Home Lifestyle Entertainment Full Mettle jacket

Full Mettle jacket

Genevieve O’Reilly pictured during rehearsals. All pictures: Helen Murray.

Genevieve O’Reilly told David Hennessy about her new play that tackles the climate crisis and NHS resources, when the show was shut down in March last year when Covid first hit and how thought theatre may not recover from the pandemic.

“It’s quite extraordinary being back in a theatre,” the Irish actress Genevieve O’Reilly told The Irish World as she rehearses Rare Earth Mettle by Al Smith at the Royal Court Theatre in London.

Opening this week, it is the world premiere of a new play that ponders the biggest issue of the day- one that can even put Covid-19 in the shade- climate change, just as world leaders have been speaking about the very topic at COP-26.

Rare Earth Mettle is inspired by the Lithium Triangle in the Andes and is a multi-stranded, multi-character, continent-hopping drama that centres on the Bolivian salt flats but encompasses numerous plotlines and locations.

“It’s quite an extraordinary play. It is so ambitious in its ideas.

“The ideas are so big, and he’s so bold and brave as a playwright to be wrestling with all these ideas within one piece.

“It crosses continents and cultures. It is cultures in conflict, but also ideas in conflict.

“It’s a really, really brave piece.

“It’s been fascinating to be part of it.”

Rare Earth Mettle stars Arthur Davill, well known from his roles in Doctor Who and the original London and Broadway productions of the musical Once, as Henry Finn, a billionaire who believes he can save the world by building electric cars.

- Advertisement -

However Genevieve’s character and the indigenous communities who will be affected have other ideas.

“Obviously, it’s set on a salt plant in Bolivia.

“Henry is like an Elon Musk character.

“The extraordinary Arthur Darvill is playing him. And he’s very funny and it’s exactly what you want that huge character of that billionaire to be.

“I play Anna, she’s a doctor. She’s passionate about the NHS and about plugging holes in the NHS to keep it thriving.

“My character is really looking for ideas, genuinely actively looking for solutions to plug holes in the NHS, and sees lithium as a way to reduce the amount of hospital resources that are taken up with the pandemic of mental illness that is rife within our culture.

“So she’s looking to save healthcare for the 17 million people in this country. He wants to use the lithium to power electric vehicles to save the planet.

“It’s interesting. Arthur’s character Henry’s so forward thinking. He’s always looking forward. He’s always looking to invent, to create, to invent solutions, to invent something new, to find something new that will solve it for the planet.

“Anna is very passionate about what we have achieved so far, particularly in regard to the NHS and protecting it and caring for it and taking it with us as we move forward.

“But she is much more nostalgic in her views about what we have achieved in the past whereas he has no time for that.

“So it’s intensely dramatic, just the personalities of these characters and what drives them and whether there is any altruism in it at all.

“And there is the indigenous character in Bolivia and his communities.

“Carlo Albán plays Kimsa. It’s his home. Under his very feet  and under his very home is this valuable kind of ‘rare earth mettle’ that these people are fighting over.

“So it’s an interesting conversation about post- colonial capitalism and our ideas and how we as humans right now- when this Cop26 is happening- create our way out of this existential threat of our climate crisis that we are contributing to ourselves with our own behaviour.

“How do we change behaviour? Can we change behaviour? Or do we just look for new ideas?

“We are in a bit of a pressure cooker situation right now and I think this play really bravely acknowledges it and is wrestling with it.”

While it addresses a serious topics, Rare Earth Mettle does not want to be a lecture and Genevieve is quick to point out it is also very entertaining and humorous.

“It’s also very funny. I feel like I should say that.

“He (Al) is so fiercely intelligent and really sharp.

“He is a joy to be around. He clearly enjoys laughing and finding jokes and he certainly puts that in the piece.

“His writing is so witty and so clever although the ideas are kind of quite huge.

“His writing, along with Hamish (Pirie)’s direction, really allow for some levity within the ideas which is great.

“It’s great to play and I think it will be great for audiences to see.”

Genevieve is well known from her work in television that includes Episodes, Three Families, Tin Star, The Secret, The Fall and The Honourable Woman.

She also played Princess Diana in the TV movie, Diana: Last Days of a Princess.

Arthur Darvill and Genevieve.

She has starred in many London theatre production as well as work at the Gate in Dubin and with Sydney Theatre Company.

However, the last time she was onstage was also with a production that started at the Royal Court.

Genevieve played Mary Carney in Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman.

Directed by Sam Mendes with a cast that included Brid Brenndan, Dearbhla Molloy, Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly, the play had its world premiere in 2017 before it transferred to the West End and then Broadway winning three Evening Standard Theatre Awards, two Olivier Awards and four Tony Awards.


