David Hennessy spoke to Rachael Rooney and Eoin McAndrew, the star and playwright of a new Irish play coming to the London stage.
The first full-scale staging of a darkly comic Irish play comes to Omnibus Theatre in Clapham this week.
The Girl Who Was Very Good At Lying tells the story of Catriona, a girl from a small town in Northern Ireland who lives in a dream world and is very, very good at spinning lies.
When she meets an attractive American tourist, she decides to show him around but to keep him entertained, she has to blur the line between fact and fiction.
Soon, she is regaling him with stories of cannibalism, ghostly statues, and the largest ever orgy held in Ireland on consecrated ground.
Fay Lomas, who won the Inaugural Peter Hall Emerging Artist Fellowship Award at the Rose Theatre, Kingston in 2019, and is Artistic Director of Jump Spark Theatre, directs Rachael Rooney in the award-nominated one woman play by Eoin McAndrew who comes from the Lisburn area.
Rachael plays Catriona, the American tourist and the other characters that pop up in the course of the story.
Rachael, from Warrenpoint told The Irish World: “It’s just me.
“I’ve always been very good at men’s voices, so for once it’s come in quite handy.
“Working to create chemistry with yourself is definitely a new thing that I’ve been facing as an actor with this but it’s actually a lot more fun than I thought it would be.
“The character is so alive and well written that it’s not the most difficult job in the world for me to imagine what he’d be like. He’s there on paper and I find it fun to bring him to life and naturally there is a chemistry between the two because of the way the text flows. It’s all sort of there for me to just play with.”
The play had an award-nominated short run as part of Jermyn Street Theatre’s Footprints Festival.
Playwright Eoin McAndrew says: “There’s no one else who could do it.
“Rachael’s playing six other characters as well. She’s multi-rolling. It’s a 60 page script. She’s performing all of that very, very, very quickly and it just wouldn’t work without the right actor.
“It’s not even that it wouldn’t work. Without the perfect actor for the part, there’s just nothing there.
“So that is a huge undertaking for her but it’s also really reassuring for me and the director Fay that we have got the right person for this. That it completely works.”
Rachael explains that while it may take the audience a little time they end up on Catriona’s side: “With the tone and pace it starts off with, I think it might take people five minutes to adjust to Catriona as a human being.
“I think it starts off with a bit of confusion and then you can really feel when the audience are on her side.
“I think the whole show is a battle: People are confused as to whether they want to support Catriona and then completely on board with her.
“Then it’s hard not being able to do anything for her when she’s having some horrible things happen and having to watch.
“The audience is my cast member, I do play off them a lot.
“It also means that by the end of the show they feel so intrinsically a part of it and I’m constantly addressing them as my as my friends and taking them along in this story and it does change every night.
“If you saw it two times, it probably wouldn’t be the same.
“When they can’t do anything for me by the end of it, I think there’s definitely a guilt and a helplessness and confusion for them.
“All my friends who came to see it said they wanted to jump out of the seat and sort of fix what was happening on the stage because they’ve been made to feel so responsible for Catriona’s story the whole way through and the next thing they’re starting to be shut out slightly.
“I think that’s incredibly moving for them.”
From start to finish the play shifts gears several times on account of the range of Catriona’s stories that can be anything from fantastical or whimsical to dark and horrifying.
Eoin adds: “I really like the character as Rachael plays it.
“I like to write little weirdos.
“And I really feel like Catriona is like, I mean it in the nicest way, a little strange person.
“As she lies and tells these stories, they kind of shift genre which is quite fun.
“Some of them are a bit action-y, some are a bit more horror, others are like erotic fiction.
“And I kind of feel like the fun is shifting those modes and shifting genres.”
Rachael says: “It’s like a bit of everything.
“Everything you could imagine has been is living in Catriona’s brain and she uses all of it to summon up these incredible stories to get people interested in her life.
“Because unfortunately I feel like she thinks she’s only worthy of people’s time if she can make herself interesting enough for them to be around.
