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Maria McDermottroe's dark and poetic journey

I had tea with the noted character actress Maria McDermottroe the other week at her home in Dun Laoghaire where she told me about her current project, Baglady, which is winding down after two years.

Originally written by her good friend Frank McGuinness for her Glenroe co-star, Maureen Toal, it is a dark and poetic journey into the traumatised thoughts of a victim of incestuous abuse.

"We have heard about the abuse that occurred within institutions," she tells me. "But the amount of abuse that goes on within families doesn't bear thinking about." Such victims have approached her, post-show, to share their stories.

"I just let them talk," she says. "I can see they're in a lot of pain there and they just want to vocalise it to me."

It's a different kind of attention than the actress is used to getting from when she played home-wrecking Venetia Crosby for six years on Glenroe.

"I may have been the envy of every middle-aged woman in Ireland (for her on-screen dalliances with Emmet Bergin) but I would regularly be accosted by little old ladies calling me a tramp and a harlot," she laughs, "and one time by a former schoolmate who couldn't divorce my character from my reality."

Heads turned in a different way when, in the late Seventies, she became the first woman to appear naked on the Irish stage in Hilton Edward's production of Equus, prompting walkouts, letters from her parish priest and the attention of the man who was to become her husband, John Costigan, now executive director of the Gaiety Theatre.

"All this and it was lit so you couldn't even tell if I was blonde or brunette," she recalls, wryly.

Her daughter, Gina, is following in her footsteps. Does she worry about her?

"With this industry you're always up and down. I remember in the Eighties going down to the dole office and Ingrid Craigie was before me in the queue. And she turned to me and said, 'This week the dole, next week Hollywood'. And she was right. The next week we jetted to LA to work with John Huston on The Dead."

Baglady, May 9, Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar; May 12, Aras Eanna Inis Oirr, Aran Islands, 8pm.

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