Cabaret makes life rosy for Anne again
"I think when you've been sick you really fight to get back to where you were and you remember the life that stopped for you," says Anne Lillis, whose blossoming comedy career came to a grinding halt when doctors discovered she had a brain tumour at the age of 25.
Now, having turned her life around, Anne's cabaret show, in which she performs as Rose Lawless, opens in the New Theatre in Dublin's Temple Bar tomorrow night.
"When things are falling apart, you don't know how things are going to come together again," she explains. Anne, who had her own comedy show in Edinburgh and reached semi-finals in comic competitions, tried to return to the "serious business" of comedy after her operation but it "didn't really work", nor did giving it up "completely".
Anne was then asked by the Focus Theatre to do one show a week, which became very successful and went on to win Best Show at the Spiegeltent in 2005. This opened many doors for her and it's "where Rose Lawless was born".
Her own show, where she performs cabaret, burlesque and comedy, was born when the troop from the Spiegeltent finally disbanded. The new show, which uses "dirty songs and political satire" to say things "you're not really supposed to say in daylight", runs for six nights in total.
Meditation became a part of Anne's recovery process and it's also how she made contacts such as artist Pauline Bewick and publisher Noelle Campbell-Sharp. Anne has performed at two of Pauline's exhibition launches and Noelle asked her to sing at her daughter's 40th birthday in a "beautiful old castle" in England. Through these connections, she was asked to perform at gigs, gallery openings and the Electric Picnic.
The daughter of a diplomat, Anne lived in America until she was seven, and spent her formative years surrounded by "lots of culture".
"My parents were both avidly into literature and I think comedy for me was a sort of rebellion against that; it wasn't about knowing who wrote what," says Anne.
Her cabaret character, Rose Lawless, is also a diplomat's daughter but she says "she's totally different from her". Anne describes herself as "quiet" whereas Rose is "brash and defiles the sacred cows".
When Anne arrived in Ireland at the age of seven she met "full-blown Catholicism and single-sex schools for the first time". She found the school system "horrendous". In America the students were told how "wonderful" they were but here she was asked, "who do you think you are?"
All of Anne's experiences combined, from Irish boarding school to male-dominated comedy circuits and brain surgery to meeting her Russian partner, have contributed to the character Rose Lawless. Her two sisters, an accountant and a lawyer, have followed professional routes, but for Anne she feels her current path is what's "right" for her.
"All I know is that I have enough motivation and enough people asking me to do things to keep going."
'Christmas Cabaret Week' with Rose Lawless opens tomorrow night at the The New Theatre and runs until December 22. www.roselawless.com