“And who knows if that is enough?
“There’s a big loneliness that I think is inside of Catriona and it’s constant work to fill it up with anything she can find as long as she doesn’t have to feel that massive void of nothingness that can exist in all of us when we’re a bit sad.
“Catriona’s especially lonely. Her day-to-day life doesn’t change and has a very strict routine and I think she escapes with these stories.”
Among the different characters that Rachael takes on in the play are an Irish mammy, a cool girl from school as well as the American tourist and his wife.
Is it a challenge to become so many different people when she doesn’t change her appearance? “Absolutely but then I feel as Irish people, we tend to do that anyway when we’re telling stories to our mates down the pub.
“So I feel like I’ve always been doing that. It’s just that this is the first time I’ve managed to wrangle myself into a role where I can use that skill.”
Does Rachael miss having the support of a cast though? “There’s nothing better as an actor than being in a cast and that experience.
“But I have to say I’m really uniquely enjoying this experience.
“I would say I miss having a cast five minutes before I go on.
“I’m sitting on my own in our dressing room knowing what I’m about to do. It would be quite nice to sort of have someone else to air those nerves with.
“But apart from that, funnily enough, I don’t miss a cast, because I feel like I have a little cast with the writer and director and everyone else involved with it. So that’s been lovely, really lovely.”
The idea for the play came to Eoin from the fascination and lack of knowledge people outside Ireland have for the place.
“Although we’re generally well liked internationally and people are interested in Irish culture, people don’t know all that much about it which is quite a fun or strange position.
“Americans particularly generally think they like the Irish and want to chat about those kind of things, but they maybe don’t know much about the culture.
“When I was younger and moved to England, I kind of felt very aware, ‘Oh, I have a thing here which people are interested in that I didn’t have back home. People are asking about what my home is like..’ And I kind of feel like this is like a super-exaggerated version of that.
“I just wanted to write something that was about someone with an unconventional superpower or a skill that is not particularly well thought of.
“It kind of started off with a really short piece about an unreliable tour guide and it kind of kept growing from there.”
An actor as well as a writer, Eoin has been in London for five years now and studied acting at Central School of Speech and Drama.
He is currently a member of the Royal Court’s International Playwriting Group and the BBC Comedy Writers’ Room.
His writing credits include Living Newspaper, Internet Boy (1999-Present) (Royal Court Theatre) and Quick Comedies for BBC Radio Ulster.
As a performer, his credits include Cream Tea and Incest (Hope/Edinburgh Festival Fringe), Black Fate, Rotten States and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Get Out Of My Space Productions).
Could he not have made it The Boy Who Was Very Good at Lying as a vehicle for himself to star in?
“I think everyone should be really grateful that I didn’t.
“I think that I’ve done the world a service by not acting in it.”
Rachael adds: “When I first read the script, what stood out to me was he has managed to find his way into the mind of an Irish girl in her teens or early 20s from a small town.
“I say it time and time again.
“I don’t know how he’s done it. Anyone that has seen the show has said he has managed to get his way into her brain so well.
“I still don’t understand how he’s done it but I’m glad he has.”
Rachael came to London at the age of eighteen to study acting at the Rose Bruford College. Now turning 25, her theatre credits include The Fourth Country (Plain Heroines/ VAULT Festival), The Assistants (Actors’ Centre), Better Days (Do Well Theatre), Macbeth (Sam Wanamaker Festival) and Dig for Love (LUNG Theatre).
It has been a hard time for creative people but Eoin and the team felt that returning with a one-woman show was one way of making sure they stayed Covid-safe.
Rachael says: “This is my first show back and what a show to come back with: A one woman show, an hour and a bit of me talking non-stop really sort of exercising the memory muscles after being off for a year was definitely the scariest thing to come back to.
“And then we did the Jermyn Street Theatre, and it went well, and I didn’t die and I was like, ‘There we go, We’re back’.
The Girl Who Was Very Good at Lying runs at Omnibus Theatre in Clapham until 21 November.
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