Creating drama here on Leeside

Hopes are high that a new drama on RTÉ Player, written by a Blackrock woman, will be made into a series, EMMA CONNOLLY writes
Creating drama here on Leeside
Cathy Belton and Eileen Walsh, star in

A BLACKROCK writer is hoping her RTÉ ‘pilot’, which is shot in the city and features a mainly local cast and team, will be made into a series which will put Cork in the spotlight.

Written and directed by Oonagh Kearney of Tyrella Films, On the Hemline is one of four new 20 minute dramas from Storyland 2017 which have just been released on RTÉ Player.

The story is centred on long-term unemployed northsider, Martha, who needs to support her daughter Dawn’s acceptance into a STEM programme in secondary school.

Through the charity Hemline, she meets recently widowed southsider Sheenagh. Their different worlds collide, but together they embark on a journey of self-development that prepares Martha for her first job interview in years.

On the Hemline’s Cork credentials are evident as filming takes place in Hollyhill and Knocknaheeny as well as Terence MacSwiney Community College, Hollyhill; its producer, LA-based Barbara Healy, grew up in the Bishopstown/Ballincollig area and its production manager is Sinead Barry from Douglas.

The three women hadn’t worked together before but together they created a perfect trinity of talent ably backed up by a strong cast including Cork’s Eileen Walsh (Pure Mule, The Magdalene Sisters) and Cathy Belton (Red Rock, The Clinic).

Several experienced actors from Cork feature including Conor and Louis Lovett, UCC’s Vice President of Development Jean Van Sinderen-Law along with emerging Cork talent Emma Willis and 11 year old, schoolgirl, Kaci O’Driscoll Power, making her screen debut as Martha’s lively daughter, Dawn.

Other locals involved include Ciarán McCarthy (playing Frog) and Lucy O’Neill from Aston Secondary School (playing Leanne) as well as several students from St Mary’s National School, Knocknaheeny and St Vincent’s National School, St Mary’s Road.

Originally from the Blackrock Road, Oonagh got her break in film working on The Wind That Shakes The Barley, and spent 10 years in London before returning to her native city in 2015.

Returning home, she said, has made her more alert to stories in her community.

“I became more aware of the haves and have nots in the city when I moved home and how difficult it can be to get back into the workforce,” she said.

And her idea further grew from a conversation she had with Carmel O’Keeffe and her organisation Dress for Success, whose mission is to empower women to achieve independence.

“Speaking to Carmel, I got an understanding of that — how women are setting themselves up for both failure and success. I was inspired by her organisation and, generally speaking, I also reflected on my own experiences, going to interviews and getting work in the arts.”

Kaci Power O' Driscoll and Eileen Walsh, in On The Hemline. Picture: Dervla Bake
Kaci Power O' Driscoll and Eileen Walsh, in On The Hemline. Picture: Dervla Bake

Speaking from Paris where she’s on a writing residency with the Irish Cultural Centre, Oonagh feels the drama, set in real time, which has comedic elements, will have a strong and widespread appeal — especially to a local audience.

“We saw the success of Young Offenders which was based and filmed in Cork — I’m just going to let this fly and hope that it finds an audience.”

Not technically a pilot, but commissioned as a one off, she’s says it’s a case of ‘fingers crossed’ that it will be made into a series which would see the story continue.

“That’s the greater aim. I’m really keen to create work opportunities in Cork — I’d love to have a series set here.”

Currently in its seventh season, Storyland 2017 brings original stories to a national and a global audience, showcasing a great breadth of Ireland’s creative talent across writing, acting, producing and directing. It’s the talent pool where lots of RTÉ series come from.

Kaci O’Driscoll Power is already getting acclaim for her performance in On the Hemline, which was her debut acting role.

From Peter Street in the city centre, her mum Nicola encouraged her daughter — the eldest of her three children — to audition for the lead role when her school, St Vincent’s NS, sent a letter home about the film.

“I told her to go for it — she’d never acted before but she was fabulous and it has been great for her confidence,” said Nicola.

The 12 year old sixth class pupil — an avid basketball player — is now looking forward to more acting roles and if the project goes to series will most likely see her character developed.

Oonagh already has a good idea where the story will go if it does go to series with Sheenagh and Martha — who are both opposites but who have things in common — continuing their friendship and potentially going into business together; along with developing the cast and bringing in new characters.

“That’s the joy and the pleasure in writing for TV — in that you can develop stories gradually and there’s space for the audience to get to know them. And it’s hugely exciting to do that in Cork.”

Oonagh will remain in Paris until October where she’s working on a feature film for Marcie Films; an Arts Council film inspired by an, as yet, unpublished poem by Cork poet Doireann Ni Ghriofa and a feature film script.

She’s clearly busy but describes the opportunity to focus on her work during her residency is a ‘privilege’.

See On the Hemline at: https://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/storyland- 1239/10788159/ or the trailer at https://youtu.be/Bij4JqInsVM

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