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Interview with Eithne Browne 2008

Image: Eithne Browne

Eithne Brown, one of Liverpool’s brightest acting talents, talks to Chris High about appearing on The Playhouse stage in Moliere’s classic, Tartuffe, adapted by Roger McGough, and about what needs to be done to ensure the future of Liverpool’s theatre.

Adapting a seventeenth century classic text is no mean undertaking, but this is precisely the task The Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse Theatre, who are never ones to shy away from a challenge, have set themselves.

Artistic Director, Gemma Bodinetz, asked Liverpool poet, Roger McGough, to attempt translating Moliere’s Tartuffe and, in doing so, give it a Liverpool heartbeat.

McGough set about the first scene, using the original French text as a base, and discovered that not only had he enjoyed the challenge, but that he wanted to see it through to the end. The result is that Tartuffe will be a major contribution from The Liverpool Everyman Playhouse to the city’s Capital of Culture celebrations, starting its run of four weeks on May 9th, with a cast that includes John Ramm, Joseph Alessi, Rebecca Lacey and Liverpool’s own Eithne Brown.

‘As soon as I saw the script I thought, my God, this is fantastic,’ Eithne said, recently. ‘It’s just witty and light and wonderful. Then I went and read the original adaptations from the French and saw how faithful Roger had been, but nonetheless added his own signature to it, and so made the whole thing something that sparkles. It’s just a wonderful piece of writing and the script is one you keep for ever and ever simply because of the clever use of language.’

Tartuffe tells the story of a man, Tartuffe, who – claiming to be the paragon of virtue – gets his feet under the table at the home of wealthy merchant, Orgon. But all is not as it seems and as Orgon becomes more enraptured with his new companion, the whole city is set chattering. Is Tartuffe a friend, a miracle or a hypocrite?

Eithne plays the role of Orgon’s mother, Madame Pernelle, who is nothing short of being a harridan who thinks her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren are all fools, but yet thinks Tartuffe is the best man in the world. ‘She’s a snob and audiences will recognise something in her from people they themselves know and try to avoid. She thinks herself as to being better than she actually is. One of these people who never stops going on and on so that, when she leaves, everybody breathes a huge sigh of relief. She rules with a rod of iron and, to use an old Liverpool expression, tells everybody their fortune … except for Tartuffe, who she thinks paved the road to heaven. She’s a fabulous character to play and very different from anything else I’ve been doing recently.’

Tartuffe is, without question, one of the most popular French plays and Eithne says that audiences who come to see this adaptation will not be disappointed. ‘I hadn’t read the play before being offered the part, so I’m very lucky to be working with the Roger McGough script without any preconceived ideas. Those who don’t know the play might think something set in the seventeenth century that’s about courtly manners in France might be a bit heavy going, but this isn’t and is directed by Gemma (Bodinetz) with great pace so nothing ever slows down and you’re catching up on it all the time. Added to this is the fact that it’s funny and works on a great many different levels, but it also works on an emotional level, too, especially when things start to go wrong.’

It has taken some time for Eithne to come back to The Playhouse stage. Her last appearance here was in An Awfully Big Adventure in 1993, before moving on to play Crissy Rodgers in Brookside. ‘It’s great to be back here again and, especially, to be working with Gemma, who is just a bundle of creative, energetic enthusiasm. I also have to say a big thank you to The Royal Court for giving me their stage to ply my trade on in Liverpool. I’ve got a great body of work of which I’m very proud, but very little of it has been seen here as it’s all been on tour to places like Stoke, Lancaster or in Scotland. In a lot people’s minds I was Crissy from Brookside or the pantomime villain and that was it. But The Royal Court has given me the chance to show I’m much more than that, with plays such as Two and Lost Soul and have given me the opportunity to expand as a stage actress in my home city. I’ll always be grateful to them for that and will always support them in whatever they do by doing whatever I can.’

With this being Liverpool’s special year, Eithne is delighted with the impact being Capital of Culture, 2008, is making on the city’s theatres, but also feels much more can be done. ‘There are some great plays being put on all over the city and audiences figures are going up and up across the board, which can only be good for the future. But, although Liverpool people have always been responsive to theatre, it breaks my heart to see The Neptune – a beautiful, Victorian building – lying empty due to lack of funding. Now is the time to use them or lose them because the city’s theatre scene is healthier now than it’s been in years. I truly hope that something can be done sooner rather than later with The Neptune because it is appalling to see such a little gem as that going to waste. There is room in this city for all different types of plays and performances and I know for a fact that people are going to theatres who wouldn’t have dreamed of doing so before. What needs to happen is for everybody involved in putting these plays on, from the top down, must build on what’s happening and encourage new writers – as The Everyman Playhouse and Royal Court do – and demand that places like The Neptune be reopened to the public as theatres so that the work that’s being produced can be staged. I think Liverpool is putting out some terrific work at the moment. All My Sons last year at The Playhouse was breathtaking, as was The May Queen at The Everyman with Cathy Tyson. This year, Brick Up The Mersey Tunnels has grown into an institution, almost, and Three Sisters On Hope Street and Metamorphosis, which sadly I missed, have also received glowing reviews and have sold out night after night. So it’s certainly not just a case of “Let’s Feed The Scouse, Scouse” as some would have it. There really is something for everyone and that, I think, is vital and is what this year of all years should be encouraging, surely? I just hope it continues to grow in the way that is has been and that the Council recognise the genuine need for theatre in Liverpool and act accordingly by putting money into redeveloping places like The Neptune and supporting the existing theatres in every way they can, rather than by putting obstacles in their way once this year is over.’
Eithne is hardly out of the city’s theatres at the moment, either as an actor or as Assistant Director, a role she took on recently with Willy Russell’s Stags & Hens, but is hesitant when it comes to naming her favourite role. ‘I’m absolutely crap at doing lists of my all time favourite things. When I’m asked to name my favourite film or record or something, I’ll say such-and-such off the top of my head then, half an hour later, I’ll have changed my mind for different reasons. Each part I’ve played recently has been great. Two stands out because it was a number of roles and I could bring a little bit of myself to each one and still remain true to the character. Lost Soul, again, was great to be a part of. People hated that character right up until the end, when she reveals her true feelings and Dave (Kirby) is great at writing female roles. Of course, Ann Twacky has just been wonderful in Brick Up, and the response I’ve been getting has been amazing. Some of the things I get shouted up at me on stage have been incredible and all the time I’m thinking, good, because I know what’s coming and they don’t. So, to pick a favourite role is pretty impossible because each one – including this one in Tartuffe – is completely different from anything else.’

So, with such a busy schedule behind her, what’s next for Eithne Brown? ‘I’m here with Tartuffe for four weeks and then we’ve got two weeks at The Rose in Kingston, which will be great. After that, I’m back at The Royal Court in Jim Carter’s Eight Miles High alongside Andrew Schofield again, which I am so looking forward to, and then another run of Lost Soul. It’s tiring but it’s also fantastic. This is what I do and I wouldn’t have it any other way.’

Tartuffe by Moliere, adapted by Roger McGough, runs at The Liverpool Playhouse from May 9th – May 31st.  Go to For Ticket Information.

Parts of this interview have, or will, appear in other publications and in other formats.

If you would like to comment on this interview with Eithne Browne, please feel free to contact me - GUESTBOOK

“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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