Thursday 23 November 2017

Bondings: A juggling act, with laughs

Sleep-deprived new parents Katie Kirby and David Shannon on juggling books, concerts and two babies under two

Centre stage: David Shannon, 43, and Katie Kirby, 31, met when they were both appearing in separate productions at the Gate Theatre in Dublin in 2007. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Centre stage: David Shannon, 43, and Katie Kirby, 31, met when they were both appearing in separate productions at the Gate Theatre in Dublin in 2007. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

David Shannon's first glimpse of his wife Katie Kirby was certainly from an original vantage point. Having been cast in the title role in Sweeney Todd at the Gate theatre, his opening scene required him to emerge from a trapdoor at the front of the stage. As there was no alternative entrance to it, he had to climb in 45 minutes before the performance began, which led to him whiling away the time by looking through little peepholes at the audience coming in. One day, he saw Katie in the audience, and was struck by her beauty.

They were introduced at the bar afterwards, and it transpired that Katie was just about to take a role in the Gate's production of Noel Coward's Private Lives. David managed to wangle Katie's number from a colleague and texted to asked her out.

Alas, he says, she turned him down. "I didn't say no, I asked for a rain check because I was already going out that weekend," she protests, while David argues that as she didn't suggest an alternative date, she was essentially saying 'thanks but no thanks.' "When I saw David at the bar, he looked shy and aloof, which was quite attractive to me, but he had a really good personality too. The first time I saw him was on stage playing a psychopath, but it was a phenomenal show. In this business, if someone is good at what they do, it's very attractive."

Shortly afterwards, Katie and David got invited to a party at theatre impresario Michael Colgan's house, and ended up drinking wine and chatting for the night. Five minutes after she left in a cab to go home, he texted and asked her out again. "She said yes this time," says David, who is 43 while Katie is 31. "I thought she was gorgeous and very smart. Katie is an old soul, because although she's a good bit younger than me, she's wise beyond her years. I was very excited when she started writing books because I love reading her work."

A successful stage and screen actress, and now newly-published author, Katie is the youngest of Bridget and Larry Kirby's four children. Her family moved to New York when she was five as her dad got a job in property management there. She came back to Dublin to embark on her secondary education, and then attended the Gaiety School of Acting from 2002-4. "It was always acting for me, to my mother's despair," she says. "The course is intense but I did well out of it, and got a lot of theatre roles here and some film and television work too, including The Clinic, Raw, and Boy Eats Girl."

David has an older sister Karen, and is from Bishop's Stortford outside London. His family moved to Bettystown when he was five after his dad Ron, a perfumer, moved to the Irish branch of International Flavours and Fragrances in Drogheda. David's mum Pam loved to sing, and David has a wonderful, natural voice. He thought he might go on to art college, but then auditioned for Les Miserables when it came to the Point theatre (now the 3Arena) in 1993, and was cast. He moved to London and had a prolific career in the West End for years, and also did stints in Germany and the US before returning to Dublin for the Gate production. "I had never had voice training before Les Mis, although I've been to a singing teacher since then," he says.

After they started dating, David and Katie moved to London in 2008, as he was invited to play the lead, Jean Valjean, in Les Miserables, followed by Phantom in Phantom of the Opera. Katie did a lot of writing, as the recession had hit the acting industry and times were tough. They got engaged in 2009 in France, outside the Louvre, as Katie is an art-lover. They stayed in a gorgeous guest house called Le Mas des Gres, and loved it so much they held their wedding there a year later, with 20 of their closest friends and family members present.

Katie and David moved to their beloved France for a year and then went to New York. In a lovely coincidence, they ended up living in the same building on the Hudson river that her family had lived in years earlier. Soon after that, Katie got pregnant and David was offered a job at the Gate, so that brought them back to Ireland where Bee Daisy was born in August 2013. She has since been joined by baby sister, Vivienne Rose, who is six weeks old.

"It was just nice being home, and we really wanted our kids to be schooled here because the education is so good," says Katie. "We live in Sandycove and are currently sleep-deprived because Vivienne has colic, but parenthood is great and I think we make a really good team. It's challenging, because everything shifts a bit, but so rewarding."

While David did a film in New York, and will perform with Jacinta Whyte and the RTE Concert Orchestra in The Magical West End! on Friday August 7 at the National Concert Hall, he will also do some of his own shows around the country later this year (details on

Katie has just published her first novel, a lovely e-book called Could It Be You? She wrote it after baby Bee was born, and it's about a woman, Rachel King, who is in her 30s and has a perfume business. Rachel has recently separated from her cheating husband and moved in with her parents, and the book centres on her getting her life back together. "An independent book company in the UK took it on, and the reaction has been really positive," she says. "I have had some amazing reviews."

Between writing, acting, auditioning and voice-over work for Katie, and David's concert work here and abroad, family life with two under two is a juggling act, but they love it. "We make each other laugh a lot, as we have a silly sense of humour, and we even find humour in our sleep-deprived state," says David. "We're good at apologising if we snap when tired. You realise you're not the most important thing in the relationship any more, so you have to think ahead and take a step back and not take things so seriously when it gets hard."

Katie Kirby's debut novel, Could It Be You?, is available from (Endeavour Press, €4.27).

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