Niamh Cusack Interview: “I have a real love for the Rose”
NIAMH CUSACK INTERVIEW: “I have a real love for the Rose”
Ahead of coming to the Rose Theatre next month, the actor talks about her deep love for her work, her life in Barnes and favourite spots in south west London…
WORDS: TINA LOFTHOUSE
IMAGES: LUCY KANE
Walking around Kingston for our photoshoot with Niamh Cusack, she reveals she is no stranger to the town. Living not far away in Barnes, she is a keen cyclist and loves pedalling over this way, and across the bridge into Bushy Park or along the river through Richmond.
She also knows the Rose well as an associate artist for the theatre. In 2018, she starred in My Brilliant Friend, which was directed by Melly Still and they will reunite for The Seven Pomegranate Seeds in November. A Rose Original Production, the play, by Colin Teevan, reimagines the women of Euripedes’ tales for today.
Niamh tells us: “I read The Seven Pomegranate Seeds previously for radio. Colin wanted to make it into a stage play but the timing hasn’t been right.”
She talked to Melly about her love for the play and during lockdown, they looked at how they could bring it to life at the Rose. “The language and stories are fantastic. And I think audiences will recognise ‘everywoman’, from a young woman to one in her late 50s.”
One of the challenges will be in how to make it theatrical. “The Rose demands it. It’s not a small space.” But Niamh has every confidence in Melly who has been a designer and choreographer. And the play will also have the same lighting and sound designers from My Brilliant Friend.
Niamh has fond memories of working on the play – it was a huge success and transferred to the National Theatre. Niamh loved the experience. “There was such great camaraderie and most actors dream of playing a character from six to 60 so that was incredible. I also got on so well with Cath [Catherine McCormack, who played Lila] and we are still friends now.”
Niamh’s extensive career spans screen and stage. She was the much-loved Dr Kate Rowan on Heartbeat on our TV screens and the actor’s stage credits include work for the Royal Shakespeare Company and many leading roles on the London stage. So, who has she most loved playing? Lenu in My Brilliant Friend is a particular favourite but she also cites Paulina in The Winter’s Tale and Nora in A Doll’s House. “Lenu is interesting as she is full of character flaws. But Paulina is the woman I most want to be as she is strong, articulate and a feminist to her fingertips. I feel very blessed in the characters I have played and they do stay with you for life.”
As for getting into character, her answer is down to earth: “I learn the lines as early as possible! I walk, I mutter the lines to myself and I take a notebook so that when I think of something about the character I can jot it down. Subconsciously, the words are powerful and this allows it all to seep in. I think about the physicality of the character – you are limited by your own physique, of course, but it’s important to consider all of that.”
With such an extensive career behind her, does she still get nerves before walking out on stage? “I do – but to settle them, I do a lot of breathing exercises. I also sit in the wings and listen to the audience and I knit to keep my hands occupied.”
She says she’s honoured to be a Rose associate. Her husband, the actor Finbar Lynch has also performed several times at the Rose, including working alongside Peter Hall for Love’s Labour’s Lost when the theatre first opened back in 2008.
“I have a real love for the Rose. It’s brilliant to have a first-class theatre that isn’t in central London. It also has its youth theatre and is very much involved with the community. Every town should have one – the Rose is a great template.”
Next for Niamh is Brian Friel’s highly anticipated Faith Healer at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, which was postponed due to the pandemic. It feels like it has been a long time coming. “To play Grace in Faith Healer was one of my big ambitions,” says Niamh.
The Dublin-born actress settled in Barnes 25 years ago, and says she still gets a frisson of excitement whenever she cycles over the river to her home. “I just love it – I love the river and how it’s always changing with the tide and Barnes Bridge is stunning.”
Away from the theatre, Niamh’s great love is being outdoors walking or cycling. She describes her dream day as a long cycle and a picnic in Richmond Park, followed by heading home to dinner cooked by Fin.
As part of the Cusack acting dynasty (her parents were Cyril and Maureen Cusack and her five siblings are all either actors, producers or directors), the arts are in her blood.
She says that if she hadn’t become an actor, she would have loved to have been a ballerina. “Sadly, I didn’t cut it. I love any kind of dance really, jazz, tap, modern… and I’m in awe of people who move beautifully.”
Son Calam [Lynch] has followed his parents’ footsteps into the acting world. The 26-year-old has recently landed a part in smash TV series Bridgerton and has also had roles in Mrs Wilson, Dunkirk and the 2020 adaptation of Black Beauty.
Did Niamh have any advice as he embarked on his career, or indeed, for any young actor? “You need to have a tiny sliver of steel. Even success is difficult. And you have to really love the doing of it and not wanting it for the fame. There’s no better job though and it really is a privilege to tell a story to an audience and make that connection with them.”
- The Seven Pomegranate Seeds runs at Rose Theatre Kingston 4 to 20 November and seating will be socially distanced.