Brenda Blethyn Is Haunted

The Academy Award-nominated actress prepares to tread the boards in Belfast. Click Play Audio for a podcast interview

Click here to listen to Brenda_Blethyn.mp3 (MPEG Layer 3 Audio, 7.1 MB)

'I did a whole half hour video interview once in Sundance,' BAFTA winning actor Brenda Blethyn comments, peering over the table at the recorder. 'The man hadn't put a tape in.'

Blethyn sits upstairs in the Grand Opera House next to a huge, bright red suitcase. She only arrived in Belfast 30 mins ago. Despite the trip she is fresh-faced and chic in a soft green jacket that flatters red hair flipped out at the ends. She looks younger than she does on screen, more delicate.

She's in Belfast to rehearse for her role in Haunted, a play written by the doyenne of Irish Literature, Edna O'Brien, with Blethyn in mind, but Blethyn denies knowing the writer well.

'No, no, not well! I met her four or five years ago in New York.' O'Brien had been there to see Blethyn in a Broadway play. Afterwards she'd sought the actor out backstage to tell her about a play O'Brien had been working on. Blethyn clears her throat and assumes a rich, plummy voice, 'I have a pley I'd like you to be reading.'

The accent makes her chuckle. That play wasn't this one, she adds. Haunted came along afterwards.

'It's an older play that she resurrected with me in mind,' Blethyn explains. She's enamoured of O'Brien as a writer. 'When I first read it I was bowled over. It's such a beautiful lyrical play and in an age where we're reduced to abbreviating, to texting everything, eloquence is like a thing of the past. Conversation, the art of conversation, and she's a master. It's a beautiful feast of language - it's lovely, so lovely.'

Blethyn plays Mrs Berry in Haunted. A married woman who discovers her husband is selling her clothes to fund his infatuation with a young stall holder.

'She's a strong woman, the bread winner of the family,' Blethyn says. She sits up straighter in the chair and lifts chin and eyebrows, suddenly mannered and matronly. Even her voice changes, turning careful around the shape of words. '...Smart, forward looking, eager to learn about the world and enjoy life.'

Satisfied with the description she stops with a nod and Berry is gone. Never for long though. She slips in and out of Blethyn's voice like a ghost. O'Brien might not have known Blethyn well but it's a good match she found here, actress and character.

Asked about Berry's reaction to her husband's betrayal Blethyn's eyes flash and she sits up very straight in her chair. 'She's outraged!' Later, talking about a character that we never meet in the play, she sniffs dismissively, 'Well, he's a wastrel.'

Compassionate towards all the flawed, idiosyncratic characters in the play, Bleythen admits she'd have a special sympathy for Berry even if she wasn't playing her.

'It's like having an insurance policy. You get to the end and they say "No, I'm not going to pay you." When you have a marriage, when you get to the autumn of that marriage and ... ' Blethyn inhales. She has some experience of this herself. It was the end of her own nine year marriage in 1976 that led her to turn her passion for amateur dramatics into a career. The last words escape her on a sigh, 'it's all gone for nothing.'

So why should you go and see Haunted?

'To start with it's written by the queen of Irish literature Edna O'Brien. it's a beautifully lyrical play that is heart rending and funny.' She laughs suddenly, a bright trill. 'I hope I haven't made it so good that you go and see it and think 'It's not that good'.

With two successful productions already under Haunted's belt and four more dates pending before a West End run it doesn't seem like that would be a problem.

Interview over, Blethyn is off to a radio interview at the BBC. She heads off towards the stage-doors of the Grand Opera House, dragging the giant red suitcase determinedly behind her.

Haunted, also starring Beth Cooke and Niall Buggy, runs at the Grand Opera House from Febuary 15-20.

Tammy Moore