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Liz FitzGibbon: ‘Laughs are a driving force – they’re like another character in a comedy’

The actress on performing again for a live audience as well as a live stream in the new Abbey Theatre production One Good Turn

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‘I’d love to do an Enda Walsh play’: Liz FitzGibbon at the Abbey Theatre. Photo by Frank McGrath

‘I’d love to do an Enda Walsh play’: Liz FitzGibbon at the Abbey Theatre. Photo by Frank McGrath

Liz FitzGibbon at the Abbey Theatre. Photo by Frank McGrath

Liz FitzGibbon at the Abbey Theatre. Photo by Frank McGrath

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‘I’d love to do an Enda Walsh play’: Liz FitzGibbon at the Abbey Theatre. Photo by Frank McGrath

As the Covid crisis was brewing in early 2020, Liz FitzGibbon was filming Frank of Ireland for Amazon and Channel 4 with Brian and Domhnall Gleeson. The shoot was closed down a couple of weeks early. She retreated to Youghal for the lockdown where her parents run Aherne’s, a seafood restaurant and hotel. The Co Cork village is by the sea, and returning to the family home made sense.

Then, nothing and lots started to happen. She won the Irish Times Irish Theatre Award for best supporting actress for her part in the gritty urban drama Dublin Will Show You How, produced by the Abbey Theatre and The Complex. “I was so delighted to be recognised, especially for that role; it was a difficult part but I put a lot into it,” she tells Review. She talks about the outpouring of congratulations she received from colleagues. “I never thought winning an award would mean much, but it meant a lot.”

The TV series Normal People soon came out, where she played a small but significant part as the hot school teacher, Miss Neary. “Being part of something to which the reaction was so mindboggling was insane,” she says. “It was on the radio, it was all over the place. I was having these things come to fruition but being in lockdown, I was not able to go for a drink to celebrate, or to meet anyone to talk about it all.”

The Frank of Ireland television shoot reconvened last September, with cast and crew tested for Covid every three days. The series came to TV screens in April. “I didn’t get to work that much during the pandemic, but it was a good year career-wise for me,” FitzGibbon reflects.

Otherwise during the lockdown she took the time to qualify as a yoga teacher and spent time with her parents. There is no tradition of performing or acting in her family but, according to her mother, she declared her acting ambitions at the age of four. The fact that her parents are hoteliers is the most “performative element” in her background. She describes them as big personalities, and great for a sing song: “They kept the business going through dark times, through the recession, and through the last year.”

She started working in the business when she was 10, helping with housekeeping for pocket money. “When I go home I can definitely be pulled in behind the bar. I try not to, but if they’re stuck I clean a few glasses.”

Right now, she is in the rehearsal room for the Abbey’s new play One Good Turn by Una McKevitt. Word has recently filtered through that the show will be able to have a live audience as well as the live stream, and the company is delighted. Especially because it is a funny play. “The laughs are a driving force; they are like another character in a comedy. You want everybody at home to enjoy it, but you also want to play to the house.”

One Good Turn is a contemporary story about a family coping with a terminally ill parent. FitzGibbon plays Fiona, one of two daughters in their thirties who return to the family home and start “acting like teenagers, which might have happened to quite a few families last year,” she says. “They are loving but quite dysfunctional and aren’t very good at articulating how they are feeling.”

Fiona is an introvert who hates her job in an insurance company and is figuring out what she wants to do. FitzGibbon’s acting range is wide. Last year’s award was for a serious performance, but “my more natural instinct would be the comedy side of things”.

So, if she could fantasy self-cast, what part would she like to play? “Theatre wise, I’d love to do an Enda Walsh play. In TV or film I’d love to do some fantasy CGI warrior woman type thing, where you have to train hard [she has done competitive kick-boxing] and you are battered and bruised. I’d love to do something really physical, set in a fantastical world — that’d be pretty cool. But right now, I’m just happy to be back in the rehearsal room, to be actually working face to face with other humans, not over Zoom. It just feels like the biggest luxury ever.”

There will be live performances of ‘One Good Turn’ from June 21–26. On demand until July 10

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