Mary Murray comes to the Civic next week in the latest exciting offering from the Corps Ensemble. Close to the Sun premiered at Dublin Fringe Festival to rave reviews. Mary plays spohie an ambitious Australian woman set to marry an Irishman.. but its not long before chaos ensues….. We had a chat with Mary in advance of the show.
Can you tell us a bit about where you grew up.
I grew up in Ballyfermot. My first stage performance was in Claddagh Green Community Centre when I was 5 years old in a local summer project talent contest. I made it to the finals and won third prize. I was very proud of myself because my older brothers who were better at everything didn’t manage to win a prize on this occasion. I knew performing was something I could call my own. I used to watch my brothers training for boxing competitions. They were only 3 and four years older than me but I was in awe. Silvester Stallone’s ‘Rocky’ was one of the first movies we watched on video and I distinctly remember my brother Robert drinking a raw egg just like Rocky Balboa. He told me I couldn’t drink one because I was a girl so I swallowed one whole to make a point that girls were not inferior, especially me. It was disgusting but I didn’t tell him that! I went to St. Louise’s convent school in Ballyfermot until I was nine years old and then I moved to Chapelizod School from fourth class upwards. I remember we learnt a lot of songs in St. Louises and then when I changed schools it seemed we hardly ever sang. Then on a school tour bus while everybody was croaking away to You Should Never Throw Your Granny Off The Bus, A Weela Weela Wila and Molly Malone I joined in. My new classmates made a point that I could actually sing and asked me to perform a song on my own. I obliged and soon after at their birthday parties they’d request I sing ballads. I had become accustomed to hearing The Dubliners and the Chieftains at home so they were the songs I knew best and to my new found friends these were kind of exotic and great fun to listen to from a girl my age. I’d imitate the old mens voices and as time moved on I started imitating female singers like Bette Midler and Patsy Cline and entered local talent contests and performed in little plays during the summer at Ballyfermot Library. These were co-ordinated by the library staff in an effort to keep the local kids off the streets and I don’t know if many adults ever came to our performances, but they kept us entertained at least.
Tell us about your background in theatre.
At age fourteen I joined The National Performing Arts School with Rebecca Roper and Jill Doyle as my drama teachers. I loved it there. By sixteen years of age I was cast in a leading role their big musical show ‘The Secret Life Of Seymour Stephens’ at The Olympia Theatre. I played the villain – a school teacher who tormented Seymour and in his nightmares I would appear as The Wicked Witch of the East from The Wizard Of Oz and Miss Hannigan from Annie. It was great fun and I learnt lot. I couldn’t get enough of theatre so I joined a Shakespearean Theatre Company in Clondalkin and performed Lady Macbeth around this time too. Jerry Royal who ran a Ballyfermot Theatre Workshops saw how passionate I was about the stage and provided me with numerous opportunities to flex my acting muscles and make some pocket money along the way. I was also working as a karaoke guest singer and entering and winning big money talent contests all over Dublin at the time. I would regularly appear at the Lower Deck pub in Portabello to practice new songs with Tommy Carey and Streetwise. They were wonderful to sing along with and gave me some sound advice along the way. It was there I met Frank Allen who ran a theatre company called Tobarnarun. He was looking to cast an eighteen year old in one of his plays called Cafe Slices. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Frank and I have worked on numerous occasions in theatre since then and I’m delighted to say that after all his efforts over the years he’s finally getting his well deserved break. I can’t say more about it until it’s made public in a few months time but it’s BIG. Maureen Hughes cast me in my first feature films ‘Crushproof’ and ‘Accelerator’ and when I was twenty years old she was casting a new Marina Carr play called on Raftery’s Hill with Druid Theatre Company and The Royal Court in London. It was big deal as we were travelling to Washington and London as well as performing in the Gate Theatre in Dublin so there were quite a few callbacks, and in the end I won the role. I played Sorrell. It was my first proper professional theatre gig. I thought I had a good grasp on theatre at that point, it turned out that this was only the beginning of my journey and I had a lot to learn. We toured for about four months and it was a roller-coaster ride, one I’ll never forget.
What is your career highlight to date?
Performing the role of Janet in Sebastian Barry’s beautiful play ‘The Pride Of Parnell Street’ directed by Jim Culleton for Fishamble Theatre Company. This toured Ireland and the world on and off for four years and my husband was played by three phenomenal actors on different occasions; Karl Shiels, Aidan Kelly and Joe Hanly. This particular role will stay with me forever. Then of course playing another Janet opposite the enormously talented Tom Vaughan Lawlor in Love/Hate was also a real privilege as I was lucky enough to be part of something that had such an incredible hold over the entire population at the time.
Can you tell us a bit about your character in Close to the Sun?
I play Sophie, an ambitious Australian woman who aims to marry Colin, an Irishman with a big future ahead of him and the love of her life. Both she and Colin have been on a journey together. They’ve managed to escape their dark pasts and it looks like they have everything they could hope for until Colin’s estranged brother Rory appears just before the wedding rehearsal. He hasn’t been invited to the ceremony and now it looks as though he’s about to scupper their plans.
What do you hope audiences will enjoy about the play?
It’s set in Australia and it delves a little into the lives of the Irish Diaspora. This is a topic we haven’t explored much in Irish Theatre because the spate of migration to this country is still very current. Irish people haven’t had much time to reflect on the repercussions because they’re still just trying to find their feet. That said the most important thing for me on the stage is always conflict. There’s tears, laughter and violence in equal measure. The audiences so far have been sitting forward and engaging in the drama. They’ve stayed awake, laughed heartily and gasped audibly and that’s all an actor could hope for.
Tell us a random fact about yourself.
I love good wholesome food and I eat a huge breakfast every morning consisting of fresh fruit salad which includes between five and ten citrus fruits, then I have a bowl of porridge smothered in milk and sugar, after that I have some granola mixed with at least five different kinds of nuts and raisins smothered in milk, then I have a banana. I look forward to it every morning. It’s delicious and food never crossed my mind until at least five hours later.
What is next for you?
I’l be touring Ireland with my one woman show ‘No Smoke Without Fire’. I’ve also got an incredible role in a movie early in the new year but it will be at least another few weeks before I can officially say anymore about that. I’ll also be directing some Christmas shows with drama students of mine in the coming weeks so it’s all go.
Thanks Mary, we are really looking forward to your run at the Civic and wish you all the best with your tour & movie.
Close to the Sun
Tuesday 14th – Saturday 18th Nov., 8pm