Smoke and fire for West Cork Fit-up festival

She was Janet the brothel madam in Love/Hate, and now Mary Murray is on her way to some of Co Cork’s more remote venues to perform a play written by her father, says Ellie O’Byrne.

Smoke and fire for West Cork Fit-up festival

She was Janet the brothel madam in Love/Hate, and now Mary Murray is on her way to some of Co Cork’s more remote venues to perform a play written by her father, says Ellie O’Byrne.

Mary Murray is the Ballyfermot actress best known for her role as Love/Hate’s brothel madam, Janet, but in her new, one-woman show, she portrays seven different characters.

And the playwright who has written this challenge for Murray is none other than her father, Paddy Murray.

No Smoke Without Fire is set at the beginning of the smoking ban in 2004, in a Dublin pub. €60,000 has been stolen from the local post office. Seven women, gathering over a fag in the pub’s makeshift smoking area, all have reasons why they could use a little cash.

It’s a play rooted in the Dublin characters Murray and her family are familiar with. Her father, Paddy, came late to writing plays, although he had always been a book-lover.

“He did all sorts of jobs: he worked as a taxi driver, a bus driver, a delivery-man,” Murray says.

But one of his first jobs was as a proof-reader for the Irish Independent. From that point onwards, he would just soak up books. At one point, my parents nearly divorced over his reading; when he didn’t have a job, he’d spend his life consumed by books.

With no costume changes to rely on and a diverse range of ages and nationalities to portray, Murray must put all her actor’s vocal and physical skills to the test to enable an audience to identify the characters in the hour-long play.

“There’s a Liverpool character, who’s pretty much taken verbatim from a woman my dad had in his taxi one day, who had just had a boob job and was in Dublin for a hen party. Then, there’s Trisha, who’s pregnant and hoping for a better life. Mrs Gibney is an old lady who encompasses Dublin life; everyone who’s seen the play say they have a mum, an aunt, or a neighbour like her.”

Murray, who runs a drama school in Templebar, relishes the challenge of putting her full range to the test. She’s being directed in the play by fellow Love/Hate star and long-time collaborator, Jimmy Smallhorne, who played Git in the popular RTÉ gangland drama.

But the 39-year-old actress is keen to move beyond Love/Hate, which finished in 2014. She’s currently shooting RTÉ sitcom, Bridget and Eamon, and will be touring in Eoin Colfer’s play, Holy Mary, later in the year.

“A programme like Love/Hate is brilliant to be a part of, but when you’re in people’s living rooms on TV, they kind of put you in a box and think that that’s all you can do,” she says. “So, sometimes you need to go out and say, ‘I don’t really belong in that box, there’s more of me’.”

    Fit-Up highlights

  • Charolais, a one-woman comedy about the rivalry between a rural Irish woman and a prize heifer, written and performed by Noni Stapleton: July 17-22.
  • From Under the Bed, a poignant tale of bachelor brothers, starring playwright, Seamus O’Rourke, and Arthur Riordan: July the 31 – August 5.
  • The Man in the Woman’s Shoes, Mikel Murfi’s critically acclaimed one-man show: August 5–8.
  • The festival closes with the All- Ireland One Act champions, the Palace Players, performing Malachy McKenna’s “poignant and comic play”, The Quiet Land, from August 9–12.

But first, Murray will be taking No Smoke Without Fire to remote West Cork venues, as part of the Fit-Up Theatre Festival, which celebrates its ten-year anniversary this year.

They’ve staged 42 productions in out-of-the-way locations including Sherkin and Bere Islands, Ballydehob and Glengarriff; their remit is making theatre accessible to all, by touring quality productions to rural audiences.

The idea derives from the 1950s tradition of Fit-Up Theatre, when professional companies toured to towns, villages, and rural areas all over Ireland.

Murray may be a city girl, but the ethos of “theatre for all” is right up her street, she says, and the smaller venues are where the real magic of theatre happens.

“When people are a foot away from you and they can see your snot and spit and tears, I think that’s the most incredible thing,” she says.

You can go to the Gaiety or the Bord Gais Energy theatre and you might as well be watching telly sometimes. You don’t really get to see the extra stuff actors bring to theatre, that journey the actor goes on before your eyes. That’s a real privilege for an audience, and for the actor, too, to get to share that.

No Smoke Without Fire appears as part of West Cork Fit-Up Theatre Festival from June 24 to June 29 in various West Cork venues.

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