Wife and husband team up for play which opens in Cork this week

Married couple Dylan Kennedy and Jenny Fennessy produce, direct and act in a comedy, called ‘The Flags’ which opens at the Cork Arts Theatre tomorrow, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
Wife and husband team up for play which opens in Cork this week

The Flags cast Howie, Brendan, J.J. and Ursula.

A MARRIED couple are producing, directing and acting in a comedy that opens at the Cork Arts Theatre on May 31 and runs until June 11.

Dylan Kennedy and Jenny Fennessy, from Cork and Waterford respectively, describe themselves as ‘Jack of all trades’ with Dylan directing and performing in The Flags.

Having worked in the theatre circuit in London for years, Dylan, 37, was keen to return to Ireland as his parents were not in the best of health.

“I wanted to be closer to home (in Glenville in County Cork.) I had been in London for 14 years. It’s a hard place. The appeal of home was really strong at that stage,” he said.

Dylan retrained as a physiotherapist and is taking time away from his clinic to do the play.

He had a good career in London, working with theatre people who had won Tony Awards and Olivier Awards.

Howie and his love interest
Howie and his love interest

“I performed in the Barbican and the National Theatre as well as the Royal Albert Hall. I learned a lot.

“When we came home, we started to realise in a way we had never done in England that we had very good skills.”

Jenny, 38, “a home-bird” was delighted to come home, close to Lismore, where the couple now live, having got married when they returned from the UK.

“Even when I was in London, I was flying over to Ireland every month for the weekend. My heart has always been here.”

When she is not acting, Jenny works as a substitute teacher.

Her stint in London saw her in big roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She worked with the National Theatre and at the Donmar Warehouse.

“I don’t think we can complain really,” she says.

The couple met in 2008 when they were both in a children’s show with Barnstorm Theatre Company in Kilkenny. They have been together since. And they set up their own company, Red ‘n Blue Theatre Company in 2018.

As Jenny says, part of the reason why they set up the company was because they wanted to work together again.

“We hadn’t acted together since 2008. We decided to find a play we could be in together and set up the company so we could do it,” she said.

Their debut production, Lovesong, was a sell-out at the Cork Arts Theatre and at Garter Lane in Waterford. It won best supporting actress in the Waterford News and Star Green Room Awards and was nominated for three other awards.

Originally, Jenny and Dylan wanted their first production to be The Flags by the late playwright and screenwriter, Bridget O’Connor, who wrote it while living in Cork. (From the UK, Bridget came to Cork where her father was from when she received a diagnosis of cancer.) She and her husband Peter Straughan had adapted John Le Carré’s novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for the big screen. It was released in 2011 and garnered a BAFTA Award for best adapted screenplay. Bridget died of cancer in 2010 at just 49.

When Jenny and Dylan approached Peter for the rights of The Flags, he said he’d rather wait for them to develop a track record in staging plays. So they put on Abi Morgan’s Lovesong, which hadn’t before been staged in Ireland. After its success, Peter released the rights of The Flags to the couple.

The play, which has a cast of four, has been described as a mixture of Martin McDonagh and Fr Ted. It centres around Howie and JJ, lifeguards on the second worst beach in Ireland, strewn with litter, a dead cow and a burnt-out car. It features the men’s boss, who has a secret agenda. And it also features a mysterious woman “with surprising intentions”>

According to the couple, The Flags has never been produced in this country. It was first performed at the Manchester Royal Exchange in 2006. It won three Manchester Theatre Awards. Jenny and Dylan say they “are very privileged to bring the first Cork performance of this exceptional play in the city where the seed of it was sown”.

A small grant from Waterford City Council and lots of favours from family and friends enabled Jenny and Dylan to stage their debut production.

“We used my dad’s cattle box to bring the set around,” says Jenny.

What also helped the couple kick-start their theatre company was an initiative from the Cork Arts Theatre giving theatre companies ten rent-free nights at the venue.

Brendan catching JJ by surprise.
Brendan catching JJ by surprise.

For The Flags, Jenny and Dylan’s company were granted €8,000 from a fund set up by an anonymous benefactor helping theatre productions.

“That has been massive in getting the ball rolling,” says Dylan.

“Without that money, we wouldn’t be able to do the show.”

He says that his dual role of directing and acting in The Flags is “a full-on task.

“I have a really understanding cast because it’s not easy for them. Sometimes, they’re acting to nobody. And I often have to step outside and watch it to get a perspective on it. The brain is always switched on. You’re never fully immersed in the character in the rehearsal room. You have to put that on hold while you figure the other characters out. It’s very rewarding.

“And (playwright) Jim Nolan will give us an outsider eye in the last few days before we transition into the theatre. That is so valuable to us.”

What is working together as a married couple like? Do Jenny and Dylan have rows and artistic differences?

“We do, but we always find a solution,” says Jenny.

“If it’s something one of us is really passionate about, we’ll fight our cause. It’s always about wanting the best thing for the play.”

To book tickets see https://corkartstheatre.com/event/the-flags/

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