BETWEEN starring in The Mai, which runs at the Everyman from September 18-20, followed by a run at the Dublin Theatre Festival, and playing the role of Aoife in Fair City, Cork-reared actress Lesley Conroy has plenty on her plate.
The Dublin-based, 45-year- old, who was born in Portlaoise but moved to Cork at the age of two, knew she wanted to act from an early age.
As a young girl growing up on the Southern Road, she attended the Montforts and also the Cork School of Music, where she studied speech and drama.
At UCC, she studied English and French and was a member of Dramat. She then went on to take a diploma in acting studies at Trinity, followed by training in physical theatre with Loose Cannon.
“There weren’t as many courses in acting then as there are now,” says Lesley. “At the time, there was either Trinity, the Gaiety or you had to go to London.”
The modus operandi was to “break you down and then build you back up,” she says.
“I’m not sure if they totally built you back up. You had to do that yourself to an extent. it was kind of tough love, which isn’t ideal. They didn’t like you having ideas above your station. Now, it’s a very different dynamic. It’s a case of ‘you are the best! Go out there and go get it’.
“The acting courses now are a lot more rooted in reality. You’re shown how to fund-raise and they teach you how to develop work. Back when I trained, it was more pure acting. But realistically, you were kind of at sea when you went out into the world. Now, it’s good to be able to make your own work.”
Lesley’s partner, writer Stuart Roche, is planning to write “a meaty role” for her. The couple don’t talk shop all the time at home.
“We watch a lot of Netflix and have strong opinions about it,” said Lesley.
Like all actors, she has had periods of unemployment., and says that this can be dispiriting.
“Unless you make your own work, you don’t have much agency. But I find the more you chase work, the less it comes to you. When I’m not acting, thankfully, I have a family to keep me busy.”
Lesley’s sons, Billy and Tommy, are aged seven and 13.
A fluent Irish speaker, Lesley gets work with TG4.
She attended the former Model primary school, which was Irish speaking in Cork. She then went on to Colaiste an Phiarsaigh in Glanmire.
Her successful career has seen her work with stars. Her first professional job in Galway, a film called Angela Mooney Dies Again, saw her working with Mia Farrow and Brendan Gleeson.
“Brendan was only starting out then. Mia Farrow was very nice. She had all her kids with her, the whole posse.”
Lesley has also acted in the film Life’s A Breeze with Pat Shortt and Fionnuala Flanagan. Later this autumn, she will appear in Sarah Horgan’s new comedy, Women on the Verge, which stars Eileen Walsh.
Lesley was in Eden along with Eileen Walsh. She received an IFTA nomination for best supporting actress for that film.
She has also worked with Corcadorca with parts in A Clockwork Orange at Sir Henrys and Animal Farm’ She recently featured in Citizen Lane on RTÉ television.
Delighted to be in Marina Carr’s The Mai, Lesley is playing Connie, the middle sister of The Mai and Beck. It’s a challenging role.
“The Mai is a grand and successful woman, although her husband left her before getting back together with her when the play opens. There’s a shine off her.
“Then Beck is a loose spirit who travels the world. Connie has done everything right and by the book, marrying the right guy, getting the right job and the right house. But she’s a bit of a ticking bomb. She is wondering why she did everything right, which is really interesting to play.”
In the play, which features four generations of a family, “history repeats itself. It’s devastating. it’s quite Greek. it’s an amazing play. The more I hear it, the more things that pop out. It’s very rich. It’s about how families are doomed to repeat their history.”
Lesley says Marina Carr’s writing “is unbelievable.”
She added: “It trips off the tongue and there are moments of beautiful poetry. She just nails it with a great unfolding of the plot.”
As an under-graduate, Lesley went through a Beckett phase and a Pinter phase.
“I used to go to the library and just sit there, reading their plays. I also really like Brian Friel’s work and of course, Marina Carr.”
Lesley is encouraged by the Waking the Feminists movement, calling for greater representation of women in theatre.
“When you look at what’s happening at the moment, the real movers and shakers are women like Catherine Corless who blew up the Tuam babies scandal. We have a lot to say. We’re active members of society so why not see more women on the stage? It’s predominantly women in the audience.
“I’m not sure if I see female characters portrayed as they really are because when writers are mainly male, you get the male gaze. it colours things. I’m very interested in seeing more female writers and female programmers.
“Women should vote with their feet. If a play doesn’t tick the boxes, then don’t buy a ticket. That’s important. It’s true democracy.”
Playing the role of Aoife in Fair City, whose twenty-something daughter was killed by Kerri-Ann, is an intense experience. The actors in the RTÉ soap only have two weeks’ warning as to what their characters will be doing.
While Lesley loves working in film and TV, “when the material for the stage is right, it’s pretty electric”.
The versatile actress has her pick of the different mediums.
The Mai runs at the Everyman from Tuesday Sept 18 to Thursday Sept 20.
Tickets €27, concessions €25, students €9, are available from the box office, phone 021 4501 673, or online at everymancork.com