My Cultural Life: Lisa May

Woman of the Year in Art, Lisa May of Bruiser Theatre Company reveals where she stands on catchy pop and much more

You are Belfast Telegraph's Woman of the Year in the Arts - but not for much longer. Nominations are open again and you'll have to give up your crown. Are you going to miss it?

Wouldn't it have been great if I'd actually been given a crown? I'd have enjoyed my Miss Congenialty moment! To be honest, I will miss it. It was lovely for Bruiser's work to be recognised in that way - great publicity for the company and nice to get dressed up and rub shoulders with the great and the good at the ceremony. We all work so hard in this industry; long hours for little money and it was a wonderful surprise and a great acknowledgement of what we all (staff, casts, crews and the Board) do at Bruiser.

Who would you nominate for the title this year?

My first instinct would be to nominate Bruiser's Company Manager, Stephen Beggs, in a dress! He is just the bees knees, and it would be tricky to find anyone who could come close to his passion, commitment and support for the arts in Northern Ireland. If the Belfast Telegraph were sticklers about the nominee being a woman (and I suspect they might be) then I would nominate Anne McReynolds for all her work on developing the MAC. It is such an exciting venture, and I look forward to seeing it grow and develop.

Did being Woman of the Year in the Arts change anything for you? Did it make a difference to your professional practice?

I suppose the biggest impact was the reaction from young people I have worked with in the past. Bruiser's work appeals to all audiences, but we have a great number of schools who study our work as practitioners in physical theatre, since we tie in so closely with the approved syllabus. A great many students contacted me after they heard, and told me how our work, advice, or educational opportunties had inspired or spurred them on in their chosen career in the arts.

Apart from making me feel extremely old, it also made me proud that we at Bruiser have helped nurture homegrown talent. Our professional development programmes for young people, especially our Summer Schools and Graduate Academy are an aspect of our work that I am very passionate about.

At least you have something to take your mind off having to give up the title. You are working on another play: Low Pay? Don't Pay!. Can you tell us about it?

It's actually a new version of the 1974 Dario Fo classic called Low Pay? Don't Pay!, translated by Joseph Farrell. It is part of Bruiser's 'Didactic Season', hot on the heels of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui and The Government Inspector. In the play housewives Antonia and Margherita, fed up with high prices in the supermarket, take matters into their own hands and start shoplifting. Keen to keep their light-fingered antics away from their husbands, not to mention the police, the women resort to more and more inventive hiding places and elaborate cover stories.

What attracted you to this play at this time?

I love Fo's work because it is popular, accessible theatre. It is unashamedly unpretentious. Fo encourages his actors to address the audience directly, his script has a vaudevillian, sometimes music hall feel, and asides are used aplenty as a narrative device. His satirical biting narrative is played within a traditional style.

The genre in which he chooses to tell his story is not new. His roots are in storytelling, commedia dell'arte, improvisation and of course farce. The actor is the central mechanism of performance to drive the plot forward. It is not a political broadcast thrust down our throats. The audience must see as well as listen, to enjoy the spectacle as much as to hear the ideas. Bruiser's physical and ensemble approach suits this balance of words and movement, where knockabout humour is married with political passion.

Did you work with Dario Fo, the playwright, on it?

No, but translator Joseph Farrell worked closely with Fo on his new script and is a real Fo buff. Dario Fo is now 84 and lives in his native Italy, so it is unlikely he'll be along to see the show, but hey, you never know, he could pop along to the Waterfront or catch it on tour! Keep your eyes peeled...

How are rehearsals going?

It is exhausting as it's so fast and physical, but I have a brilliant team of enthusiastic actors who are up for the challenge. I keep bringing in fruit and chocolate to keep their stamina up, as they are shedding pounds at an alarming rate. We joked about having a weigh in after the tour and Bruiser bringing out a fitness video.

If you hadn't gotten involved in the theatre, what career do you think you would have followed?

I always wanted to be an actress, and start my own theatre company. I'm not sure what else I could do... perhaps teaching drama? If Carlsberg did dream jobs I think a sampler of wines, a restaurant critic or a travel writer would certainly be on the list.

What sort of books do you read? Who is your favourite author?

All kinds, to be honest. It's hard to name a favourite. I'm re-reading Richard Broad's Nella Last's War at the moment. It is a simple, engaging and moving account of a housewife and mother during the Second World War. A beautiful book.

What song do you like that you don't admit to in public?

Oh, that is such a mean question. Being a hardcore indie fan, admitting that I like 'I Gotta Feeling' by the Black Eyed Peas is a particularly bitter pill to swallow. But there, I said it. It's catchy!

Tammy Moore

Low Pay? Don't Pay! runs at the Belfast Waterfront from September 24-26, before touring other venues. For details check the Culture Live! listings.