Co Antrim playwright Clare McMahon speaks of her West End debut alongside Daniel Radcliffe and why she is ‘happy’ back at home -

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Co Antrim playwright Clare McMahon speaks of her West End debut alongside Daniel Radcliffe and why she is ‘happy’ back at home


Clare McMahon in 2014 Photo: Kevin Scott for the Belfast Telegraph

Clare McMahon in 2014 Photo: Kevin Scott for the Belfast Telegraph

Clare McMahon in 2014 Photo: Kevin Scott for the Belfast Telegraph

A Carrick actress turned playwright has spoken about making her London West End debut alongside Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, as she prepares to bring a new play to Belfast’s Lyric Theatre.

Clare McMahon, who also appeared in three episodes of the 2018 BBC adaptation of The Woman in White, will be bringing her new play The Gap Year to the stage next month.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, McMahon looked back at her start in the industry, when she was accepted into the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London at the age of 18.

She has also revealed why she is “happy” at home in Northern Ireland and “writing non-stop".

Just three years after graduating, McMahon went on to make her West End debut in 2013 in the dark comedy The Cripple of Inishmaan – only after one of the stars got sick and understudy Clare stepped up.

“I was understudying for Sarah Greene, who played a character called Slippy Helen,” McMahon told the newspaper.

“Understudying was tough, because all actors dream of being on stage and I was no different. But I made the most of it, even climbing up into the rigging to see how the mechanics of the West End really work.

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“Then, towards the end of the run, Sarah got sick and I had half an hour to prepare to fill in for her. It was nerve racking, but I knew Daniel [Radcliffe] by then and was comfortable around him.

“He’s such a brilliant company member, absolutely no airs or graces. He helped me to run the scenes, which was so kind of him.

“So there I was, performing in the West End for a week, to a thousand people a night, and it gave me the belief I could do it. Graham Norton came backstage after the show to congratulate us and of course I tried to be all cool but I mean, come on, it was Graham Norton.”

The Carrickfergus actress, who has previously spoke about selling sausages in her family’s firm at just 13, moved back home a year after her star-studded West End experience.

She then became involved in the theatre company Commedia of Errors, founded by her husband the Belfast-born producer and director Benjamin Gould.

“There is a whole spectrum of angles in this industry,” McMahon continued.

“And it is an industry. Maybe one day I’ll perform in the West End again. But right now I’m happy doing what I’m doing: writing non-stop.

“I was quite a creative, imaginative child, so I took to it like a duck to water. I continued doing speech-and-drama festivals for years, including inventive storytelling, where they give you three minutes to think up a story and then perform it to an audience.

“My drama teacher was really old school about sticking to the text, focusing on every comma, the syntax of a piece, the author’s choice of words. That was really formative for me. Ever since, I’ve always been really into how a play looks on the page.”

The playwright’s first full-length feature Shakespeare’s Women sold out the Lyric Theatre’s Naughton Studio in 2017 and then toured the UK and Ireland.

She then signed up for a master’s in playwriting at Trinity College Dublin’s Lir Academy before co-writing the semi-autobiographical play Women’s Troubles.

Her new piece to hit the Belfast stage – The Gap Year – imagines three women in their sixties taking a gap year with a plan to visit all 32 counties on the island of Ireland.

“A common theme was this feeling of invisibility they had. When women reach their sixties, many start to retire, so they lose that sense of power they had in the workplace,” McMahon added.

“Their kids have grown up and moved on. They often feel like they’re being spoken down to. Having put aside their hopes and ambitions for the good of their families, there is so much they missed out on. Of course, the same could be said of many men.

“One is newly widowed. Another is about to get divorced after 20 years of separation. The third is just fed-up minding grandchildren all the time.

“Female friendship is central to the play. The characters argue and fight, but they’re also mates.”

The Gap Year will be at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre from September 3 to 25.

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