YOUGHAL native Liz FitzGibbon is relishing her role in Kevin Barry’s adaptation of Guests Of The Nation for Corcadorca, which promises to be one of the highlights of this year’s Cork Midsummer Festival.
Liz, who has been living in Dublin for 15 years, had never worked with Corcadorca until now and says it was always an ambition of hers to act in one of the innovative theatre company’s productions.
The play, which is being staged in and around the Cork Opera House and the Triskel Arts Centre, is directed by Pat Kiernan with sound design by Mel Mercier. It is inspired by Frank O’Connor’s seminal short story first published in 1931.
However, it’s a contemporary take on what it means to be Irish in 2022 and explores the notion of patriotism, while being a timely interrogation of war. It’s also a celebration of our multi-cultural society.
What is unusual about it is that the male characters are played by females. But Liz, a graduate of the Gaiety School of Acting, doesn’t see this as a big deal. Rather, she points to the tendency to write women out of history and welcomes this version of an anti-war story.
Given what’s happening in Ukraine and the plight of the women from there, Guests Of The Nation has never been so apposite.
Liz plays Noble, who in Frank O’Connor’s story is an Irish volunteer during the War of Independence. Along with compatriot, Bonaparte, the character is holding two English soldiers hostage. But the four characters become friendly, despite the fact that the two Brits will be executed by the Irish if the crown forces kill any IRA prisoners.
Clearly, it’s a case of Stockholm Syndrome, with the English characters becoming fond of their captors - and vice versa.
Liz says the site specific nature of this production, a hallmark of Corcadorca, is about “never really giving the audience time to fully settle”. Keeping the audience on edge is all part of the experience, which makes sense, given the potentially incendiary subject matter.
While Liz has toured around the country with shows, this is the first time she is working on a production that is being made in Cork.
“I was delighted when I got the offer of a role in it,” says Liz.
Since she was a child, she has always been involved in drama.
“I always felt I wanted to act. When I finished school, I started a degree in drama at Goldsmiths University of London.”
She didn’t finish that degree. While she enjoyed working towards it, she says the course “was very broad, including design and lighting. That was amazing, but I knew I wanted to be an actor.”
At the Gaiety School of Acting, Liz acquired a lot of useful skills, working with voice, dance and movement coaches as well as learning about improvisation. There was a showcase of work at the end of two years, a platform where the participants are seen by agents and casting directors.
Liz has been working steadily since graduating.
She won the award for Best Supporting Actress at the Irish Times Theatre Awards 2019 for her performance in the Abbey & Complex co-production, Dublin Will Show You.
As well as a lot of stage work, Liz’s television credits include Frank Of Ireland for Channel 4 last year, playing alongside Domhnall Gleeson and Brian Gleeson, “two gems who are just lovely”.
She played a secondary school teacher in Normal People “who has a little crush on Paul Mescal’s character, Conall.”
Liz says that working with director Lenny Abrahamson, on the adaptation of Sally Rooney’s second novel for television was amazing.
“He’s a very calm and chilled person. That set was a very happy place. I’d love to work with Lenny again.”
While Liz is currently enjoying Conversations WEith Friends, based on Sally Rooney’s first novel, and she concedes that it’s not quite the phenomenal hit that Normal People was.
“The reaction to Normal People was quite bizarre. I knew it would be well received but I don’t think anyone could have predicted where it would go. “
She says the chemistry between the young lovers, Conall and Marianne (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones) “was off the charts. Everyone became so attached to Normal People and emotionally involved with it. When it came out, it was during the height of lockdown.
“Everyone was at home collectively watching it. I think it would have done really well if it had come out at a different time, but it wouldn’t have been the phenomenon that it was.”
Liz adds that Conversations With Friends is very faithful to Sally Rooney’s novel.
“It’s a trickier situation than Normal People. There’s basically four people involved in a relationship. It’s slow, like Normal People. It’s beautifully shot and beautifully performed. But it would be hard for it to match the reaction that Normal People got.”
In order to be more autonomous as an actor, Liz has written her own one-woman show, Kicking All The Boxes. She has performed it in various places around Ireland and the UK, but never in Cork.
“I’m terrified to do it in Cork! It’s easier to do it in front of a UK audience. RTÉ picked it up and made it into a radio play which I was delighted about.”
Liz says her show is not autobiographical
“I’ve done kick-boxing. That’s probably the most autobiographical part of it. It’s about turning a certain age. It’s like a sliding doors thing where you see three different outcomes of how your life could have gone, depending on certain decisions. It’s about what it means to be a certain age as a woman, what you have to show for yourself, and what society thinks is a good place for you. It’s got lots of music by Jinx Lennon. It’s by far the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. I’m very proud of it. I’d like to try and adapt it for film.”
Writing the show “put the power back into my own hands. It was really interesting to push myself in a different way.”
While hustling and constant auditioning is the lot of a jobbing actor, Liz says that she has become “quite relaxed in the industry”.
Confident about the work she has done and her impressive CV, she lets her agents do the ground work.
“I turn up and try to do my job as best as I can. It’s quite intense, but hugely rewarding and exciting.”
Liz has taken on board the advice that actor, Marion O’Dwyer, gave her.
“She was a great mentor to me in my young years at the Abbey. She said the times when I’m out of work is when I’ll really know if I can do this job. Just live and don’t panic too much. I try to live by that. There will always be another job.”
Very calmly, Liz says she doesn’t know what she’ll be doing after the Corcadorca show.
“I’ve auditioned for a couple of film things. But at the moment, I’m just trying to enjoy the job I’m on.”
As Liz says, her one-woman show is in her back pocket. Now that she is for the first time working on a show being produced in Cork, perhaps she’ll consider performing her own piece of theatre in the city?
“Watch this space,” says Liz.