The life of Maureen O’Hara comes to the Irish stage

One day, whilst she was sitting on a bus driving through her home village of Pallasgreen, an old man told Elaine O’Dwyer how strongly she resembled the movie star, Maureen O’Hara. As she was only 10 years old at the time, O’Dwyer didn’t know what this man was talking about. But upon seeing a photo of the silver screen starlet, she couldn’t fail to see the resemblance. The wild red hair, the pale skin and high forehead.

O’Dwyer had no idea just how much ‘The Quiet Man’ actress would go on to influence her life. Having identified with the star’s ballsy attitude and striking prescence on the film scene, O’Dwyer set out to learn as much as she could about the flame-haired icon.

Maureen grew up in Ranelagh with her three sisters and two brothers. She was a self-professed tom-boy and loved getting up to devilment. She wasn’t a girly girl and resented the fact that boys got to do more exciting things than girls. She trained at the Abbey theatre but her theatre career was short-lived as the movie business beckoned. She appeared in over 60 motion pictures, though was equally known for being a hot topic of the Hollywood tabloids. She once challenged the likes of Walt Disney who breached her contract and who told her he would ‘destroy’ her if she persisted.

O’Hara died in 2015 at the age of 95.

Now, O’Dwyer is bringing her self-penned show to the Irish stage. ‘Queen of Technicolor – The Story of Maureen O’ Hara’ is a one woman show which delves into many aspects of O’ Hara’s life, from her childhood, her career, her experience as an actress in Hollywood, her relationships, her struggles and her victories.

The tour will travel across Ireland, hitting theatres in Dublin, Mayo, Galways, Limerick and more…

O’Dwyer took time off of her busy rehearsal schedule to speak to Meg.ie about the upcoming performances….

What does Maureen O’Hara mean to you?

Maureen was a fighter. She stood up for herself and didn’t allow others to put her down or control her. She didn’t accept the norms of Hollywood and resisted the men who tried to get her on the casting couch. She remained dignified, confident and self-assured during her career and garnered respect as a result of this. No one wanted to mess with her. If they did, she would “give them hell” as she said herself.

What made you decide to bring the story of her life to the stage?

When Maureen passed away in 2015, I felt two things: The first thing was genuine shock. I couldn’t believe that O’ Hara had been alive all that time. I had only seen one of her films, ‘The Quiet Man’, and I figured that everyone in a film had already passed on.  I was clearly wrong. The second thing I felt was genuine curiosity. What had she been doing all these years? Was she still acting? Where did she live? Did she have a family? And so, my interest in O’ Hara grew and grew.

Elaine O’Dwyer in action

How did you begin developing the piece? And how did you prepare for the role of Maureen?

When I started writing the show I did loads of research. I read books, articles, watched films, interviewed close friends and acquaintances of Maureen and I also visited places where Maureen would have spent time —the story began to write itself. I then started to prepare for the role by watching Maureen O’ Hara carefully in her interviews and films. I watched how she reacted to certain people and her attitude in talking about certain subjects. From this, I began to understand Maureen more. In putting the script on its feet, I felt more connected to Maureen. I practiced walking with a larger-than-life attitude, which Maureen exuded. She was big. She smiled a lot and seemed to ‘glide’ wherever she went. I learned throughout the rehearsal process that Maureen truly loved people and she loved being around them. This brings an upbeat energy to the performance. She wants to be there and she delights in sharing stories.

Have you always wanted to work on stage?

I have always been interested in drama. This started when my mother took me to see various amateur productions in the local community centre from an early age. I loved watching plays and peering into other people’s lives. I did my first full play in Transition Year in secondary school. I played the lead role in ‘Go Ask Alice’, which was quite dark. I remember the play deeply affecting me. I felt a sense of duty to the character I was playing, and I took it very seriously. While studying, I joined the musical society. To tell the truth, if it hadn’t been for the society, I wouldn’t have finished my primary school teaching degree. Teaching was not my passion, and I felt like I was betraying myself by pretending I wanted to teach. I did an MA in acting at the Guildford School of Acting a year after graduating, and this was the best decision I ever made. I thrived in drama school and have literally never looked back. 

Trailer for the national tour

The production was inspired by the #MeToo movement. Could you speak about how Maureen is a great representative of that movement?

When I was researching Maureen’s life I was overwhelmed by the fact that the industry hasn’t changed much in all these years. Sexual harassment is as big a problem now as it ever was, and the public shaming of celebrities persists. Powerful people feel a sense of entitlement to control and manipulate others, and the more money one has seems to give them permission to abuse their power. In remaining indifferent to these issues, the problems and injustices remain. In telling Maureen’s story now, I aim to highlight the fact that nothing can change without action. Each of us has the ability to stand up for what is right. Maureen O’ Hara teaches us this.

Maureen O’ Hara often spoke out about sexual harassment. She was quoted the following in The Mirror 1945:”Because I don’t let the producer and director kiss me every morning or let them paw me they have spread word around town that I am not a woman – that I am a cold piece of marble statuary. I guess Hollywood won’t consider me as anything except a cold hunk of marble until I divorce my husband, give my baby away and get my name and photograph in all the newspapers.”

For a young woman of 25 to do so back then shows incredible bravery and courage. She wasn’t afraid of what Hollywood might think of her for speaking out. She went ahead and did it anyway because she was tired of being pawed at by the men who ran the business. O’ Hara is someone we can all look up to.

Is theatre (or the entertainment industry) doing enough to tell these women’s stories? Or to address the #MeToo movement effectively?

The industry is definitely changing in terms of telling women’s stories but there is much room for improvement. The responsibility lies with producers and funders who have the power and means to put women’s stories on stage and screen. It’s all well and good to say to artists: “if you have a story, tell it” but there must be support from the top. Too many artists are struggling to get anywhere and without the support, their voices are not heard or even acknowledged.  The time has come to wake up and realise that enough is enough in terms of female representation. Time is well and truly up.

Queen of Technicolor -The Story of Maureen O’ Hara‘ will tour Ireland this spring season. Check below for dates:

Friday, February 21st – Belltable Limerick
Saturday, February 22nd – Friars Gate Theatre, Kilmallock
Thursday, February 27th – Mullingar Arts Centre
Friday, February 28th – The Ramor Theatre, Cavan
Saturday, February 29th – Birr Theatre & Arts Centre
Wednesday, March 4th – Town Hall Theatre, Galway
Thursday, March 5th – Westport Town Hall, Mayo
Friday, March 6th – The Glens Centre, Manorhamilton
Thursday, March 12th – The Civic Theatre, Dublin
Friday, March 13th – An Táin Arts Centre, Dundalk
Friday, March 20th – St. John’s Theatre, Listowel
Saturday, March 21st – Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny
Wednesday, March 25th – Theatre Royal, Waterford

Further details can be found here.

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