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Irish gems do shine in Tassie, or at least they did last week.

The Irish gems in question are Anita, Neili and Birdy, three lovely lassies who are touring Australia with their play ‘Little Gem’ by playwright Elaine Murphy.

The first of the ladies I met on Friday was Anita Reeves who plays Kaye, Anita exudes all of the charm and warmth (including the striking red hair), that you would expect from a true Irish lass.

We settled ourselves down on a plush chaise lounge and quite appropriately Anita remarked on how gorgeous and how much of a ‘little gem’ our iconic Theatre Royal is, a great compliment knowing the ladies have worked at many theatres internationally.

We were soon joined by the two other talented cast members, Neili Conroy (Lorraine) and Birdy Beaman (Amber) complete with their very Irish greeting of ‘hi ya’.

The gem in the play’s title is Kaye’s husband who is incapacitated due to illness and no longer capable of showing her the affection she craves. ‘Gem’ is a common Irish abbreviation of Jeremiah or James.

Although the title may be a male’s name it is the three women who are the only actors present, delivering their lines through monologues. Although there is no physical interaction between the three protagonists, it is testimony to the brilliance of all three ladies that members of the audience have commented on scenes of when Anita’s character was talking to her daughter Lorraine. A scene that never materialised, except in the intricate cerebral networking of the viewer.

The play itself is a remarkable achievement for playwright and actor, Elaine Murphy. Still in her early thirties but having the understanding to write a play that takes us inside the skin of three generations of Irish women. Some of Elaine’s success at capturing the diversity in nature and stage of life of these women may be due to her keen powers of observation, fine-tuned during time spent working in a women’s clinic. Indeed Anita mentions that the play is dedicated to the women of the clinic.

It was a case of serendipity and maybe a bit of that luck of the Irish that the play toured Australia . Kim Allchurch, Assistant Producer and Lee-Anne Donnolley, Executive Producer at Arts Projects Australia (APA) were in Edinburgh where the play was performing to sell out audiences and as tickets were scarce albeit non-existent, weren’t expecting to see the play. A little of that luck of the Irish saw Kim and Lee-Anne secure spare tickets to different performances and collectively with APA secure the play for Australia.

The three ladies are surprised when I mention the resident ghost of the Theatre Royal but are more than accepting of his presence. They do not show any signs of doubt that he should exist, perhaps it’s something uniquely Irish, that with a folklore filled with ’the good people’ the girls have open minds to the validity of the theatre’s spirited occupant.

Freddy is the name of the theatre’s ghost and it is thought he may have been a sailor stabbed by a woman or he may have been one half of a dueling pair, the unlucky half. Freddy’s spirit is rounded out in an observation of a seamstress working late at the theatre one evening. She saw a young smiling man walk down the aisle to take a seat and then disappear.

I can’t think of anyone better than the ‘gem’ girls to continue on Freddy’s tradition of giving the theatre a sense of spirit with a dose of humour.

One of the first things we discussed was the well documented play’s earthy language.  Refreshingly the modern audience both male and female have taken well to the play with the odd exception such as the lady in Coventry, ironically the home of the famed Lady Godiva (not shy to literally baring all), as metaphorically our three protagonists do. This lady of Godiva found the naked and raw language a little too bold! But such protests are few and far between.

This group of actors have an excellent rapport and are comfortable in each other’s presence as well as supportive of each other. Anita and Neili have worked together before, playing mother and daughter as they do in this play.

Neili has acting pedigree in her family with both her dad and brother also actors.

Birdy is the youngest of the group and has done very well for herself in the competitive world of acting. Fresh out of drama school she is the only student in her class of eighteen to have secured employment in acting and what a dream job she has, travelling the world and performing in an award winning play.

If life is not precarious enough for the working actor we discussed the impact of the recession in Ireland on theatre.  As happens the world over, when cut backs are required it is usually the arts that are affected. The ladies told me that many of the little theatres that sprouted up during the roar of the Celtic tiger now struggle to survive running on the energy of his purr .

The precariousness of the acting profession has not dulled the ladies desire to act and they realise that in difficult economic times it is often to the entertainment industry that people turn for diversion.

The ladies have relished their time in Tasmania and remarked on the natural beauty of Tasmania and they requested special thanks be given to Samuel from ‘Top for Tours’ for the accompanied trip to Mount Wellington where the girls were able to sample the purity of the spring water.

I want to thank Maria, Marketing Manager from the Theatre Royal for her cheerfulness and good humour in giving me the chance to talk to the ladies at reasonably short notice and to Kim for her friendly professionalism and of course, the ladies themselves. Thank you for your support of Tasmania! And please make it sooner rather than later to visit us again!

I’ll close on a comment Anita made about how the beauty of the Theatre Royal was such to ‘make you cry’!


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