Pauline McLynn might never escape the associations with Craggy Island, but her role with Corcadorca on Spike will be one of the highlights of Cork Midsummer Festival, writes Ellie O’Byrne.
Some people have a cocaine habit; I have a stationery habit.” Pauline McLynn is talking, with her customary rapid-fire aplomb, about progress on her latest book and her distinctive writing method, which apparently requires a constant supply of notebooks.
And yet hearing the word “cocaine” in that oh-so-familiar voice can’t but bring back echoes: “Will you have a cake, father? Ah go on, you will! There’s cocaine in them!”
A 30-year stage and screen acting career and 10 novels published to-date, and yet McLynn can’t shake her iconic role as housekeeper Mrs Doyle in Father Ted. Roles in Shameless and Eastenders, and now television presenting work for RTÉ’s Painting the Nation, a second series of which is in the pipeline, and there are still constant exhortations from the public to have a cup of tea.
“That’s actually worse now than it ever was before,” McLynn laughs. “But it’s because people genuinely love the show. You can’t say, ‘I’m glad you liked it but I wish you wouldn’t bother me,’” she says, adopting a plummy tone.
Perennially patient with fans, there was a period, though, where her role in Father Ted caused her very real professional concerns; she’d show up for a casting and discover that the part she was reading for was designed for a much older woman.
“What happens after you play such a seminal part; is it all over then? But it wasn’t, and I think that’s because I’m an all-rounder really.”
Being an all-rounder has meant that, about to turn 55, McLynn’s enduring career has been, to an extent, immunised against the thinning out of roles for older actresses.
“I was never burdened with being the young beautiful actress,” she says. “If you’re going to Hollywood you have to be 18, skinny as you like and very, very beautiful. That was never going to happen to me anyway, so I’m one of the few actresses whose career is going backwards; I started off playing old ladies and now I end up playing people that are younger than me.”
Theatre is where she started out, in her student days in Trinity College, and theatre, she says, is where she still feels truly at home.
“The place I’d be most comfortable in, weirdly, would be a theatre show. I say weirdly because you face a live public every night, so it shouldn’t be the safest place, and it’s not. But if I was ever asked what I think I was best at, I’d probably say theatre.”
McLynn, then, is in her element at the moment; she’s in Cobh, in daily rehearsals for Corcadorca’s much-anticipated production of Far Away by British playwright Caryl Churchill. A typically ambitious site-specific production, the play will be staged at night in the atmospheric surroundings of former military fort Spike Island.
Like many of Churchill’s plays, Far Away explores themes of political power, fear and control. The play is set in the surreal surroundings of a hat factory in a world at war, and Corcadorca’s production will draw on the largest community cast they have ever used in their 25 years of theatre-making.
McLynn has appeared in Churchill-penned plays before, but she hasn’t worked with Corcadorca, or done site-specific theatre, and she’s energised and exhilarated.
“It’s a festival show in a new place, and a strange and wonderful play; I’m very excited by it,” she says. “It’s a long time since I was in a Caryl Churchill play, so it’s nice to be back in her head… but it’s a busy, and a strange, place. Although it’s such a short play, the more we do it, the more we realise that it’s quite huge, really.”
Back to the progress on her book: sharing a house in Cobh with other cast members for the duration of rehearsals and the two-week run of night-time performances, McLynn is hoping her fellow actors will crack the whip and encourage her to knuckle down to writing in her free hours.
For McLynn, there’s no great leap between acting and writing, both of which she regards as different ways of telling stories.
“That’s all any of us do really, is tell each other stories,” she says. “It’s no surprise when you see an actor writing a book, because we just talk for a living. But as a writer or as a performer, the only thing you really fear is that you’ve wasted people’s time. Or maybe that’s just a personal fear.”
Dividing her time between Dublin and London, her only connection to Cobh is that her husband, theatrical agent Richard Cook, grew up in the Cork harbour town, and she’s enjoying her extended stay. So after her intensive stint with Corcadorca, what next?
“We’ll be filming the second series of Painting the Nation, which is my first presenting job really, and I love it. And then after that who knows? You stagger from one job to the next, and you never know what’s coming. But you know what, that’s alright too.”
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