'The play has been hugely emotive for audiences'

Writer/director John Murphy discusses Smallone

SMALLONE INTRODUCES us to a solitary, ageing woman, Mingey, who loves her cats, Peru, and Club Milks. She hates Sunday Mass-ones, mangy mutts, and papery sausages. She is feisty and mischievous and has a heart full of love.

She guards her privacy like a treasure. She refuses to be cowed by other people’s view of her or surrender to the sadness she sometimes feels. This is Smallone, the tender and moving play, which Limerick’s Bottom Dog Theatre Company is bringing to the Town Hall Theatre.

“Mingey is one of these people that we can see any day of the week walking around our local town, or she could be someone in our family or a neighbour,” playwright John Murphy tells me. “She’s someone who has gotten a little lost. When we look at them they might be dressed a bit strange or be a bit smelly. She has found herself isolated by her own life. When I was growing up there’d always be a strange woman who lived on her own and we’d be afraid of. The play explores how somebody becomes like that and what their lives are and how we tend to judge them without knowing them. It peers behind the curtain of her life and we slowly get to know her and understand her and, hopefully, like her.”

Smallone was first staged in 2006 and its current revival came about when actress Michelle O’Flanagan expressed interest in playing Mingey. “Michelle saw the first production and wanted to have a go at it,” Murphy explains. “She initially took the script to work with another director but they found it difficult to break into it so I sat down with her one day and we worked through the script and then Bottom Dog decided to pick it up and do it with Michelle in the part and myself directing.

"This production is similar to the first one in some ways but quite different in others – we’ve gone a bit deeper into the realities of Mingey’s life. We did the play together two years ago in an old grotty Georgian room in a building in Limerick which really suited it and added so much to the atmosphere. Obviously we couldn’t tour that room though I’d love to have done so if I had the means but I think the set serves the play very well.”

'I think what people respond to is her sense of defiance in the face of whatever life throws at her. To survive loneliness and isolation you have to develop a thick skin'

While he has many acting and directing credits to his name, Smallone remains Murphy’s only foray into playwriting. “I didn’t set out with a big plan to write it,” he confesses. “I had a few spare hours to myself one day while I was directing something else and I just started writing it and it just flowed out of me, but it was more of an accident than a plan. I can’t say whether I’ll write again but if Smallone is all I ever write that’s grand.”

Murphy has been enjoying how audiences are responding to the play on its current tour; “It’s been going well; we have had a very warm response from the venues we have been to so far. People are really loving it; the play has been hugely emotive for audiences, people can see themselves or people close to them in Mingey.

Smallone

"It hits a chord. I think people respond to the fact that she is very real. She has her own way of speaking and turn of phrase which can be very funny. She is very emotionally rich as well. I think what people respond to is her sense of defiance in the face of whatever life throws at her. To survive loneliness and isolation you have to develop a thick skin and be able to laugh at life or sometimes even put up two fingers to it.”

Smallone is at the Town Hall Theatre on Thursday May 23 at 8pm. Tickets are €15/12 from 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie

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