Belfast actress Rosie Barry talks to Colm-Gerard Doran about her latest play at the Lyric Theatre, her acting career so far and the importance of kids getting involved with the arts.
What made you want to become an actress?
Well I’ve always been very dramatic – My mum was a teacher at my primary school and she directed a lot of the plays that were put on. So I found myself involved in it from a very young age. Then around age 11, whenever The Lord of The Rings came out, I became instantly obsessed with it – even the special features. I could recite them for you now! What I loved was how well the cast got on behind the scenes and finding out more about all the different aspects of film-making and acting. The camaraderie of the group was really what cemented it for me. I think that was the first point I realised that you could actually do this as a job and all I knew was I wanted to be a part of it!
So now that we know why you wanted to act, what was the first ever part you played?
My first ever role was actually an Oompa Loompa in a production of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, which was a very special moment. I got to wear a ski-hat.
Can you describe your funniest/scariest moment onstage?
I actually have two… One combines a funny and scary moment and the other is just a very funny moment. The funny/scary one was during a play called The Bull written by Karen Quinn, which you directed, and one of the scenes involved putting shopping away. A large bag of pasta was produced and it promptly exploded all over the stage of The Brian Friel Theatre. It was everywhere. Everywhere. And we immediately all just got on with the scene, clearing it up and working it into the dialogue and action of the scene. I don’t know how we did it so seamlessly. People asked us: ‘So how do you make sure the pasta explodes every night??’ Well we didn’t – it was an accident and it was horrifying but hilarious. The other really funny moment was during our production of The History Boys by Alan Bennett. During a performance one of the cast called another person onstage by their real name by mistake. Everyone just brushed over it but he knew what he had done. And to watch his facial expression as he said the name was just hilarious. Those sorts of things happen all the time onstage and you never know how you’re going to handle them but ultimately you’re in the moment – so whatever happens is real to you at that time. It’s exhilarating – but I wouldn’t want it to happen in every show I do!
Who inspires you?
I have to think very hard about this one, I have been asked this before and I don’t feel I can ever really answer. You think about all these famous actors and talented performers that you love to watch, and really make you want to do what you do. While I respect them and I admire them a lot, I wouldn’t say that they inspire me. In fact, I find the whole concept of celebrity and ‘everything being handed to you’ very uninspiring. I would say that I’m inspired by the people around me, my friends, people I know who have had difficult personal experiences, and managed to come through it all with a smile on their face. Their strength – that’s what inspires me.
So Rosie, this is not your first time acting onstage in The Lyric Theatre, you’ve just finished a run of ‘Murder on The Dancefloor’ in the Naughton Studio. How does this new role compare to your previous one?
I suppose a big difference been Sabrina from Murder on The Dancefloor and Primrose from The Gingerbread Mix-up is that Sabina is closer to my own age, whereas Primrose is about 11 or 12, which is interesting for a 26 year old to play. But funnily enough the two characters are oddly similar – they’re both feisty little madams. I was laughing the other day thinking about it because the first few rehearsals for The Gingerbread Mix-up overlapped with the production week of Murder on The Dancefloor, so there was a lot of toing and froing from one rehearsal to the other and I began to get a picture in my head that Sabrina is just Primrose when she’s all grown up. And in my head I like that. This little 12 year old might just grow up to win ‘The Inter-city Inter-gender disco dancing championship.’ They’re both funny, over-the-top characters and both great fun to play.
So tell us a wee bit more about the play itself. What can we expect as audience when we go to see The Gingerbread Mix-up?
It’s written by Martin Murphy and it’s about a little girl called Primrose who is spoilt rotten by her Dad and not very well liked by her Mum. Primrose is not a very nice little girl, she’s very selfish and always gets her way until one day her Mum decides she can’t cope with her anymore. She feels she has no choice but to take her into the middle of the forest and leave her there! So there she is in the forest by herself, but as a strong independent young woman, and having brought her Nintendo, she feels she can sort herself out. So she sets off on an adventure in the forest, along the way she meets Pardon – a talking cat and Brenda, The Wicked Witch of the Forest. Trouble ensues and there are a lot of great songs and dancing – it’s very enjoyable!
So this is a real family friendly piece. How important do you think it is that children are exposed to live theatre?
