IT’S been a rapid ascent for Cork actor, Roisin O’Neill.
Cutting her teeth in drama at UCC, the Ballincollig native has already had some plum roles. Last year saw her make her TV debut on TV3’s suburbo-soap Deception, and she performed in Carmel Winters’ play Best Man at the Cork Midsummer Festival. Neither quite compare, however, to her current assignment — playing the title character in the Abbey Theatre’s new production of John B Keane’s Sive.
“I had four auditions and the last one took over an hour,” she says. “So I knew the play well by the time we started. The director, Conall Morrison, tested us an awful lot.”
The tests were worth it. For an aspiring young actress, roles don’t come any better. Sive, the tragic young girl at the centre of Keane’s play, becomes the object of an arranged marriage to an elderly farmer. It’s a demanding role and there are not many young actors who get to deliver such characters in the national theatre. What is it she thinks, director Morrison saw in her?
“I don’t know,” she says. “I spoke to Phil Kingston [the Abbey’s Community and Education Manager] about this and he said that there’s a certain light about Sive, a certain kind of energy that has kept her protected from the truth about her back-story until her aunt Mena tells her it all.
“There’s a sense that she might have an inherent goodness to her. Not that I have that personally! But hopefully I’ll be able to portray that.”
The wonderful idiomatic language in Keane’s play is something O’Neill feels an affinity with.
“My parents are both from West Cork, which would have a similar rural identity, and I spent a lot of time in Kerry growing up,” she says. “My grandfather was a Garda sergeant in Ballineen in West Cork. So he was a Gaelgóir and there’s quite a lot of ‘breac gaeilge’ or broken Irish in the language in Sive. I’d have heard my own grandparents speaking in that voice.”
Despite the fact Sive is set in a very different place — Ireland of the 1950s — O’Neill says she can also identify with her character.
“Sive has got all these hopes and dreams and, even if it’s unusual for the time, she’s very well educated,” she says. “Maybe she’ll go on to teacher-training or something once she’s finished with her schooling in the convent. She has this idea that she’s going to do well in her studies and go on and do something, maybe move to a bigger area. And I can relate to that. Also, she’s head over heels in love with Liam Scuab, and I think every young woman at 17 or 18 thinks: ‘Oh, maybe I’ll get to marry my Liam Scuab and it will all be perfect’. Everybody feels like that at some point.”
And, what of her other suitor in the play, the elderly farmer played by Daniel Reardon. Couldn’t she just shack up with him and avoid all the tragedy?
“My roommate saw the poster last night and said, ‘Is that your dad in the show?’. And I said, ‘Something like that, yeah’.”
Ah, well. Tragedy it is, then.
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