There is a misunderstanding that actors want to be famous, says Clelia Murphy, who stars in the stage adaptation of Light a Penny Candle, Maeve Binchy’s first novel, published in 1982.
Murphy, who was one of the participants in the recent Dancing with the Stars and played the role of Niamh on RTÉ’s Fair City for 22 years, says: “There isn’t a bone in my body that wants to be famous. The skill that I have is in telling stories. It just happens to be through the medium of performance. Not every actor wants to be famous. It happens to be a by-product of acting.”
Murphy, reared in Castleknock in Dublin by her separated mother and grandparents, originally wanted to be a pilot but discovered that she hated physics.
As a child, she and a friend used to stage shows in her back garden. Her drama teacher at school wondered why Murphy was interested in being a pilot, pointing out that acting was her talent. “I hadn’t really explored it. I didn’t have the confidence.”
Murphy’s adolescence saw her overcome anorexia while in fifth year.
Eating disorders are more common than we think. The transition between being a kid and turning into a woman is kind of scary.
"I worry about young women nowadays. Are we teaching them to be themselves without the make-up?”
Murphy applied for drama and theatre studies at Trinity but it was suggested that she should try acting and then do the diploma course in acting at the university. She ended up joining Dublin Youth Theatre which she describes as “the greatest institution in this country where kids from every walk of life are put together”.
Murphy never went to Trinity. She got hired by Fair City, supposedly to play the role of Niamh for just four episodes. It turned into almost a life-long career.
But in 2017, Murphy made the decision to leave Carrigstown, realising that she didn’t want to continue playing the same character indefinitely. The scriptwriters weaved a storyline that saw Niamh move abroad. Could she reprise the role in the future?
“I believe so. I have no plans to go back but it would be an honour to do that. At the moment, I’m on a journey of getting to know myself as an actor.”
Murphy, who is a single mother to Clarabelle, aged 20, is giving her daughter as much support as she can in her burgeoning career in showbiz. Clarabelle starred in Alison Spittle’s TV comedy, Nowhere Fast.
“My daughter is studying art at the moment. She’s dabbling in theatre. I’d say she’ll work behind the scenes. That generation has it sussed, doing everything to gain experience.”
Light a Penny Candle, adapted by Shay Linehan and directed by Peter Sheridan, is a tale of female friendship.
The plot follows an only child, Elizabeth, who is sent from London during World War 11 to live with her mother’s childhood friend, Eileen, and family. Eileen’s daughter, Aisling, becomes a bosom buddy of Elizabeth. Murphy, who is 43, plays Eileen.
How close to the novel is the stage adaptation?
“When you come to adapting a book, my understanding of it is that it has to be a standalone piece. Of course, you’re going to look at where the story is but you have to trim it down. You’re catering for an audience of fans of Maeve Binchy and also for people who are just coming to see the play (without having read the novel). I think Maeve Binchy fans are going to be very pleased.”
If there’s an impression that Binchy’s work is cosy and comforting, Murphy points out that her debut novel is one of her bravest works in that it takes in subjects such as abortion, alcoholism and marital abuse.
“She tackles very serious subjects with a light touch. The story is about women supporting women. It’s more relevant today than it ever was.”