Dawn Sievewright: "It's alright to be you. It's alright to be who you are."
One of the actors from hit West End comedy Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour tells us why this show is something special.
Caroline Deyga (Chell), Kirsty MacLaren (Manda), Isis Hainsworth (Orla), Frances Mayli McCann (Kylah), Dawn Sievewright (Fionnula) and Karen Fishwick (Kay)
Vicky Featherstone, our legend of a director, asked me "Which character do you most identify with?" Having never come across a character like Fionulla the Cooler before, I shouted, "Fionulla is me!" frantically waving the script in the air. "This is my weekend in a book!"
All joking aside, I wasn't trying to blag my way through the audition. I had genuinely never read a book like The Sopranos, but I knew I had to get a piece of it. These were young Scottish lassies, unashamedly growing up, throwing themselves at life and finding out who and what they are.
The similarities I found with this girl were endless. She comes at the world 500mph, then deals with the consequences afterwards. Even though she has a good heart, she always pushes people that little bit too far and finds the emotional aftermath has a bigger kick than the silly joke that she starts with. Most of all, the fact that Fionulla thinks being the funniest clown will hide the fact that she doesn't actually know who or what she is or should be - that's what made me excited.
We had the chance to build these characters from the ground up. Alan Warner (the writer of The Sopranos) had give Lee Hall a skeleton of the story and characters, but we were told from day 1 that Vicky, Imogen (our choreographer) and Lee wanted to give is free reign to find out what made them tick and also, to bring part of our own self and emotion to them. Now, considering that I'm a loud mouth, aggressive Glaswegian who tends to go head on into everything, that didn't seem too far for me to jump. But, when Imogen started working with us every morning before rehearsals on pulling out the guts of these characters and of ourselves as actresses, that's when Fionulla started to become real. It wasn't long before I realised that Fionulla was me.... she was just an extension of the person that I was trying to find.
Two years ago, at the start of this rehearsal process, I was frantically running around, emotionally and physically, trying to chase something that I thought would make me happy. Then when I thought I was safe, I let my guard down and like a fucking bolt of lightening something came in and knocked me right off my feet. So therefore, I felt like running around telling jokes and making people feel slightly overpowered by me would make me feel better.... right? It didn't.
I find it almost ridiculous how much this parallels to Fionulla's journey to self discovery. She starts off the day in Oban with nothing more than the idea of leading this gang of unbelievable girls into a total war of fun and adventure. No man will stop them, no other girls will stop them and more importantly, no nun will stop them. Then, while she chases that adventure, maybe a little deeper than she should, she comes face to face with her reality. Like that flash of lightning, all the decisions she has made in the past regarding her sexuality and where she wants attention to come from, they all get brought into daylight. Then she can do nothing else but face them.
After the ordeal of unpicking all of the doubts and questions in her mind, it is the gift of non-judgement, given by Kay, that makes her realise, "It's alright to be you. It's alright to be who you are." I can't tell you what it's like to say that on stage to hundreds of people every night, 8 times a week. It's like a form of therapy and emotional massage. These girls, after their 24 hours of madness, stand on the edge of the port, watching the sunrise, not knowing what is going to happen next, not knowing if it's going to knock them off of their feet. But when it does, my god they'll all get back up together and run at it a little harder and a little faster.
My journey with Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour has been a long one. But it wasn't that hard to find or create Fionulla because I actually think she's been in me since I was 13 or 14. It just so happens, it's taken me 29 years to finally get the chance to play her.
You can see Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour at the Duke Of York's Theatre until 2 September.
Monday to Saturday 7.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday matinee 2.30pm
For more info and to buy tickets visit ourladiestheplay.co.uk or call the box office on 0844 871 7623.
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