It had 80 performances last year. Starring Ciarán Bermingham and Cora Fenton as a quirky couple, both of whom have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), the play is touching and comic look at two characters who live every day as if it’s exceptional. They often get things wrong, but find their own way of coping.
Written by John Sheehy, the play was conceived when the author was studying theatre and drama at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, in Cork. “I did a two-minute improvisation and always, at the back of my head, I wanted to develop the characters further,” says Sheehy. “I’m always interested in where people’s identity comes from; how much comes from themselves and how much is foisted upon them by society. Fred and Alice haven’t accepted how they should behave. They have found their own freedom. They create their own world and make their mistakes.”
Sheehy empathises with the characters. “We all have a little bit of OCD in us. We all know what it’s like to be up and what it’s like to be down.”
Bermingham admires that Fred and Alice never apologise for who they are. “The beauty of them is that, in the clear moments, Fred and Alice are so insightful. Every day, when they wake up, they are curious about what is going to happen. The rest of us trudge through life; they don’t. They celebrate each other’s differences. Fred is mad into music and Alice has a fascination with numbers.”
Alice is constantly computing in her head, dividing numbers, to impose order on her world. She is captivated by the concept of infinity. “She could become a mathematical genius, if she was to keep going with it. This, in itself, is to be applauded. At school, the maths guy was always the nerd. But why?” Sheehy asks.
Fred is obsessed with music and ‘plays guitar’ using a tennis racket, imagining that he is playing at Wembley Stadium. “The two obsessions are Fred and Alice’s coping mechanisms. We all have that to some extent,” he says.
Bermingham says that the play is very much a celebration of difference. “People try to put people into boxes and give them a label. But that shouldn’t happen. What makes us individuals is our quirkiness. Fred and Alice are two very intelligent people, but maybe in a different way. The beauty of this play is that audiences are laughing with them and not at them.”
Fred and Alice first meet in an institution, but, after falling in love, they strike out together, moving into their own house, a type of Wendy House. This decision is met with opposition, mainly from the characters’ parents.
“Initially, they come up against problems, but they sort them out in their own way,” says Fenton. “There’s a great scene all about food. They get in a lot of food, but can’t cook. So, they go to the chipper but get barred from it. Then, they go through all sorts of micro-wavable food and are up to their necks in rubbish. But, then, they sort that out.”
The play is quite physical, with a minimal set and props.
Bermingham says audiences identify with it “because we all have something quirky about us. When I was first asked to read the play, I realised that I really wanted the gig. “This is a play I could do for a very long time, because it’s amazing to see people’s reactions to it.”
Fred & Alice is at the Half Moon Theatre, in Cork, from March 31-April 12. For tour details, go to www.callbacktheatre.com.