Friday 24 November 2017

Stage: Home fires burn bright as happy Gilmore rises

Wicked fun: Gilmore as the wildly romantic 21-year-old travel agent Debbie in her new show for the Fringe Festival
Wicked fun: Gilmore as the wildly romantic 21-year-old travel agent Debbie in her new show for the Fringe Festival

Maggie Armstrong

She has flaming red hair, bee-stung lips and a voice like a foghorn. She can act, she can sing, she can dance and now, it turns out, she can write. Kate Gilmore is on fire.

Gilmore is one of four acts putting up a 'Show in the Bag' at the Tiger Dublin Fringe in two days' time. These small shows are devised by new writers. Fishamble: The New Play Company - and recent Olivier Award winner - puts dramaturgical shape on the writing and the idea is that after the Fringe, the shows can be packed up and toured. A number already have, including Dublin Oldschool, Swing and The Wheelchair on my Face.

A Fringe set-piece which is ever entertaining, 'Show in a Bag' this year gives us an Irish wake, Irish dancing, a new take on an Oscar Wilde, and Gilmore's bubbling monologue.

The Wickedness of Oz is about Debbie, a wildly romantic 21-year-old travel agent who wakes up with a Malibu hangover. Debbie is a working-class girl, a type Gilmore does most excellently.

This year alone, she was a fiery-tongued 1970s gal travelling to Belfast to buy condoms in The Train, and a pregnant and broke young woman in an inner-city flat in Town is Dead. Previously, in Breathless, she was working class and murdered by a lover - at 21, the part won her an Irish Times Irish Theatre award for Best Supporting Actress.

Has she been typecast? Yes, and she is proud.

"As an actor, you know what you are good at, you know your little tricks," she says. "I always relish playing against type, but I also appreciate the opportunities I've had to tell stories of the working-class. I've really been honoured to be the person to tell those stories. Because that's where my family are from. They have never really seen their stories reflected back at them because they haven't been to the theatre, unless I bring them."

The actress, now 23, grew up around Church Street in north Dublin where her sprawling family still live. While no one in her family is a performer, in a sense everyone is, says Gilmore. They are "complete characters".

"When they're arguing, catching up, talking about something on the telly - everything is huge, it's 'hewage'. When there's a party, everyone is singing, even if they can't sing, it doesn't matter, everyone sings, and it's Irish ballads, everyone will get involved. My dad's always been saying to me, it's a play in itself, and I should write it."

Her dad, Thomas, who plays Johnny Cash songs on the guitar, gave his daughter a piece of advice for her singing: "Tell the story of the song, rather than trying to sound nice."

An only child, Gilmore always knew she wanted to act. "It's something in you, it's subconscious, you kinda know without knowing." She also knew she wouldn't be able to sit around waiting for work, so when she graduated from The Gaiety School of Acting three years ago, she co-founded The Cup Theatre Company. They found "a kind of haven" in Karl Shiels' Theatre Upstairs.

"We would write and devise shows and put them on very quickly. Some of them were absolutely ramshackle. Reviewers would come in and absolutely savage us. But that was what we wanted, so we would start again and fail better. We didn't feel like we had a lot to lose."

Gilmore has always combined acting with creating her own work. "It's so important, because most of the time, as an actor, your career is not in your own control. You're waiting for a phone to ring. The best feeling in the world is to get that call saying you got the job. It's this feeling of pure elevation for about five minutes, and then you're thinking, oh my God, this job only lasts two months.

"You're wondering, what if this is it? You could have people saying, 'What happened to that girl, remember that girl who was busy for a while, where did she end up?'"

And so when she was cast in Town is Dead as part of the Abbey's programme for 2016, Gilmore started writing The Wickedness of Oz. When Town is Dead opened, she spent every day from 10am to 6pm in the writers' lounge of the Fringe offices, writing: "I just got it all out."

Just three months later, we have a Fringe show and a new departure for Gilmore. "This is the first time I've written the whole show, and I'm going to be in the show by myself."

Far from being nervous about this fact, she feels "freed" by it. "There's no one on stage relying on you, there's just yourself and the audience. You're not responsible for the other actors and they're not responsible for you. In an ensemble, everyone is there for everyone else. If you mess up, you feel so guilty.

"This feels very freeing. If people hate it, then, well, it's just me. It's all on me," she says.

"Of course, it's terrifying as well. It's very exposing. Not only do you have to get up and perform it every night, but the stories entwined in it are your stories. It's a very personal thing to do."

'Show in a Bag' runs September 12-24 at Bewley's Café Theatre. See

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