Double act on a one-woman play

Clare Monnelly wrote Charlie’s a Clepto; inset, husband/director Aaron Monaghan.

Hanging by the telephone, waiting for offers of work, was not something that actor and writer, Clare Monnelly, could tolerate.

Having studied drama at the Gaiety School of Acting, she says that her writing work came very much from a place of frustration.

“At drama school, you spend fifty hours a week getting to be really creative and doing what you love but then, when you graduate, it stops dead and you don’t have anywhere to put that energy.”

Being “a bit of a control freak and a nerd,” Monnelly hated the idea that her career was solely dependent on other people, and so, she decided to make her own work.

Her debut play, Charlie’s a Clepto, which she developed at the Axis in Ballymun, is currently touring. It is directed by Monnelly’s husband, Aaron Monaghan, whose stellar stage career is mainly with the Abbey and Druid.

Charlie’s a Clepto is about a young single mother, “the queen of self sabotage,” who has messed up. She has had a hard time growing up but has found her purpose which is to get her baby boy back. Young James was taken from her by social services.

Monnelly, aged 32, says she is of a generation of actors who, after drama school, had to turn their hand to theatre-making and devising. From an early age, Monnelly wanted to act but at one point, felt it was an impossible dream. When the Dubliner was eight, she started attending drama classes as well as various other activities.

By the time I was a teenager, everything else fell away and I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to study at drama school straight after secondary school but my folks were having none of it.

"So I did a degree in sociology and modern Irish at Trinity. I joined Players there but in fourth year, I quit Players.

"I felt I had to get my act together because acting wasn’t a viable option for a grown up. I thought maybe I’d be a nurse or a lawyer.”

However, after a period spent travelling, Monnelly still had the acting bug.

“So I went to the Gaiety School of Acting saying I’d give it a lash and if I failed, I at least would have tried.”

Asked what the appeal of acting is, Monnelly says she doesn’t really know.

“I often think it’s a weirdly masochistic choice of career because it’s really hard and there’s loads of rejection. It’s job to job with no security. But I think the pros outweigh the cons and the day they don’t anymore is the day I’ll stop.”

Monnelly met Monaghan when he was producing a play for Livin’ Dred, the theatre company that he co-founded. Monnelly had a part in the play, Ride On!, her first professional job.

The couple can’t avoid talking shop.

The beauty of working with your other half is that I know he’s as dedicated and as invested in the work as I am.

Rows are inevitable. “We have come to blows in rehearsal but it’s always for the betterment of the work.”

Monnelly has written two more plays. As well as the acting bug, she now has the writing bug.

“It gives me a sense of control over my future,” says this multi-talented thespian.

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