Had it not been for the pandemic, she would have been back at the Royal Court sooner as she and the cast were rehearsing Rare Earth Mettle before Covid-19 scuppered the plans to put it on last year.

“I was coming back. We were rehearsing this. We had started rehearsals for this in March 2020.

“We were in the rehearsal room, sitting around the table discussing this play.

“In fact, we had started rehearsing the piece.

“And I remember Vicky Featherstone (Artistic Director of the Royal Court Theatre) coming into our rehearsal room- This was at least maybe a week, perhaps a week and a half before Boris Johnson shut down.

“She came in and she said, ‘My first interest is the safety of the people working here. So we’re going to stop this, we’re going to shut down’.

“It was such an emotional day and I am ever grateful for Vicky Featherstone: Her leadership, her bravery, how they as a company looked after us all in that time when there wasn’t a lot of great leadership.

“They stood up and they said, ‘Okay, let’s down tools and protect everybody and let everybody go home.

“So it feels quite extraordinary to be back here, doing this play 18 or 19 months later, or whatever it is.”

Genevieve admits there were times in those months that she didn’t see the play coming back at all.

“I didn’t see us getting back to it.

“Because I didn’t know how theatre could come back.

“Of all the media, theatre seemed to be the one that was the hardest because theatre is a communal experience.

“Theatre is a space where people gather and it’s the gathering in a space that makes the piece so special, because it’s that ephemeral nature of theatre, that idea that it only exists for this moment that we can share it together.

“Because what we couldn’t do was gather so I was a bit afraid. I didn’t know how it would come back.

“So I’m just terribly grateful for theatre, for all the measures that they’re taking, the safety protocols that they have in place, and also the generosity of audiences to come.

I can’t quite imagine what it’s going to be like to stand on that stage and see people in those seats.

“I imagine it as a great act of generosity, and I’m really, really, terribly looking forward to sharing it.”

As theatres have reopened, you may have expected them to play it safe with the productions they put on but that is not the case with Rare Earth Mettle.

“It is highly ambitious and it is unafraid. It is fearless to actually put this on at this present moment because we’re in the midst of this and it feels like, certainly for us here, that we’re coming into winter and that we’re circling back around again, doesn’t it?

Genevieve as Princess Diana.

“I think there’s the idea that perhaps everything that’s on might just be shiny, shiny: Lots of musicals in the West End and lots of things to make us feel better because we’re aching for it.

“But I think what’s really brave about this right now in its ambition is to wrestle with these big ideas.

“And also this theatre willing to put it on and to create conversation, which is, I think, the point of theatre: To create cultural conversation.”

The last year has been hard for Genevieve who did a lot of her growing up in Adelaide, Australia where much of her family is based.

“I haven’t been back to Ireland or Australia, haven’t seen any family.

“We’ve been quite careful. I am hopefully, fingers crossed, going back to Ireland for Christmas.

“I don’t know but I have everything crossed that I’m going to have Christmas with my cousins and my kids are going to see their cousins.

“So that would be amazing if that can happen.

“I have everything crossed that can happen.

“I’m very fortunate to have my husband and my children.

“I think last Christmas, we were just grateful that no one close to us had died. So it put everything in perspective last year.


“We had plenty to be grateful for.

“That was the way we approached it all.

“But I do ache to see family again so I’m looking forward to finding ways to make that happen, hopefully having an opportunity soon.

“As for as my mum and dad and my sisters and brothers in Australia, that’s a different conversation.

“Obviously, like everybody who has family internationally, it’s been quite a difficult time.”

Although written long before Covid was even a thing, it seems to have taken on a whole new meaning due to the events of the last year.

“It’s quite extraordinary how prescient this play is given that it was written to be performed before the pandemic.

“It’s almost even more relevant now than it was then.

“And that is quite extraordinary in a piece of writing because things can date easily.

“This has all somehow, through the pandemic, become even more relevant.”

It is the big question that has been asked many times over recent weeks, Can we change for the good of the planet before it is too late?

“’Can we change?’ is the big question. It’s a big question.

“I’m eternally optimistic. I’m an optimistic person and I do believe in people.

“The play throws up questions about that.

“Obviously, not everyone is as optimistic as I am but I think people are eager to change. I think people are eager to make a difference.

“I hope we just continue to converse with each other and inspire each other. Talk, have the conversation, create the conversations because it is in these conversations that we know that we are not alone.

“We can make great efforts together, I think.”

Rare Earth Mettle by Al Smith runs at the Royal Court Theatre’s Jerwood Theatre Downstairs Wednesday 10 November– Saturday 18 December.

For more information, click here.

- Advertisement -