ANITA Reeves, who stars in a new production of the hit play Little Gem, jokes that she has been threatening to retire from her stage career for 20 years.
The 66-year-old actor and singer, who is reprising her role as the grandmother in Elaine Murphy’s play about three generations of Dublin women, says she was never ambitious.
“But I have had an amazing career,” she reflects. “I have always done what I wanted to do. Once I settled down and had a family, they became the important thing for me. I still managed to work away quite a lot. I was very lucky to have a supportive sister who minded the children while I was away. They travelled with me as much as they could, but when they got to an age where they couldn’t do that, I stopped travelling so much.”
Reeves is married to Julian Erskine, the executive producer of Riverdance. Their son, Danny, is stage manager of the Riverdance touring company and is currently working on the show in China. Daughter, Gemma, had a burgeoning career as an actor but decided it wasn’t for her and returned to college where she is studying psychology.
“To be honest, I was kind of relieved when Gemma left acting. I wasn’t aware that I had that anxiety. It’s because it’s a much harder business for younger people compared to when I started. It’s very competitive now.”
As a child, Reeves was taken by her parents to plays and pantomimes. “I remember thinking I wanted to be on stage. My first job was in a pantomime in a tiny theatre in Dun Laoghaire. I went on to do two pantomimes with Eamon Morrissey at the Gaiety. One year, Maureen Potter was ill and she kindly suggested that I take over from her. We became very good friends and she was a huge influence on me. I adored her. The most valuable lesson I learned from Maureen was to connect with the audience and feel they’re your friends. A lot of actors are terrified of audiences. But I believe they wish you the best.”
Career highlights include Les Miserables at the former Point Depot where Reeves played the wife of the innkeeper, played by John Kavanagh. Reeves was in the original production of Dancing at Lughnasa and also played Juno in Juno and the Paycock at the Gaiety, over 20 years ago. It was directed by Joe Dowling who will again direct Reeves in the same role next May in the theatre he runs in Minneapolis. The production will mark the end of Dowling’s 20-year stint there.
Little Gem has been good for Reeves. The play, which deals with momentous events in the lives of the grandmother, her daughter (Hilda Fay) and her granddaughter (Kate Gilmore) is directed by the author of the play. Following its debut at the Dublin Fringe, the play won the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award in 2009. The prize was a four-week run in an off-Broadway Theatre with all expenses paid. It also played in Australia and Tasmania.
Reeves admits that she feared the play wouldn’t be fully understood abroad as it’s written in a northside Dublin idiom.
“When we were in New York, we were terrified that the audience wouldn’t respond to it. But they did. It’s a family story that is universal. There’s all the tensions and the events such as marriages, births and deaths.”
Getting older means that it’s harder for Reeves to secure decent roles. “On a practical level, it’s harder to leave the house every night to work in the theatre. But then, something comes along that I just can’t say no to.”
Little Gem is at the Everyman, Cork, from November 11 to 15.
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