Noelle Brown is tapping into a topical issue

THE hardest role seasoned actor Noelle Brown has ever played is that of herself.

Noelle Brown is tapping into a topical issue

Brown’s story, related in her play, Postscript, will resonate with many people. She was born in the Cork mother and baby home of Bessborough, and at the age of 35, decided to trace her birth mother.

Dublin-based Brown, now aged 49, had been told at an early age that she was adopted.

“At that time, people didn’t really talk about adoption,” says Brown. Because I always knew I was adopted, I was at an advantage. It normalised everything for me.

“I’m very grateful to my parents for that. They didn’t actually know I was born in Bessborough. They were told I was born in Dublin and was sent to Cork.

“There’s a lot of secrecy and lies surrounding the whole thing. It makes it really difficult to trace. You go crazy because you don’t know what’s true and what isn’t true. It’s hard to verify everything because you’re met with a stone wall.”

Brown’s first contact was a nun in Cork. After about three months of leaving messages on an answering machine, Brown finally got through to the nun, whom she said was “really rude and unhelpful”. After feeling discouraged and emotionally drained, Brown eventually contacted Barnardos.

“They were absolutely fantastic; they took over, got my file and gave me the information I needed.”

The tragic fate of Brown’s birth mother is revealed in Postscript. It’s a play that Brown didn’t initially want to write.

“I wanted to write something about letters and post and the lost art of letter-writing, but my story kept coming up. I was devising a play with writer Michéle Forbes. She said my personal story was the story we needed to write. She kept on at me and we did it as a work-in-progress. We were asked to stage it at the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2013, so we wrote another 30 minutes and brought it up to an hour-long play.

“There’s very little written about adoption in Irish theatre. The only play I know dealing with it is Stolen Child.

“The reaction to Postscript was incredible and we did post-show discussions. I met adopted children, birth parents and adoptive parents. It’s extraordinary how people want to talk and tell their story. While we’re free to talk about adoption now, there’s still a lot of people who suffered.

“There are children out there who may never find their birth mothers. At the moment, adopted children can’t access their birth certificates and that’s a huge problem.”

Brown obtained her birth certificate by default. “I went to the births, marriages and deaths registry and at their discretion, I got it, which is appalling. The only way that is going to change is by somebody taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights.”

As well as Brown, Postscript stars Bríd Ní Neachtain, who plays a number of roles, including an interfering aunt.

“Playing myself is kind of bizarre. I tell my story in the form of letters being written and sent out, letters to my birth mother. Because I’m a big fan of detective novels, I also play a private investigator who is kind of my alter ego.

“If you’re adopted and you don’t go through Barnardos to trace your mother, there are private investigators that you can employ. Some of them aren’t great. I use the character of a private investigator called Breda Brogan in the play when it gets very emotional. This character is a comic device. But finding out about my mother was literally like a detective story, trying to piece the information together, interviewing people and getting statements from them, to get an idea of who she was.”

Postscript, which is currently touring, is going to the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris and there are plans to take it to the UK and New York.

“There’s a lot of people who were adopted from Ireland to America who’ve been in touch with me on social media and the same from people living in London.”

Brown is clearly tapping into a topical issue.

  • Postscript runs at Cork’s Everyman on March 23-25

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