Pam seemingly has the perfect life and only attends the Easi-Slim clinic to maintain her weight. This privileged woman is obsessed with diets and exercise. Isobel, aged 53, recalls her own obsession with weight, during her boarding school years and her early 20s.
“There was a massive obsession with dieting at school,” says Mahon, best known for The Clinic and Glenroe (in which she played Michelle for 16 years).
“I was constantly counting calories and my day revolved around what I ate. It was almost a little scary when I began to rehearse Weighing-In, because I was kind of familiar with some of Pam’s thought patterns. She wants control. Eating is the one thing you can control, but it can take on a disproportionate importance. The dieting industry is based on scaring people. Now, I love eating; it’s my hobby.”
A two-hander with a voice-over from Rosaleen Linehan as the diet instructor, Weighing-In, written by Ger Gallagher, also stars Rose Henderson, as Breda. It’s a comedy, but makes a serious point about women’s body image.
“Very often, the quest for physical perfection masks a deep insecurity and a lack of self-worth. It’s almost an inability to accept one’s self and one’s body,” says Mahon.
A friendship develops between Pam and Breda. While Pam is slim and glamorous, Breda is chunky and aspires to Pam’s lifestyle.
The play is about the importance of being true to oneself.
Mahon’s varied career is a reflection of her desire to explore different aspects of herself. While she predominantly acts, she also writes drama, mainly for radio, and has had four plays produced, and runs a psychotherapy practice from her home.
“These things are all about the human condition. Acting is more extroverted than writing. I’m using different parts of myself. I started writing towards the end of Glenroe, in the late 1990s. I wrote a radio play, So Long Sleeping Beauty, which was performed in Bewleys and on BBC radio. In the US, Vincent Dowling produced it for the stage,” she says.
Mahon writes strong roles for women, but, she says, characters reveal themselves as soon as she starts writing.
“I’ve tried to bully characters into being a certain age; in other words, characters I could play myself. But that doesn’t always work.”
While some people are born to write, Mahon says she moves in and out of it.
“I could get a bit lonely doing it all the time. I’m told I get a bit grim if I’m too long on my own. So I probably have a good balance.”
Studying to be a psychotherapist was a journey of self-discovery.
“In a way, I think people start on that journey to sort themselves out, even if it’s an unconscious wish. I’m very interested in other people. In learning skills to help others, I was also sorting myself out.”
Mahon also wanted control in her working life.
“It’s important, emotionally and financially, to have control, because things come and go. It’s grand if you’re in a TV series, as I was for years, but outside of that acting work is patchy. Also, I feel like I’m making some contribution, rather than feeling powerless, which can be very undermining,”she says.