Life Learning

Thursday 18 September 2014

Sive explored

Roisin O'Neill

Published 28/03/2014 | 02:30

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Roisin O’Neill and Daniel Reardon in the Abbey Theatre’s production of ‘Sive
Róisín O’Neill plays the title role in a new production of 'Sive'

It was October when my agent told me that the Abbey Theatre was auditioning for 'Sive'. I was really excited about the prospect of auditioning for both the National Theatre of Ireland and the first play by one of Ireland's best-loved playwrights (and publicans!). I had to borrow a copy of the play from a friend as it had been years since I last read it.

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I read the play cover to cover one night in my sitting room and, while reading the last scene, I could barely see with the tears in my eyes.

For the audition, we had been asked to prepare an Irish monologue which would be suitable. I chose a piece from 'What Happened Bridgie Cleary' by Tom MacIntyre. But our wonderful director Conall Morrison must have disliked my choice because he asked me if I had anything else.

Trying to hide my panic, I did the only other Irish monologue I could remember in full, Runt's monologue from 'Disco Pigs' by Enda Walsh. Runt's monologue really wasn't the most suitable choice and I thought that would be the end of it. But, somehow, I was called back another three times before I finally got the call to say I had the part.

In some respects, my approach to the part might sound quite simple. I rely on the text to tell me how I am feeling by using the punctuation, the language and the stage directions as a guide. John B Keane has written it all for us. I understand this might sound restricting, but in fact it's liberating. You know where your character is emotionally at every point of the play. It's my job to colour that in and to breathe my own ideas and life into it.

Since starting the rehearsal process, many people have asked me "how can you relate to the character of Sive?" I understand their curiosity. Sive is growing up in a very different world to the one you and I live in today. They probably didn't even have their own radio in the house. Imagine the quiet, and all the time you would have to think. In the end, Sive has spent so much of her time alone in her room, thinking of what awaits her and it is all too much for her to handle.

But I can relate to the character of Sive for many different reasons. At the beginning of the play, she is on the cusp of womanhood. The big question that Sive wants to ask is what happened to her parents. We all reach an age when we want to be treated like equals. We no longer want to be cajoled and protected. Sive needs to know her own truth. It's all about coming of age, a theme I think we can all relate too.

Sive is also full of anticipation and excitement in the beginning, everyone feels like they will marry their first love, their Liam Scuab. She also has the possibility of going on to further her education and finally leave the misery of her own home behind. Although I didn't have a miserable home life, I know what it feels like to be ready to move on and try to be on your own.

Finally, I can relate to the feeling of betrayal that Sive feels when Mena tells her that Liam wished her "joy and plenty" on her wedding day. At this stage, Sive feels she has been abandoned by her parents, by Liam, and worst of all by her Uncle Mike, the man who was like a father to her. The abandonment and the thought of what lies ahead of her (marrying Séan Dóta) leaves Sive feeling helpless and terrified.

Unfortunately, in the 1950s in Ireland, there was no helpline to call, no online support forum. Also, to make matters worse, women were not treated equally and there would have been very little help for Sive had she sought it from the authorities.

These themes are very much alive in our own personal worlds, and, although I am living an entirely different life, I can relate to all the emotions that Sive feels. Everything else is created by the play.

Róisín O'Neill plays the title role in a new production of 'Sive' currently on stage at the Abbey Theatre. www.abbeytheatre.ie

Irish Independent Supplement

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