It’s incredibly important! The theatre is a really magical experience, thinking about this play in particular it’s got so much in it for kids that is just going to blow their minds; there are explosions, there are incredible costumes, there’s stuff flying around the stage – actual magic! And that’s amazing for kids to experience in real life, rather than being stuck in front of Netflix or games on their iPad. There’s no screen here. It’s before your very eyes. I personally love going to the theatre and being shocked by how things are done. I have tickets to go and see Harry Potter and The Cursed Child next year with my mum, and I am dying to see how they do some of those things on stage, I want to see the magic and be amazed by it. And I think for kids experiencing theatre for the first time, you’re exposing them to creativity which is so important and it inspires them to embrace their own creativity. Sadly there are kids out there who get bullied and when they come to the theatre, a place that is so full of all these weird and wonderful characters, they often find something in a character on stage that may help their self-esteem and give them more confidence. I teach kids in drama workshops in The Abbey Studios in Bangor, and the most special part of that for me is watching the young ones on their first day, some too shy to look you in the eye or say a full sentence yet, then over a period of time working with them week after week you can see their confidence soar, they’ve discovered who they are or are well on their way and that all comes from being exposed to theatre and the creative arts.
This might be a bit cheeky – asking for a preview – but what moments in the play do you think are really going to appeal to the kids?
I think the best one is when they see The Witch! That will get some gasps, because she looks fantastic. She really does. I am up close to Christina’s costume a lot, and each time I still find little parts of it that are new – which is a testament to what Elle, Erin and Enda have created in the wardrobe department. The Witch’s entrance is really fun and I enjoy it so much, Christina is fantastic she breathes so much creativity and character into that role, her walk and her voice just everything she does is so well thought out. She is the Witch. So I think the kids are going to love it when they meet her.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I suppose my biggest challenge would be health related. About three years ago when I decided to act professionally, I got diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis – a chronic illness that lives in your spine. It’s a form of arthritis that attacks your body when your immune system drops, it is agony. The fatigue that it brings and the impact on mobility is a real shocker – to be a twenty something and not be able to get out of bed some days was awful. I found it very hard to deal with initially, particularly staying positive was a struggle. Around this time I was involved with a production called Think How You Drink with Spanner In The Works Theatre Company where we toured schools; very early starts, with perhaps three daily shows and travelling all across Northern Ireland in the freezing cold, which didn’t help the arthritis. It was the longest week of my life, I struggled just to find the energy to get through the shows. I think I terrified the director Patricia Downey, she must’ve thought I was the laziest person! I had no idea what was happening to me, I had no medication and no diagnosis at that stage and I was sleeping as much as I could between every show and desperately trying to conserve enough energy just to get through the next show. Looking back on that I don’t know how anyone with a chronic illness copes with a nine to five job. Three years on and I’m managing my illness and feeling stronger, but If ever I’m feeling rough, I look back on that week and think: ‘However bad you’re feeling now, you’ll never feel as bad as you did back then.’ It was awful. But I got through it.
What advice would you give to anybody wanting to become an actor?
I love my job – let me say that – I was not born to do anything else. I really believe that. But if you have a dilemma on whether you want to become a lawyer or an actor, I would say to you: ‘Be a lawyer.’ First of all the job of a lawyer shares a lot of the same traits needed to be an actor; confidence, knowing your lines etc. But it is also likely to mean your life will have less disappointment. However if you’ve decided all you want to do is act, then be prepared for a lot of disappointment. Not with the people around you- they are some of the best you will ever hope to meet. But the disappointment of going for auditions, giving your heart and soul and wanting it so much. You get recall after recall and you could be down to the bottom two. And they choose the other person. They ‘go a different way.’ That is crushing, it is just devastating. In the process of auditioning again and again you feel that you edge closer to this character, to how you believe they should be played. You have to look for a little of yourself in these characters to make it real for you, so you give a lot of power over to the people you audition for and it is very personal when you don’t get the part. But it’s about coping with that, walking out of the audition and resolving not to think about it for the rest of the day. Even though you will check your phone every five minutes. But I think a big way of overcoming the disappointment of not getting parts is to remind yourself why you’re doing this, whether that’s looking back at the work you’ve done or writing yourself a little inspirational post-it, you have to do something to push you through the days when you want to give it all up. But also be on the lookout for the hidden opportunities, you have no idea where those little paths may lead you. For example when I was first asked to teach a workshop I was adamant I didn’t want to become a teacher, I didn’t feel I could connect with children and I was very apprehensive. But through that experience I now have another creative outlet, so never close a door. Just because it’s not where you pictured yourself being, doesn’t mean you’re not meant to be there. You never know what might happen!
What part would you like to play next?
I don’t really feel that way about where I am going next. I love getting to know a character, so I have no big plans on the characters I want to play. I would love to revisit the character of Mrs Lintott from The History Boys, I played her as a student which was ridiculous behaviour, but wonderful to do. I would love to play her when I’m 60 and see the difference. However if the boys who wrote Murder on The Dancefloor want to write a prequel, which was just about my character Sabrina – then that would be fantastic!
Rosie will be appearing as Primrose in The Gingerbread Mix-up at The Lyric Theatre until 7th January.