Acclaimed adaptation of Derry play tackles perceptions on homelessness and addiction
Brian Foster's beloved Maire is reborn in the award-winning Myra's Story, which takes the tragic but universal tale to the gritty streets of Dublin
'There but for the grace of God go I'
Derry Playwright Brian Foster brings the internationally acclaimed Myra's Story back home on October 4. An adaptation of Foster's most successful play and beloved Maire - A Woman of Derry, the Maiden City tale upsticks to the Fair City for Myra's Story. Proving its universality, the play has already scooped a major award at New York's prestigious United Solo Festival held in 42nd Street Theatre Row. Previous winners include the likes of Robin Williams, Carrie Fisher, Bette Midler and now Foster joins the elite roll of honour.
Centred around one woman and the unravellings of her life, Myra's Story gives unadulterated access to the rollercoaster ride of addiction. Maintaining the street-drinking narrative of Maire and the same self-deprecating humour, Foster says the ubiquity of its subject matter made this story ideal for adaptation, whilst insisting that Maire - A Woman of Derry exists in its own right.
'The universal nature of addiction and homelessness has been proved in its reception, whether in Derry, Canada or New York. Audiences everywhere tell me the same thing, "That was my mother, my sister, my father or whoever on stage."
'For that reason it was important for me to take the tale elsewhere and add to the original. I toyed with the idea of Belfast and London but for me the natural progression was the gritty streets of Dublin. Myra McLaughlin maintains the feisty, foul-mouthed dark humour of Maire. As an amalgamation of people I've met and stories I've heard over the years, Myra shines a light on the truth of alcoholism.'
A woman caught in the throes of addiction but whose life mirrors that of any other passerby; one filled with family, love and loss. Myra finds herself falling into the pitfalls of life the rest of us escape merely by chance. Foster says he hopes to challenge people's misperceptions when it comes to 'drunkards'.
Fionna Hewitt-Twamley as Myra
'There exists a precipice that any one of us regardless of race, creed or gender, could fall over at any given time. We must remember there is a fine line between social drinking and alcoholism.
'I wanted to put a human face to what is often seen as a public spectacle. To challenge people's perceptions and ask if they ever stop to think of that person's backstory. Nobody was born to be a drunk, it's nothing something any person aspires to be. I wanted to force people to ask those questions, to force them to see the human face behind addiction in all its glory and not to look away when faced with the more tragic elements of the story.'
So why is the face of alcoholism female? For Foster the answer was simply to pose himself a challenge. 'As a man I felt it too easy to have a male protagonist. I wanted a challenge. Twenty years ago you'd seldom have seen female street-drinkers. But at the time of writing Maire there was a growing trend of women on the streets. That was new and I found a more interesting take on the story; to get inside a woman's head and understand how she could lose it all and end up where she had.'
Known for our witty and stubborn Irish mammies, a strong matriarch is integral to Irish society both North and South of the border. To see that figure unravel and made so vulnerable on stage is unsettling.
Letting go of the creative reigns on stage for the first time, Foster is excited to see what director Michael Scott of Machine Theatre Company will envisage for his creation. Likewise taking up the mantle from Carmel McCafferty – whose heart-wrenching performance as Maire was a tour de force, cementing her place as a theatre legend in the city - is award winning actor Fionna Hewitt-Twamley of Cardboard Gangsters fame. Foster is assured that Hewitt-Twamley will bring the same passion and talent to the stage in her role as Myra.
Carmel McCafferty in her final performance as Maire at the Millennium Forum in 2013, read a review of it here
'Every actor will have their own unique take on a character and I've no doubt that Fionna is capable of doing the role justice,' he says. 'Audiences so far have been bowled over by the power of the performance – especially with a live performance, when done well, can be devastatingly effective.'
But he insists a balance between tragedy and comedy is key to the play's success.
'Comedy has to play a part otherwise there would be too much drudgery. And in life, especially Irish life, our wonderful sense of dark humour can be a mechanism for coping. If anything it's a realistic portrayal of life, we often need to laugh our way through the most cruel of circumstances. To imbue tragedy and comedy with pathos means audiences can find the story harrowing but hilarious and with that concept in mind, it's more likely to leave a lasting impression.'
Ultimately Myra's rollercoaster journey lets us experience Dublin working class life and death at its funniest and cruellest. Myra will intoxicate audiences and leave them dizzy with tears of laughter and pain.
Haunting the same streets as dear old Molly Malone, poor Myra won't be lauded by locals, have odes written about her or statues erected in her honour. Does her tragedy not deserve the same respect? 'To see her was to love her', and after an hour on stage, Myra can at least share the same epitaph.
Myra's Story will play in Derry's Millennium Forum from October 4 - 6. Tickets are available online at www.millenniumforum.co.uk or by calling the Box Office on 028 7126 4455. The show then goes to Roddy McCorley, Belfast on October 3, At Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, October 15 - 20 and the Market Place Theatre, Armagh on October 24 - 25.