Charlie Murphy is drawn back into the darkness with new show Arlington

Enda Walsh’s new play might have dancing, but his trademark air of menace is never far from the surface, its star Charlie Murphy tells Maria Rolston

Charlie Murphy as Isla in 'Arlington [a love story]', being premiered at Galway International Arts Festival this week. Picture: Colm Hogan

CHARLIE Murphy says she would have “done anything — I’d happily have recorded a 20-minute sneezing track” if Enda Walsh had asked her to. Such is her admiration for the playwright’s work.

The former Love/Hate star is about to perform in her second Walsh show, Arlington [a love story] which premieres at the Galway International Arts Festival on Thursday, July 7. She says it’s a “privilege” to be working with the writer and director again. In fact, it was Walsh’s work that inspired the Wexford-born actress to pursue an acting career.

“Enda is definitely a hero of mine and getting to work with him is just a real privilege,” says the London-based 28-year-old.

“Reading Disco Pigs years ago is what made me want to become an actor and hunt for good stories — be it in television, film or on the stage — and this is a really good story, so I’m skipping in to work each day.”

Best known for her role as Siobhan in all five series of the TV drama Love/Hate — for which she twice won best actress at the Irish Film and Television Awards (Iftas) — Murphy has also starred in seasons one and two of Happy Valley for the BBC and played the lead role of Elizabeth in Rebellion for RTÉ.

Earlier this year she completed filming for action thriller, The Foreigner, to be released in 2017, shooting her own stunts alongside Pierce Brosnan and Jackie Chan — an experience she describes as “another random pocket of weird fun”.

And prior to rehearsing for the upcoming Walsh play, Murphy, who revealed that she is named after the English novelist, Charlotte Bronte, spent several months working in Yorkshire, shooting the role of Charlotte’s younger sister Anne, for the BBC feature film To Walk Invisible, due to be broadcast at Christmas.

“It was such an education learning about Anne because I didn’t know anything about her before I got the part. Obviously, you’d learn about Charlotte and Emily and the characters they created when you’re in school and college and my parents actually named me after Charlotte Bronte, so her work has always been close to my heart. Playing Anne and filming on the Yorkshire Moors where the Bronte sisters grew up was such a treat.”

It would seem that the Gaiety School of Acting graduate’s career trajectory is moving only in one direction — upwards. Yet, despite her successes, Murphy keeps her ego in check and displays a certain self- critical side that possibly enhances her acting work.

“You never imagine these kind of things happening and even when you start getting bigger roles you never anticipate that it’s just going to get better and better.

“I’m just really lucky with the people that I’ve had the chance to work with and collaborate with but I’m always thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is the gig I’m going to get found out on.’ There’s always a little bit of nervousness there, but nerves are good, they keep you on your toes,” she says.

Murphy’s role as Siobhan, which increased in importance in Love/Hate over its five-year span, was a huge help to her development.

“Playing a character that evolved over the entire five seasons was a real boost for my confidence, for what I’m capable of doing and for what a writer will entrust to me. I think I grew as an actor during that time. I came straight out of college into that role, for what was initially just a few days and then, year after year, the storyline for my character really started forming.”

Murphy’s part in the gritty drama helped prepare her for other dark roles such as her 2014 performance at the Abbey in Mark O’Rowe’s, Our Few and Evil Days and now, for Enda Walsh’s play.

Arlington is Walsh’s first new work for theatre since the musical Lazarus, co-written with David Bowie. Described by Walsh as “an ode to the human spirit and its ability to endure”, the play is a new departure for the playwright in that it has been produced in collaboration with Carlow-based choreographer, Emma Martin, and is one third dance.

“What I hope people will find most striking is the structure and format of the play,” says Walsh.

The ‘Arlington’ team: Oona Doherty, Hugh O’Connor, Charlie Murphy, Enda Walsh and Emma Martin.

“For me, plays aren’t just talking places and although there’s usually a lot of talking in my plays, I think they’re more about atmosphere and tone than words.

“The subtext is really where the work is and I’ve been a fan of Emma’s dance work for a long time, so it’s been really interesting for me to go into a world that’s narrative and expressionistic, but not as we playwrights know it.”

Arlington has a simple three-part structure, opening with Isla, played by Murphy, who is waiting in a room, inside a tower, for her number to be called. The middle section is the dance piece, choreographed by Emma Martin and performed by Oona Doherty, and the final section centres on a young man, performed by Hugh O’Connor, who gained fame as the young Christy Brown in the Oscar-winning My Left Foot.

Murphy, who recorded a voice piece for Walsh’s A Girl’s Bedroom last year, says the new play is dark but she assures that there are lighter moments within it.

“Enda’s worlds are quite harrowing and the play is quite dark but there are moments of pure comedy and fun to perform, so I haven’t been dragging things home with me at night,” she says.

The dance piece, which is set to sound effects rather than music, does not aim to provide any relief from the darkness of the characters’ psyches.

Choreographer Emma Martin says: “We tried to get into the head of what solitude and confinement feel like and the physicality came out of that. We’re distilling things down to create the hallucinogenic sense of what happens when you’re left on your own for a long time.”

  • Arlington [a love story] is a co-production between Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival and will be staged from July 7-24. See www.giaf.ie

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