Writers are always mining their own back stories when it comes to producing new material. That was no different for Margaret McAuliffe, the Gaiety School of Acting graduate who is currently touring with her one-woman show ‘The Humours of Bandon’.
The play, which will be performed at Belltable this weekend, tells the story of 16-year-old Irish dancer Annie on the eve of the Irish Open championship.
McAuliffe had lived, breathed and danced that life herself. “I danced competitively for eighteen years from five years old, and gave it up to go travelling about eleven years ago. I had lots to draw on, so when I sat down to write it, it came flowing out of my fingers. I can kind of get it now when they say, ‘write what you know,’ she says.
Margaret debuted the production at the Dublin Fringe Festival last year where it won the Little Gem Award. Since then, it has played around Ireland and featured at this summer’s Edinburgh Fringe.
When she speaks to Limerick Life, she is just off the back of the first night of her current Irish tour in Roscommon. “There was quite the Irish dancing contingent in the audience that were getting some of the references that the Edinburgh audience didn’t get.”
Nonetheless, the shows in the Scottish capital this summer also attracted a cohort of Irish dancing aficionados. “I had about thirty dancers, parents and teachers at one of my shows in Edinburgh. One of my old dancing buddies is now living in Glasgow, and runs a dance school there, and she brought a busload of them along. It all resonates with the older dancers, whereas for a lot of the younger dancers, some of the terminology and references go over their heads as it has changed.”
The Edinburgh experience was predominantly a positive one for Margaret.
“It went really well. It was first time putting on a show there and I had heard that it was kind of like ‘The Hunger Games’ for actors! The venue that I was in, Dance Base, looked after me very well, and had all the flyer-ing done, so it saved me a lot of energy for the shows.
“The reviewers came in the first two weeks and were very supportive and really got what it was about, which was something that I was worried about.”
Despite the fact that the reviewers may not have had any in-depth knowledge of Irish dancing, they were able to “relate it to experiences that they had” according to Margaret. Indeed, as ‘The Humours of Bandon’ is a coming-of-age story, it is applicable to all audiences, at home and abroad.
With her own past experiences helping to shape the writing of the play, it is unsurprising that there is an autobiographical element to the story, but Margaret warns audiences not to read too much into similarities between the characters and real-life.
“Most of the characters become heightened versions of people you know. I don’t react in the same way that I write Annie to react. It is also a comedy so it’s different to real life! The teacher is extremely passionate and intense; she is loosely based on different people I met but not based on any one person.”
After taking an extended break from dancing and its competitive nature, McAuliffe admits that it takes a lot of energy “to say the least!” to get back into the groove. “I was really nervous about trying to get dancing-fit again. I joined Rince, an intensive five-day dance school. I felt like quitting after the first day but just dug the heels in and got through it.”
During the writing process, it seems the dancing helped in the development of the script: “I would hammer out dance moves on the floor,” she recalls.
‘The Humours of Bandon’ is her first production with Fishamble: The New Play Company, and came about through their new playwright initiative Show In A Bag “that equips actors with ways of putting on their own work and bringing it on tour. I applied in early 2016 and thankfully was one of the four shows selected. They are a wonderful company that has given me so much support.”
Already, dates have been pencilled in for ‘The Humours of Bandon’ for early 2018, but before that Margaret and director Stefanie Preissner (fresh from her success with RTÉ’s ‘Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope’) visit Limerick’s Belltable.
“I’m really looking forward to playing Belltable. I haven’t ever played there and have heard such good things,” says Margaret, before making her way onto the stage to relive her youth again.