Sunday 25 February 2018

The taming of the Mule's Simone Kirby

Julia Molony

SIMONE Kirby's character Geraldine famously took part in a threesome in Pure Mule, and the actress is currently playing a raunchy, two-timing Bianca inthe quirky and highly-acclaimed interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew in the Project, Dublin.

Some young female leads bring doe-eyed prettiness and the innocence of the ingenue to the characters theyplay, but Simone Kirby possesses a more adult, knowing, kind of beauty.

Some may find something faintly ribald suggested by those curly blonde ringlets and cupid's-bow mouth. On screen and stage, she projects an almost bawdy sensuality, yet in person she seemed measured, even demure.

She's taking a quick break from of The Taming of the Shrew, in which she more than holds her own in the company of comic acting royalty, including Barry McGovern and Pauline McLynn.

Simone, who has for the last few years enjoyed a successful, if low-key, career, has just seen her public profile surge thanks to her involvement in Pure Mule, the edgy midlands drama which both drew the critics' acclaim and was RTE's biggest homegrown hit in years, earning its cast overnight star status.

In the show, through her convincing performance, she seemed completely to embody her character. Was this because she felt she could relate to Geraldine and her life?

"I don't think that we really have very much in common," she says. "She and Jennifer were like the two pretty things in the town, but that wasn't my school experience at all.

"She was the type of girl who would have been encouraged to use her looks to get a man with money, which is not something I would really relate to," she says with a smile.

Originally from Ennis in Co Clare, Simone followed most working Irish actors through the studios of the Gaiety School of Acting, after first completing a degree in art.

"In Ireland, most of the work out there is in theatre, that's your bread and butter," she says. She's been lucky to have enjoyed a fairly steady run of work since she finished her training, but when the roles aren't forthcoming, rather than resting on her laurels, she takes a pro-active approach to her career.

"I have a company with my friend Oonagh McLaughlin," she explains. She and Oonagh write, produce and perform in comedy sketch shows, under the name Giddy Productions, and they harvest ideas and material from their own lives and experiences. Their most recent project, a show called Mind Your Fingers - a lighthearted look at the inner workings of the female psyche, took last year's Fringe Festival by storm.

For Simone, Giddy Productions is a great way of channelling her energies when she's going through a lull. Thecreative process adopted by the two friends is loose and personal, and very much a reflection of them as people and the dynamic that exists between them.

"We sit in my flat and have tea and chocolate, and chat, and at the same time we are coming up with and developing ideas. Then we might watch a bit of telly, and make more tea and then go back to doing some work for the show. If something makes us laugh then we have a fair idea that it might entertain an audience."

She's now getting to the stage where she is established enough to pick and choose the roles she'd like to take on. Although she has never made a conscious decision about what type of work to accept and what to turn down, she prefers, on the whole, to get involved in projects that "are going to reveal something - that will develop your range, and broaden your experience.

"So far," she says, "I've been lucky in that I've been able to play such a varied collection of characters."

Well aware that she had chosen a tough profession, Simone takes a pragmatic approach to life as a working performer.

"As an actor you are essentially self-employed, and the hardest things are working out the stuff like doing your own tax and that kind of thing. For me, the challenges are less to do with the work itself and more to do with the stability - or lack of it.

"In Ireland, it's a small community and the reputation you build from the start can define your career. If you are a pain in the ass to work with, then nobody is going to want to work with you," she says.

While working opportunities here can sometimes be limited, there are benefits to working within a scene that is small and accessible. In a show like The Taming of the Shrew, a young actor like Simone can work in collaboration with some of the biggest names in the business.

"In other countries or cities I think the atmosphere would be more hierarchical, but here . . . there are no prima donnas in the show and everyone is very open and generous."

For many, the notion of having to perform in such esteemed company would be daunting, but Simone's confidence doesn't easily waver.

"I think that to be a good actor you need to be secure enough about yourself to reveal things about yourself without worrying about what people are going to think,"she explains.

How does she feel about being held up to scrutiny, in a job where appraisal of her work is both ongoing andvery public?

"I don't really mind," she says. "I don't really read reviews any more, and if something negative is said, I only mind because my parents would have to see it."

That's something neither she nor her parents need worry about with her portrayal of Bianca, which has already proved a big hit withthe critics.

'The Taming of the Shrew' is at Project, Dublin, until March 25. Tel: (01) 881-9613/4

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