Danu puts women centre stage with Breathless opening

Sinéad O'Riordan and IFTA award-winning actor Ruth McCabe in Breathless at The Everyman Theatre.
Sinéad O'Riordan and IFTA award-winning actor Ruth McCabe in Breathless at The Everyman Theatre.

Breathless is inspired by the disappearance of several women, writes Colette Sheridan

INSPIRED by real events in the Midlands, Breathless is a play about four missing women. Written by John MacKenna, the play opens at Cork’s Everyman Palace Theatre tonight.

It starts on a summer morning when four women, strangers to each other, meet on a roadside. They share one thing in common; each is missing, presumed dead.

The play is produced by Danu Theatre Company and Orion Productions and is directed by Iseult Golden. It stars Ruth McCabe, Donna Patrice, Sinéad O’Riordan, and Kate Kilmore. O’Riordan, from Orion Productions, is also a co-producer of the play along with Patrice from Danu Theatre Company. O’Riordan starred in the acclaimed The Woolgatherer at the Cork Arts Theatre last year.

As she explains, the play resulted from an idea by MacKenna.

“John wanted to write something from the missing persons’ perspective. You hear of those who go missing but you never hear what happened to the people, how and why they went missing.”

In the play, the four women are in “a kind of special purgatory. They’re dead. The set is like a rundown industrial estate with crumbling buildings. There’s a kind of woodland nearby and all the stuff that you’d associate with a place where bodies are found. There’s an old building which has been squatted in and there are signs of vandalism as well as empty cans, a camp fire, and condom wrappers. There’s also an old mattress.”

The women, referred to only by numbers, are very distinctive. “There’s a working-class Dubliner, a lady that I play who’s a well-to-do daughter of a doctor, there’s a girl from the Midlands who’s a real party girl and is fairly angry, and there’s Ruth McCabe’s character who is the maternal one.

“The play is essentially about the women bonding with each other. They have to tell their stories. They need to find some form of acceptance, not only regarding their deaths, but also an acceptance of decisions they made in their lives. There’s a lot of reflecting.”

The women talk about the men who murdered them.

“But the play is more about how the women felt coming up to being murdered. My character is very interesting. She is well groomed but she’s a complex character who’s a bit of a mess on the inside.”

With Emma Thompson’s recent declaration that actresses should play male roles to counteract the dearth of decent roles for women, O’Riordan is pleased to be in a play that is all about strong women. “Hats off to John MacKenna for writing a play for women.”

Danu Theatre Company “is all about promoting women in the arts. Donna is always looking at plays where women could take on male roles. Down the line, I’d like to collaborate with her again”.

Cork-born O’Riordan’s background is in electronic engineering. “I was in the wrong field. But I always did drama on the side. I have my LAMDA [London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts] qualifications. I got back into theatre three years ago. I’m really starting to make a name for myself in Dublin.”

O’Riordan points out the relevance of the play. “About 4,000 people go missing every year in this country. A lot of them are found. But for the ones that are not found, you see pictures of them on posters — but they’re gone.” Amber, the drama series about a missing girl recently screened on RTÉ, ended without closure. “I know a lot of people wanted completion to the story. But I totally understand why it ended the way it did. After people go missing, there is a void; there are no answers,” says O’Riordan.

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