Local crime writer’s play set for international stage

By Mary Dennehy

WRITING fictional crime stories as a teenager on a battered type-writer, Tallaght native Lesley-Ann Reilly never dreamed that one day she would have a play showing on the international stage.

Growing up on St Dominic’s Avenue, writer and actor Lesley-Ann is this August showing her short-play Beryl at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of three original Irish plays developed by At Large Theatre.

LIFE Lesley-Ann Reilly

A former student of St Dominic’s National School, Lesley-Ann’s play Beryl, a character-driven play about human vulnerability and identity, will take to the stage of the Edinburgh Fringe alongside two other Irish plays for two weeks – and also show at The Complex in Dublin from August 4 to 6.

Despite a busy rehearsal schedule, Lesley-Ann took some time out to speak with her local paper.

When you think back to growing up in Tallaght, what memories do you have?

The endless summer evenings playing with the other kids on the road. We’d often invent stories about the Hell Fire Club, or the Dodder River. We’d cycle our bicycles around to other estates to visit our friends or just sit around in our gardens playing with our toys. I loved my school, St Dominic’s National, and the discos we used to have every few months. I enjoyed my weekly trips to the little portable library on the Greenhills Road to Kilnamanagh and of course when The Square was built I was coming into my teenage years and my pals and I loved to stroll through Watergate Park up to The Square to spend our pocket money! They were great days.

What inspired you to get involved in theatre?

Theatre is something I’ve always been interested in although I haven’t always been involved in it. I did a course in the Gaiety School of Acting in my early twenties and was an active member of the Drama Society in NUI Maynooth in my college years. But it’s only in the last five years that I’ve really committed myself to it and developing and growing as a performer and writer. I’d be lying if I said it was only a hobby, it’s gone way beyond that now and I’m excited about where it may take me. I’m truly happy when I’m performing and being able to write for theatre and have my work shown is a dream come true. 

Do you remember what the first think you wrote was?

As a child I wrote short poems. As a teenager I was the lucky owner of an old-fashioned typewriter and I’d be banging away on the keys every evening. Mam called me Jessica Fletcher from Murder she Wrote. I had an interest in true crime and would invent fictional stories surrounding real life crimes. A strange hobby for a teenager but it kept me amused!

As a child what was the first play or stage show that you remember seeing?

I’m proud to say that my first show was a Bucks Fizz concert at the age of four. I also saw Banana Rama at the point in 1989. I remember the tributes to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster being played before the girls bounced onto the stage. One of my fondest memories was seeing the Jungle Book at the Ambassador theatre as a child. I remember the main characters coming out to greet the children in tiger and bear suits, it was so exciting to see the ‘real’ characters of a story I loved so much.

As an adult, what is the most influential piece of theatre that you have seen?

It’s a hard one to answer as there are so many that have influenced me. Marina Carr’s ‘By The Bog of Cats’ was one of the most impressive plays I’ve ever seen. The acting was superb and the characters were so real. I am a big fan on contemporary theatre and plays that challenge traditions and adopt a more experimental approach. I’ve seen many pieces that challenge the boundaries of the audience and actors and break the fourth wall. There are endless ways of enhancing a production through the use of audio, lights and images. Pat Kinevan’s ‘Underneath’ was very inspiring for me. I love one-person shows and I’m in awe of the actor’s ability to keep the audience’s attention for such a long time, especially modern audiences as they tend to be more restless.

Tell us a little bit about Beryl?

Beryl is a very character-based play in which there are two actors, Frank and Beryl, the latter which is played by me. Frank, who harbours a dark secret, seeks the private cross-dressing services of Beryl. Both characters are escaping a painful past and as the evening progresses, they both unmask themselves and the true purpose of their meeting becomes apparent.

LIFE Lesley-Ann Reilly 2

As a writer, what is it that you want to say?

Beryl is about human vulnerability and identity. It’s about how we want to be perceived by the world and how we try to conceal the parts of ourselves we are afraid of. It’s about survival and how everybody must be the hero of their own soul, despite things the darkness inside them. I want people to see these two characters and appreciate their individual struggles.

How does it feel to be showing at Edinburgh Fringe?

This is a fantastic opportunity and I’m very excited about it. I’m very lucky to be part of a strong theatre group, At Large, with a dedicated and talented group of people. It’s a bit nerve-wrecking as well, this is my first One Act Play and I really want to make it as good as I possibly can. There will be adjudicators assessing the plays and giving feedback on them. This is a bit scary but I know it’s important to be open to all types of critical feedback if you want to really learn and grow in playwriting. I’m excited about the many different types of plays I’ll be exposed to over there and who I’ll meet in the world of theatre.

What advice would you have for anybody who would like to get a play from paper to stage?

Keep going with it. If you have an idea, keep working on it. A lot of writers, especially in theatre, abandon their ideas all too soon because they feel that an audience will not like it. Don’t pander to an audience; be true to your idea and confident that with the right actors and right amount of commitment to it, you can execute it wonderfully. Get in as much theatre as possible, see as many different types of plays as you can. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your writing. Join a theatre group that will provide a forum for your work to be seen or assessed. Theatre is a powerful arena in which there are endless avenues for playwrights and you don’t need to be bound by tradition either. If you have something to say, there is always an audience willing to listen.

What’s next?

After the Edinburgh Fringe I promised myself a break but I’ll be eager to get working on my next project. I have two radio plays I want to produce in the next year. I’ve completed a good few short plays and I’m hoping to have these shown in the spring next year. I’ve a bundle of other projects that I want to develop in the next few years, I don’t know if I’ll get around to doing even half of them. Getting the ideas is the exciting part but to develop it to a stage where you are happy with it takes a lot of grit. But it’s well worth it when you do!

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