Play is just the ticket if you want a laugh!

Actor Rebecca O’Mara tells ANN-MARIE O’SULLIVAN about her role in a comedy opening at the Everyman tonight - and her previous work in Thomas The Tank Engine and Line Of Duty
Play is just the ticket if you want a laugh!

Naima Swaleh, Bosco Hogan, Anna Healy, Rebecca O’Mara and Fionn Ó Loingsigh in The Last Return. Picture: Ste Murray.

QUEUING doesn’t always bring out the best in people in Sonya Kelly’s hilarious comedy opening in the Everyman Theatre tonight.

The Last Return, produced by the renowned theatre company Druid, tells the story of a growing group gathering in a theatre foyer, all hopeful to secure the last ticket to the final performance of a must-see show.

The Last Return itself is no stranger to demand. After opening to a sold-out audience in Galway, it toured to Edinburgh (where it won a Fringe First Award) and then Dublin.

As it embarks on an eight-venue tour of Ireland its reputation precedes it, as it was nominated for two Irish Times National Theatre Awards and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize 2022, the largest playwriting prize honouring women’s theatre writing.

Ahead of its opening performance in the Everyman tonight, I spoke with Rebecca O’Mara, who plays Umbrella Woman, and asked why The Last Return appeals to audiences, critics and award judges alike.

“It’s a unique play. I’m really not surprised that it’s gaining such critical acclaim but it’s also popular with audiences. We’ve been around the country and audiences are loving it.”

“What Sonya does is take situations from daily life and creates this heightened reality. I certainly can’t queue in the same way again after being in this play, and I think people coming to see it will never be able to queue in the same way either.”

Charmingly, the characters are named as strangers might label each other, with names like Ticket Person, Woman in Pink, Newspaper Man and Military Man. Rebecca’s character, Umbrella Woman, “has no friends and works in accounts in this big international firm. Everyone in the firm has seen the hit play, except her. She feels as if she’s being bullied and so she’ll stop at nothing to get a ticket on its final night.”

Rebecca calls the play “an absurdist black comedy”, which hints that there’s more here than light relief. She adds: “On the serious side, you could say it’s about conflict, proximity, territory, colonialism, and the effects of war. But also it’s about human civility and how we behave with each other when we think we aren’t going to see each other again.”

Rebecca O'Mara, who stars in The Last Return at the Everyman
Rebecca O'Mara, who stars in The Last Return at the Everyman

Describing the thrill of performing The Last Return, she says, “Sometimes, people are laughing so much, but also trying to suppress it to hear the next line. There was a woman the other night who was squeaking, trying to keep it in. It’s such a joy.”

The play is not Rebecca’s first encounter with Sonya Kelly’s writing. The actor won an Irish Times Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actress in Kelly’s comedy Furniture. which Druid premiered in 2018. She says: “What’s so clever about Sonya is she takes things that are very ordinary, day to day, and brings them to another place. You can’t quite believe she goes there but she does.

“But also, both Furniture and The Last Return are really moving plays. I don’t know how she does it.”

Since graduating from Trinity College and London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), Rebecca has had TV roles in Smother, Doctors, Red Rock, Line Of Duty and Jimmy’s Hall. To my delight, I discovered she was the voice of Caitlin, a train in Thomas the Tank Engine, King of the Railway. King of the Railway was played endlessly in our home. But I stopped short of doing a deep dive into Thomas the Tank and instead asked Rebecca about her role in another TV favourite, Line Of Duty.

“I always send off my self tapes, thinking nobody watches them, but this one came back and I had the job,” recalls Rebecca.

“Line Of Duty is such a phenomenon and they made me feel so welcome. I’ve also got a lovely guest role in Smother.”

Keeping busy in all spheres, Rebecca will also appear in the upcoming film, The Toxic Avenger, where she plays opposite Peter Dinklage, of Game Of Thrones fame.

Rebeccas says of working with the star: “We got to explore the scenes in as many ways as you can play it”, adding that it was an excellent experience and not something that can always happen on set.

But when comparing TV and film to theatre, she says “theatre gives instant gratification, you have that live reward. The audience shows you what they want and you deliver it, in the moment. Theatre is a real passion of mine.”

Having performed in UK and Irish theatres since 2006, Rebecca is familiar with the Everyman. Her first appearance at the theatre was during the time of Covid restriction, and coincided with the arrival of Omicron. “It was really difficult. So being back, and being back with audiences is such a privilege,” she says.

“My first time in the Everyman was in 2021. Of course I’d heard about it and it really lives up to what everyone told me about how beautiful it is. But also what a lovely warm audience the Cork audiences are. I’m really excited.”

Similarly, Sinead Murphy, the venue’s Communications Manager, says: “The Everyman is delighted to welcome Druid back to our stage with the award-winning The Last Return. With Druid being one of the pre-eminent theatre companies in the country, Cork audiences are assured of a fantastic evening’s entertainment.”

The Last Return in the Everyman Theatre tonight and tomorrow night only. Booking is advised lest you find yourself, like the characters, anxiously queuing for the last return.

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