Pauline’s new stage role is mound to please

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YOU recognise the voice long before you see the face.

YOU recognise the voice long before you see the face.

Happy days

Happy days

Speaking at 100mph with an unmistakable Irish lilt, Pauline McLynn is an immediately captivating cocktail of energy and bonkersness.

“I probably won’t put any verbs in or a full stop anywhere but that’s just the Irish way,” she says the moment our interview begins.

In some ways she is suited to the part of talkative housewife Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s surreal Happy Days, a two-actor play that has Pauline performing largely from within a giant mound of rubble under the blazing sun in Sheffield’s Crucible Studio until June 4.

“I’ve been a bit nervous of the number of people who go: ‘Oh, that’s perfect casting’.

Pauline McLynn in rehearsals for Happy Days at the Crucible

Pauline McLynn in rehearsals for Happy Days at the Crucible

“I’d never read the play or seen it so I thought ‘What does that mean?’ I think it’s that Irish thing that we like to tell stories and we talk.

“It’s all to do with telling the story properly.

“I’ve discovered that I think I might like running

around the place and I don’t do much of that – as you can imagine – in this play. Winnie doesn’t have much to get her by except her stories.

“But I don’t want anyone thinking ‘That’s not for me, that play’. The thing about Beckett, although he does torture actors and we probably deserve it, the story is of very normal people and it’s just really all about a marriage and how these two people try to get each other through the day.

“As surreal as it might look, the story is very everyday, if you like, just a bit heightened. It’s funny 50 years on –it’s still quite out there.

“It’s a very odd thing to watch but mesmerising, I think. It’s a real conversation piece for people afterwards. There’ll be a lot of talk among people having seen it.”

Pauline admits she fell asleep during one of her earliest experiences of another of the Irish Nobel Literature Prize winner’s classics, Waiting For Godot, while studying English at college.

“The key for us is we don’t want it to be too reverent because he wasn’t reverent about his work. Any time he directed, if something wasn’t working he either cut it or said ‘Say it faster’. He knew it was cutting edge but I don’t think he was in any way precious about it.

“It should done as a humane play; I can’t bear pretentious productions. And this is the only very big part he wrote for a woman. I think he wrote it in praise of women. It’s very loving about Winnie and her plight. Willie is a huge presence but sometimes you only hear him in his hole.

But it’s like all of Beckett’s plays, if it’s done properly it’s very human.”

Life after all that Doyle toil

IT is 16 years since Pauline McLynn brought to life the award-winning role of scatty housekeeper Mrs Doyle in the brilliant comedy series Father Ted.

At the time, playing someone much older than she may have been had its advantages with regards to not being pestered in public, so long as she didn’t speak, but it also fooled the odd casting director.

“Sometimes people would see you for parts, I’d walk in and they’d go ‘You’re younger than we thought’,” she recalls. “That was years ago so I’m getting to the right age.

“But when I started acting I tended to get the older ladies parts. It wasn’t until I joined Shameless (Pauline played Libby in the Channel4 hit series) I got to play someone of my own age, or five years younger.

“I did do a lot of dotty ladies but Ted was just great. It’s huger now than it ever was because it’s always on somewhere. I even laugh at it. I don’t see us, I see them, I’ve forgotten so much. It was very, very stupid, very funny. That’s where it beat everything else into a cocked hat.”

Certainly the idea of spending an entire performance within a mound of rubble isn’t too far removed from exploits on Craggy Island.

Beckett is believed to have penned Happy Days while he spent time in Kent awaiting a licence to marry his long-term partner.

With co-star Peter Gowan, who plays husband Willie, out of scene for much of the play, the spotlight is centred on Pauline as she talks, prays and sings her way through life .

“It’s very full on because Winnie speaks all the time. She chatters and does stuff, her little rituals to get her through the day.

“Beckett, if I had him beside me, I would never tire of slapping him. I guess we’re all repetitive people in our way, but when he goes to do a repetition within the play he varies it slightly, just enough to really scupper you if you’re not madly on top of it.”

Bearing in mind Pauline is also a successful novelist with eight adult detective titles to her name and a new deal with Puffin for two books for teenage girls, you have to ask why she would put herself through the stress of tackling Beckett’s humorous but testing tale of female determination. Did she think twice?

“I didn’t and maybe I should have because I’m at that point now where I think ‘I will never know that bit’,” confesses the actress who also starred in Jam & Jerusalem and the films Angela’s Ashes and Heidi.

“It’s like playing Hamlet without any of the interruptions, without the other people in it. There’s only so much Peter can help me with.

“It is fairly hellish to learn but I want people to see it and think it was absolutely effortless. You hear of people having fans underneath and ear-pieces giving them prompts. We’re having none of those. Instead we’re having seven tons of railway ballast that goes between the sleepers, that’s what I’ll be buried under. It just is and you have to go with it.”