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Douze points for Denise

Things may not have gone quite as hoped for Jedward in the Eurovision, but Denise Quinn’s performance in Garter Lane theatre in Waterford on the same night, May 14th, won a standing ovation and a resounding douze points from the packed audience.

Denise Quinn, author and sole performer of "Bardot Bites" and "Lucy Bastible"

Local woman Denise is the writer and sole performer of two one-act, one-woman plays, Bardot Bites and Lucy Bastible, which ran for two sold-out nights in Waterford last week as part of a nationwide tour.

The plays are beautifully observed glimpses into the lives of two very different women. Denise’s scripts cleverly use humour to draw in the audience and make them feel an instant connection to two women at crisis points in their lives. “Bids” in Bardot Bites is a single, middle-aged, put-upon woman determined to get her life back on track after her elderly mother’s death, while Lucy Bastible is refined, well-off wife of a solicitor who unleashes her wild side after her husband’s infidelity.

While the script is sharp, witty and insightful, it is Denise Quinn’s acting skills and stage presence that made this performance truly wonderful. We, the audience, genuinely forgot that there was only one person on stage. The stage seemed to teem with characters – Leonie and Leandra, Bids’ two young, man-mad colleagues at the cheese counter in the local deli, were particularly brilliant. Denise’s depictions of the ridiculous situations in which people find themselves in daily life were a joy to behold (one scene involving a balcony bra and a roving hand in the cinema will stay in my mind forever).

The script is also a great example of that great maxim of creative writing: “Write what you know”. Not content with being an accomplished playwright and actress, Denise is also a qualified solicitor and sales assistant at a well-known cheese counter in Waterford. Both cheese and the legal world featured strongly in the scripts and the playwright’s background in both greatly added to the credibility of the plays.

Accolades are also due to the show’s director Mary Curtin, a high-profile name in Irish theatre with a long list of theatre and film credits.

Bardot Bites and Lucy Bastible went down so well on the Cork leg of the tour in April that Denise has been asked to give repeat performances there later in the summer. Let’s hope she can be convinced to do the same in her native city at the earliest opportunity.

A good dose of reality

Reality is relative. I have recently learned this as a contestant on my local radio station’s take on the current Come Dine With Me craze.

In one sense, my encounter with the reality genre has been one of the most unrealistic experiences I have ever had. Under what real-world circumstances would you encounter the following downright weird scenario: you are required to prepare, serve and host a three-course dinner plus entertainment to three relative strangers, all entirely unassisted, while everything you say is recorded for broadcast on radio?

Anastasiya Markovich, Illusion of Reality

Anastasiya Markovich, Illusion of Reality (2008)

On the other hand, for those of us in the “reality-equals-gritty” school of thought, my Come Dine With Me experience was as real as it gets. It’s possible that my three fellow hosts threw together their divine dinners an hour before each meal (though the standard of the meals strongly suggests otherwise), and probably their houses are always immaculate so they didn’t need to get themselves into a sweat with a last-minute burst of cleaning. Personally, taking the day before my dinner off work, as well as the day itself, spending several days beforehand planning and shopping, neatly slicing off the top of my finger and fingernail when practising my dishes the previous weekend, and to top it all off, having to abandon my dearly-beloved usual weekday uniform of jeans and Crocs in favour of a SKIRT (slyly hoping that its bright pink colour would distract my guests from any deficiencies in my hostessing skills) was more than enough reality for me, thank you very much.

So both extremes of the scale were covered – from wandered-into-the-wrong-film weirdness to gritty realism. Where does fun fit into the reality continuum?

The four dinners were some of the most fun experiences I have ever had. Going over to people’s houses every evening to be served delicious food, get to know some absolutely lovely, funny, talented people (including the presenter and sound engineer), and have cocktails and wine poured liberally down your throat, with full permission to say exactly what you thought of the whole evening afterwards and give your host marks out of ten into the bargain – what’s not to like? Or as my eight-year-old would say: “Uh, HELLO??!”

So how did I do? Nobody knows – yet. The dinner parties have been broadcast on The Saturday Show with Maria McCann on WLR FM, one per show, over the past three Saturdays. Only one individual score for each dinner has been broadcast, so nobody yet knows their total score. The final dinner and results are broadcast on tomorrow morning’s show, when the winner and recipient of the €1,000 (in vouchers for the foodstore that sponsors the show) will be revealed. Keep your fingers crossed for me! (I’d do it myself, only the one I sliced open hasn’t fully healed yet.)

Until then – keep it real.

A Tribute to Mick Lally, 1945 – 2010

The facade of the Forum theatre in Waterford looks down on a sloping plaza that is itself surrounded by the small terraced houses that mark this historic part of the city. Here and there between the houses run narrow streets with centuries-old names, some leading down towards the Quay, others up the town to Ballybricken and beyond. It was down one of these streets, as I stood outside the theatre after a performance of The Castlecomer Jukebox in 2004, that I watched a solitary, tall, hunched figure lope away, hands in pockets, probably off for a quiet post-performance pint in one of O’Connell Street’s pubs. That figure was Mick Lally.

I never had the good fortune to meet Mick Lally in person, but I cannot shake the feeling that I have known him all my life. To my brothers and me, like many Irish children in the 1980s, the Glenroe theme tune signalled the dreaded Sunday-night bedtime (as much as it probably signalled to our parents the time when they could finally sit down and watch some TV in peace). Even when we were too young to actually watch Glenroe, we and our schoolfriends knew all the characters and especially Miley, the beleaguered everyman with the bewitching voice and a brilliant catchphrase that we repeated with delight at every opportunity.

Being finally allowed to stay up beyond 8 pm on Sundays to watch Glenroe was a real rite of passage. As well as being a staple in that show, to those of us growing up in Ireland in the 80s, Mick Lally always seemed to be around, be it on TV or radio. He even managed to turn a TV ad for cheese into a memorable experience, his mellifluous tones combining deliciously with the thrumming of a bodhran’s beat.

The years passed, I moved to Dublin, and even though as a student I no longer had access to a TV, Mick remained a constant. My Austrian friend Sabine visited Dublin and to give her a taste of Irish theatre, my boyfriend and I took her to see A Skull in Connemara, with Mick in the lead role. We had great seats looking down on the stage. I remember being overawed by Mick’s looming, menacing presence in that role. I was also delighted that we had an actor of such calibre in this country that enabled me to show off our culture to a visitor so successfully. In the pub afterwards, Sabine’s English was tested to the limits as she tried to put into words the impression his performance had made on her.

These days, my husband and I, now with three children, rarely get to listen to an entire radio show, so it was a special treat on a recent drive to Dublin to turn on the radio and hear Mick’s voice. He and another wonderfully familiar actor, his Glenroe co-star Mary McEvoy, were being interviewed by Miriam O’Callaghan. As the children, miraculously, slept in the back, it was a delight to hear him describe his life and career with endearingly self-deprecating good humour, and just as much a delight to simply sit and listen to his voice. To hear his gorgeous spoken Irish was another pleasure.

Perhaps because that interview is so recent, the news this morning comes as  a particularly sad shock. It strikes me that as we advance into our mid-thirties, us Glenroe children have now reached the age where the death of a well-known person can feel like the death of something in us. Mick Lally was part of the background of our lives, whether we paid his presence there much heed or not. Now that he is gone, I personally, for the first time, feel the loss of a person I never actually knew.

Although, thanks to that radio interview, it is not long since I heard him speak, my last, and lasting, visual impression of Mick Lally is that evening in Waterford in 2004, when I watched him walk away down a dark street after another brilliant performance, alone, seeking no accolades, a quiet master.

(c) Curmumgeon 2010

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