Irene Kelleher’s jilted bride as a social media sensation

Irene Kelleher’s jilted bride as a social media sensation
Actress and writer Irene Kelleher pictured at Nicholas Street, Cork City. Picture: Clare Keogh

Irene Kelleher’s play puts a modern twist on Dickens character Miss Havisham, writes Colette Sheridan

CORK actor and writer, Irene Kelleher, is performing her critically acclaimed one woman show, Gone Full Havisham, at Fr Matthew Hall in the city. This follows a run of over three weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe in August as well as the premiere of the play at the Cork Midsummer Festival back in June in the Clayton Hotel’s penthouse suite.

The play is a contemporary reimagining of the character of Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. The idea for the show was sparked when Kelleher viewed an online video that had gone viral two years ago. It was of a bride in the US who was having a breakdown at the altar on the day of her wedding.

“She was screaming, throwing the flowers around and knocking down candles,” says Kelleher.

“It really happened but someone had set it to funny music, making a joke of it. In the comments, the bride was called a psycho lady and people said her fiancé must have been cheating on her. That assumption was made. One of the comments said that it reminded them of Miss Havisham. That triggered something in me.”

Kelleher began to wonder what Miss Havisham would be like in the era of social media. “I was always fascinated by the character. In the book, she’s kind of the villain of the piece. My first encounter with Miss Havisham was watching the David Lean movie of Great Expectations at my gran’s house when I was very young. Then when I was older, I read the book and was surprised to see that Miss Havisham doesn’t feature that much in it but still took over the novel. I think there is so much more to her than just being the jilted bride.

“Dickens hinted at her childhood and the experiences that might have led to her breakdown. I think there was deep-rooted trauma in her. She became this mad figure, locking herself away.”

In the show, Kelleher plays Emily, a jilted bride who holes herself up in a hotel and takes to social media on her laptop. Kelleher is interested in the masks her character wears.

“There are moments in the play where she is online, performing this crazy bride, and there are moments when she starts to reminisce about her past and is a bit more real. Then there are moments when she closes her laptop and nobody (apart from the audience) can see her. In those moments, she is the truest form of herself. There is no text for those moments. Her whole body changes as well as her demeanour. She is frightened and lonely. I think there is a Chinese saying that everyone has three faces; the face we show to the wider world, the face we show our loved ones and our private face that nobody but us sees.”

On social media, Emily is larger than life, putting forward her “mad Havisham routine.” But there is more to Emily than this over-the-top character. Her mother died when she was a child. Her late father, to whom she was very close, taught her to be self-reliant and to hold back the tears when she lost her mother.

“All her life, she was told she needed to be strong. When her father died, she was broken and isolated. She met a man when she was at her most vulnerable. On her wedding day, she found out that he was a fraud and all her past traumas come back.”

Kelleher says the play is really about grief. And she adds that she couldn’t have written it unless she had experienced grief herself.

“I started writing the play the year after my father died. I didn’t find it hard to write. It just came out. It was like a purge or an exorcism of demons. But it took a long time to edit.”

The result is an entertaining and intense play that is a showcase for Kelleher’s dual talents. It will go on a nationwide tour next year.

Gone Full Havisham is at Cork’s Father Matthew Hall from Tuesday until Saturday

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