Friday 19 October 2018

On the long hard road of acting for forty years

Druid co-founder Marie Mullen talks about her Sligo background; the importance of her family, her craft and Irish playwrights

West of Ireland actress, Marie Mullen lives in Dublin, "for ease of getting jobs, or going for auditions - we can jump on a plane to London, as my husband, Sean McGinley, is an actor too."

The couple met in 1977 and married in 1990; Marie had asked Sean to audition for a part in a play by Druid - the Galway-based theatre company founded in 1975 by Marie, Mick Lally and Garry Hynes.

Marie is from Drumfin in south Sligo. The eldest of nine, she won a scholarship to boarding school in Mayo and from there she went onto study arts in NUI Galway, where she met fellow archaeology student, Garry Hynes. With Mick Lally, the three went onto to found the Druid Theatre Company.

"My mother still lives in the homeplace. She is a wonderful woman and is 91 this year. We all appreciate her so much. She reared us all, six girls and three boys. My father passed away over thirty years ago.

"He worked for P&T in Sligo [Post & Telegraphs, now Eircom] and we had a bit of land as well. Family is very important to me.

"My parents were always very supportive, but were bit worried at the start, when Druid started, none of us thought it would last this long."

"Two of my sisters, Vera and Anne are nurses in Sligo General and my sister-in-law works in the Oconology department. My brother, Padraig works in Sligo town.

"They all live near my mother. The oldest brother died a few years ago and the youngest emigrated to Australia and I have a sister in Saudi Arabia.

"They are all very dear to me. We visit Drumfin at the holidays and every Christmas. My girls grew up surrounded by their cousins."

"My oldest daughter, Roisin is 23 and is studying history in TCD and my youngest girl, Mairead is eighteen and has just started her Leaving Cert."

Marie described the ever-changing dynamics of living with another actor; "they know the angst of this profession. The insecurity of work and they understand the focus that is needed for a role.

"It can be hard on the children, as they get up, go to school and have a normal life and then when there is a show on in the evening - there is a huge uplift in the house - the dynamics change at the heart of the house.

"Both the girls have a huge love for the theatre, but they haven't followed our path.

"They are still young and if they did I would support them in that."

"I met Sean in 1977. He was a huge influence on me in those early days with Druid.

"Sean did a lot of the Murphy plays during the '80s.

"We played a boyfriend and girlfriend in one of them and in another play, we played a mother and son, which was a laugh."

"Druid was the first professional theatre company to be established outside Dublin.

"It is based in the west and responds to the language and the landscape of the west. Part of the reason for the creation of Druid was to give a voice to Irish writers."

The three founders are all from the west; Garry Hynes is from Ballaghadereen and Mick Lally was from Tuam. Mick died in 2010 and Marie talked about his contribution to Irish theatre:

"In the early days, Mick Lally was a father figure to us.

"He was a scholar of great maturity, which is not really known about him.

"He was a scholar of Irish literature - of Synge, Tom Murphy, Brian Friel. Also Sean, my husband, is from Ballyshannon.

"All our life experiences fed into the roles - it was our nourishment.

"Artists from the west coast have always being informed by the landscape and the playwrights are the voices of the west - this informs everything we do - even if it is a play by an American playwrght, like Tennesse Williams."

"I feel secure in Mark Rowe's work [DruidShakespeare].

"He is incredibly skilled. Mark loves the language of Shakespeare and brings the four plays together in such a skilled work.

"He clarified the transitions between the three kings.

"This text is a gift to the performer. I never tire of playing it and its' many roles.

"New writing has always been part of Druid - the finding of great work - discovering new voices.

"This is very important to Druid and it reflects the future for us."

"I am looking forward to playing in the Hawk's Well Theatre again.

"The Hawk's Well has been very supportive of Druid and Sligo has always been so welcoming.

"It's great to be in this play in my own hometown.

"I am so proud as my family will come to see me in the Sligo production."

Marie will be playing in Druid Shakespeare during the 150 year anniversary of WB Yeats birthday:

"I love Yeats. His contribution to Irish theatre is amazing with the foundation of the Abbey Theatre in 1904" and she added, "he loved Sligo and I love that about him."

"My favourite role was the part of Mommo in Tom Murphy's play 'Bailengangaire' which Garry Hynes directed me in last year.

"I was so happy working on the original play in 1985 with Siobhan McKenna, where myself and Mary McEvoy played Siobhan's daughters.

"She was a beautiful lady and a mentor to myself and Mary" Marie recalls, "we were young actors at the time and she handed on the torch to us.

"She helped us with our scripts - it was a very enriching experience." Siobhan McKenna died in 1986 and her last stage performance was this role in Murphy's play.

"Now it's different times, there are a lot of choices for people in this business, more than ever.

"But Druid is here to stay. Little did I think in 1975 that Druid would be still be here 40 years later.

"It's our means to express ourselves." Druid has worked with writers such as Tom Murphy, Enda Walsh, Martin McDonagh and Mark Rowe; Marie won a Tony Award in 1998 for her role in the McDonagh's play 'The Beauty Queen of Leenane'.

Marie's lifelong immersion in theatre is evident when asked about what advice she would give to young actors:

"It's a hard road, be ready for the hard times" she advised.

Marie added: "but if you stick it out and stay true to yourself - if you stay dedicated - be honest in what you do and in everything that you do and if you really want it - it will work out."

No truer words from the leading lady of Irish theatre.

Tickets for the DruidShakespeare show are available from the Hawk's Well Theatre. With performances from Tues. 9 June to Sat. 13 June.

Sligo Champion