Currently starring in The Matchmaker at The Gaiety Theatre, actor Norma Sheahan chats to us about selling out shows, opening night jitters and dealing with rejection
A familiar face on Irish stage and screen, having starred in The Clinic, Moone Boy, and recently Shirley Valentine, Cork native Norma Sheahan is having a stellar career moment. She takes time out from her current run at The Gaiety Theatre to chat about working with Jon Kenny, keeping audiences howling and keeping busy as an actor in Ireland.
How does it feel to star in John B Keane’s The Matchmaker?
Going from selling out the Cork Opera House with Shirley Valentine, to this, it’s lovely to do another major role. It’s also working with Jon Kenny from d’Unbelievables is a life lesson really. He is just a master of what he does.
Theatre fans will remember Mary McEvoy previously starred in this play with Jon, what’s it like to take on the part?
I’m trying to bring a new zest to it to be honest. It has been around a while. I want to keep it alive, keep it relevant and fresh. But the thing about it is, it’s funny from start to finish. He was a filthy minded Kerryman who was incredibly good at writing, and even if you watch old clips of him on The Late Late, he had people in stitches, on things like how men just think from their apparatus, and talking about the infidelity of his neighbours.
What do you enjoy about tackling a John B Keane play?
He was a genius. He was so rich in his country language. He’s just a legend. It’s not written that long ago but it is old Irish material. I’d be allergic to older stuff usually and Shakespeare would drive me mad as well, but this to be fair, there’s nothing in it that you’re left thinking ‘I feel thick, I don’t understand what they’re saying’. He says things like ‘I poulticed her posterior with nettles’, which is something you can get, the lingo isn’t too old. I had done Big Maggie years ago and that’s very accessible, and The Field of course is another one of his.
The thing with him is, he was writing in the 60s but he was getting in trouble with the clergy and the police for what he was saying, it was seen as risky. He was really speaking out for the rights of women at the time and spoke out a lot against the church at a time when nobody did.
What’s it like to be back on stage again?
I’ve been doing mainly screen really for the last kind of years. I did a Netflix movie, Harry Wild, The Dry, tidbits on lots of things, which has been lovely. Filming is very busy here at the moment, and I do a lot of voiceovers for products as well which keeps me going. I did podcasts during Covid too, that was busy.
Then of course I had Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine which was amazing (Norma is the only actress apart from Vanessa Redgrave to have sold out the Gaiety Theatre in a one-woman show, not once but twice).
You’ve been so busy, what keeps you motivated?
I just basically have three kids, and they’re very expensive. It’s like if you’ve got five milking cows, you need different streams, you can’t rely on one. It means that I am constantly going out and generating work and being creative on a daily basis and auditioning. I think it’s important t be a yes person. With the amount of auditions you do and the rejections you get though, you have to have balls of steel to be able to do it. My kids have said they’ll never get into it.
What do you think got you to this moment in your career?
To be honest I feel like I haven’t really started yet, which you can’t really say either in case you die tomorrow. I enjoy doing what I do, and I suppose because my family aren’t into acting, getting into the Royal Academy in London was a big moment for me. It was nice to know if they didn’t kick me out , that I might have something going on here. But my mom made me do a degree in commerce before I went into acting.
The Clinic was very special, because it was my first acting job. A play I did with Enda Walsh called Bedbound got a lot of awards, that was very special. And Shirley Valentine would be an all time high. I can’t even think about The Matchmaker, because I have the trots at the moment, I always get nervous before an opening.
The Matchmaker is running now at The Gaiety Theatre, until 17 September. Tickets are available at gaietytheatre.ie.