots of mischief that happens in the woods that then turns their plans eschew so they can’t really get married as they thought they might be. It’s not as simple as they thought it would be by simply eloping and running off into the woods.

“She’s a fantastic character. There’s so much that happens to her in the play and yet she is still so strong and an exciting character to play. I can’t wait to get my teeth stuck into her now.

“Having it on zoom has its challenges but then also it’s really exciting because you need to find ways to overcome those challenges and even to use zoom in a way that is exciting and helpful.

“For example, we’ve been practising coming closer to the camera for the grittier moments, the moments where you want to capture the audience’s attention or bring them into you or almost have them leaning in towards their computer screen.

“I’m really excited for it and the fact that we’re doing it for one night only is quite exciting.

“There’s incredible people on the cast. It’s going to be very funny. It’s going to be dark at times, scary. It’s a fantastic play and it’s going to be joyful to be doing it.”

The cast includes Dan Stevens who is known for Downton Abbey and now films such as Blithe Spirit and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and Rebecca Hall who has acted in films such as The Town, Transcendence and Iron Man 3.

“Dan Stevens and Rebecca Hall know how to use that verse and how to speak it from experience. To watch them in the room and to witness them speaking so eloquently and doing it fantastically has been amazing.

“I have a few scenes with Dan and there are some times where I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m acting against these incredibly experienced actors’. And I feel so excited by that but there is a nice sense of, We are all just actors in a room’- Not literally at the moment but there is a sense of we are all just actors who have turned up to say our lines and do our work and to rehearse really well. It is a very open rehearsal room and it feels incredible to watch them but then also it feels really enjoyable to then be able to act alongside them and feel like I can work alongside people who have done incredible things. It’s nice to feel like I can measure up in some way.

“It’s all on zoom which is a shame. It would be so incredible to be actually able to meet them. You would love to have those tea breaks that you usually have in a rehearsal room where you get the opportunity to chat with different actors. You get the opportunity to just have down time with them.

“Obviously we don’t get that when you’re on zoom but it has been incredible, when I’m not in a particular scene, to sit back and watch incredible actors do their thing and learn from them.”

Máiréad had not even graduated when she impressed Kenneth Branagh. The writer/ director must have had his eyes open for talent for his forthcoming film when he joined a RADA play reading.

“Once we finished in March, we didn’t know what was going to happen. We had one more production to do with RADA and we didn’t know whether it was going to happen or not so in the meantime we did a play reading and Kenneth Branagh was actually reading one of the parts in it. At the time we never really knew why but then of course it kind of made sense that he was doing it.

“Then a few months later I got a call from my agent and a few of us had been asked to be in it to play extended family members. It’s an autobiographical story about Branagh’s life and then all of a sudden we were rushed into a film set in August time so it felt bizarre to be on a film set in the times of Covid when a week before you didn’t know you were going to be doing it. That was incredible.”

The Belfast cast includes Tony winner Brid Brennan, Artemis Fowl star Lara McDonnell and Gerard McCarthy in addition to Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan, Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe and stage and film veterans Hinds and Dench.

“I felt so lucky to be in a cast with so many of the greats who I have looked up to for my whole life: Someone like Ciaran Hinds who is just an incredible actor and has inspired me so much.

“I saw him in Translations in September 2019, it was incredible. My mam had come over to see that with me and we were so excited to see it and then it felt amazing to then have an opportunity like this.

“Then of course you have got people like Judi Dench who just walks on the scene and you just feel in awe of her. You just feel in awe of her the whole time you’re around her. It felt remarkable to watch her on the monitor when she was acting. She’s something else. She’s just like a force of nature to witness.

“You think of these people as big icons of theatre and acting but there was no sense of that on the set. Everyone was so kind. I think I expected to be intimidated or scared but I can’t tell you how comfortable I felt. Everyone was so so lovely.”

Máiréad left Ballinshassig for London and RADA in 2017 having just completed her Leaving Cert. She describes realising that acting might be a viable option for a career.

“I don’t have any particular stories that some actors would have about writing plays at the age of four but I think I’ve always had such a vast imagination and such curiosity, if not nosiness, as a child.

“I guess coming towards the end of Leaving Cert seeing people who I had gone to youth theatre with looking towards drama school I thought, ‘Oh you can actually do that’. I wasn’t very aware of that. I had never really heard of it. I started seeing people I knew going up to auditions and getting in and was thinking, ‘Oh, it is possible for someone from Cork who doesn’t have loads of experience to get up and do an audition in Dublin’. And then in a few months’ time you’re somehow in London and you’re undertaking training that you didn’t think existed a few years ago.

“I think I didn’t fully understand it or fully register what I was doing until I got here.

“Even living in London, I think it’s somewhere you always think of like the hub of everything particularly to do with theatre and to be in it and to be going to these shows and everything, it was so overwhelming at the start but I absolutely loved it. I knew it was where I wanted to be.

“I don’t think there were many other things that piqued my interest other than acting really.”

Máiréad was due to graduated RADA, the famed acting school that has produced names like Alan Rickman, Anthony Hopkins and Ralph Fiennes to name just a few, when the pandemic hit last year calling a halt to all planned productions.

“We were in the midst of shooting our short films. Some people were in the midst of a play. They were literally told half an hour before they were about to go on, ‘Right, this is your last show’. At the time they probably didn’t know it but that was their last show at RADA.

“Luckily I got home in time to spend the lockdown back home in Cork, that was on St. Patrick’s Day, 17th March last year I was able to come home.

“We were so in the throes of it. We were literally filming our short film. We were really feeling like actors. We had had agents meetings, all that kind of stuff ready to go out into the big, bad world and then it all came to a halt so quickly after that.”

Máiréad, who is based in Muswell Hill, may be enjoying the experience of the current reading but has to admit it is no substitute for live performance.

“This reading came about. Of course, we’re more than delighted to do it. It’s so incredible to be doing something.

“Boris’ announcement is really exciting in terms of what’s going to happen for theatre. I just hope soon enough it will open back up because I just think everyone is missing it so so dearly.

“We can do all the streaming of theatre shows and all the zoom readings we want but it’s just not the same as being in the room and watching live theatre in front of you and watching actors being in incredible productions. I just cannot wait for that day when it happens eventually.”

A rehearsed reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is on Wednesday 31 March 2021 at 7.30pm with tickets available here .

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