Young Offenders' Jennifer Barry on becoming a Derry Girl for Lisa McGee play
Star of one of this year's two hit Irish comedies discusses her leap from screen to stage and being part of a 'revolution' of women in the industry
Following the huge success of Derry Girls it would seem that the appeal of our self-referential, black humour stretches far beyond the confines of the City Walls. Arguably the strongest Irish comedic writing since Graham Linehan, Lisa McGee's witty humour coupled with the backdrop of the Troubles, has given a much needed voice to Northern Ireland.
It's clear our past is something we can't escape, interwoven into the psyche and subconcious of Northern Ireland – I once heard the story of an older lady whose daughter was 'due to have the baby at any moment' rushed in to have a 'last minute sectarian' - it's not something we have to be goverened by but instead lends itself to our rich dark sense of humour.
To quote that old chestnut, 'If you don't laugh, you'll cry' and McGee's first play Girls and Dolls, which comes to her hometown's Millennium Forum from September 17-20, is guaranteed to have you doing both.
Taking a minute in-between gruelling rehearsal schedules, breakout star of BBC/ RTE's hit comedy The Young Offenders, Jennifer Barry appears all-set for her first professional theatre gig.
'I'm a huge fan of Derry Girls and of course Lisa McGee's incredible writing, so I was delighted when she asked me to play a lead role in Girls and Dolls alongside Jamie-Lee (O'Donnell),' she says.
(L-R) Jamie-Lee O'Donnell and Jennifer Barry
Set in 1980s Derry, the play tells the story of two young girls, Emma and Clare, who guide the audience through the devastating consequences of one childhood summer that tears their lives apart. Taking on the roles of multiple larger than life characters, this two-women show poses a mammoth task even for theatre's most seasoned veterans.
'Capturing the voice of a ten-year-old, how they look at life and perceive the world is the focal point of the play,' Barry explains. 'So it's been tough; rehearsing every day from 9am to 11pm to get it right. But it's been useful working in Derry, listening to everyone around me and picking up the accent. Although I grew up in Dublin my mum's originally from Belfast, so the Northern accent hasn't been too hard to handle.'
Likewise the transition from camera to live audience has been daunting. 'The shift from telly to theatre has been a challenging one but it's been great trying something different. With TV you have multiple takes to get it right, in theatre you have one chance to entertain to a high standard that reflects Lisa's writing and does it justice.'
Rather aptly, with the emission of 'guys', Girls and Dolls once again puts women at the forefront of comedy, something Barry is proud to be involved in. 'We've seen a revolution in regards to women in comedy and very very funny women at that. It's fantastic seeing women coming to the forefront not just in comedy but right across the board; acting, writing and directing. It's exciting being a part of that.'
With stellar casting from the two biggest Irish comedies of the year, Barry hopes Girls and Dolls can make theatre more accessible and engaging for the younger generation.
'Up to now I think the age group of 16 plus have been too scared to go to theatre. It's important to change the notion that it's only for a certain class of people. Hopefully the universal nature of Girls and Dolls, the laughter and tears, will appeal to a younger generation of theatre-goers because it really is a story for everyone.'
Girls and Dolls punctuates every line of tragedy with cracking one-liners, which give the harrowing moments real punch. McGee's writing exemplifies the Irish habit of making light of all things serious, case in point, Derry Girls' Michelle on the Famine: 'They ran out of spuds. Everyone was raging.'
Girls and Dolls and Derry Girls writer Lisa McGee
Dry and sharp like a good wine, McGee's writing exhibits a timeless quality, set to get even better with age. The unmissable Girls and Dolls nails the Northern Irish mentality to a somewhat devastating effect, 'As long as it looks OK, it doesn't matter if it's broken.'
Girls and Dolls performs at Derry's Millennium Forum from September 17-20, tickets are now on sale from the box office 028 7126 4455 or visit www.millenniumforum.co.uk. It then moves to the SSE Arena, Belfast from September 21-23. Call the Box Office on 028 9073 9074 or visit www.ssearenabelfast.com.