Emma Willis, from The Young Offenders, and Ciara O’Callaghan, from Fair City, co-star in Gary Duggan’s potent new play, Spotless, which comes to the Town Hall, for one performance only, on Thursday May 2.
Spotless is part drama, part thriller, with a healthy dose of black humour thrown in. It tells the story of two very different women whose lives become intertwined when they both find themselves (unknown to each other ) in a relationship with the same mysterious young man.
Forty-something Genevieve has downsized from an affluent suburb and struggles with life in her new home backing onto a grim block of flats. Jenny, a Leaving Cert student who lives in the flats, wants a way out. While Genevieve clings to her last chance of having children, Jenny avoids unwanted attention from the opposite sex.
Ahead of the play’s Galway visit, Emma Willis spoke with me about what audiences can can look forward to. A native of Cork, Willis made her breakthrough in the hit comedy-drama The Young Offenders and she has also featured in the RTE series Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope, the BBC’s Overshadowed and the movie Darkness on the Edge of Town, with Brian Gleeson.
With most of her work over the past few years being on screen, is she relishing being back on stage with Spotless? “Yes, absolutely,” she asserts. “I studied theatre and drama in Cork and it was all theatre I did during that period. Then, when I graduated, I found myself doing a lot of screen work, which led on to more screen work so it has been a while since I did theatre and I was itching to get back onstage again – you don’t want to leave it too long in case you get out of practice. When I was offered this play and read it I felt it would be the perfect one to come back and do after not being onstage for about a year and a half.”
Willis expands on what attracted her to do Spotless; “The fact that it features two women, both with great stories. My character, Jen, all she wants is to get out of her flat and get away from her dad and the mundane life that she sees people around her lead. She wants to escape that and get something better for herself, while the other character, Genevieve, all she wants is a child and she has not been able to have one. So there are these two amazing female stories interwoven and we interact with each other at certain points and other times it is told through monologues. It is a really great female-driven piece and as soon as I read it I really wanted to do it.”
While Willis and O’Callaghan are the only actors onstage, between them they also create a third (male ) character, Dean. Both women play their version of Dean for the opposite woman. “Both women get involved with the same man, Dean,” Willis explains. “I play Dean when Genevieve is with him and Ciara plays him when he is with Jen. Dean does come across differently depending on which of us is playing him. We talked about that in rehearsals and I said that accent-wise we were always going to have different-sounding Deans and our director, Aoife, said ‘it is your interpretation of Dean’. You are a different person depending on who you are with; when Dean is with Jen he is one thing and when he is with Genevieve he is another. It’s interesting; when I play Dean I never get to see Ciara play Dean because we don’t look at each other so we don’t know what each other’s scenes look like. It’s interesting sharing a character with somebody else.”
The play’s director is NUIG graduate Aoife Spillane-Hinks, who is working with author Gary Duggan for the second time, following the successful staging of Run/Don’t Run in 2015. “We also have a female stage manager so for a lot of the rehearsal period it was all women in the room and that was great,” Willis observes. “As we talked about the script we could share our life experiences and those different female perspectives on the characters and their world.”
Both characters’ names, Genevieve and Jennifer, sound the same when shortened to Gen/Jen which suggests they can be viewed as different sides of the same coin, despite their differences.
“They are different people,” Willis notes. “Jen is from the flats in inner city Dublin and is doing her Leaving Cert while Genevieve and her husband have lost money and have had to move into a house in Dublin’s inner city where they don’t want to be. Genevieve is in her early forties so she and Jen are at different points in their lives. Throughout the play they do have moments that mirror each other where we see the two women deal with similar situations differently. The fact that their names are similar provides one very funny scene where we talk about our names and how they sound alike.”
In her various screen credits, Willis has shown an equal flair for handling both comic and dramatic roles and she is able to deploy both attributes in Spotless. “There is a lot of humour in the play,” she agrees. “Gary has written it really well to have moments of humour and lightness and then suddenly it will switch to darkness and drama. It is never heavy for too long, there is always some comedy around the corner.”
Spotless, staged by Rise Productions, is at the Town Hall on Thursday May 2, at 8pm. Tickets are €20 / €18, available from www.tht.ie