Amaz­ing jour­ney for new Cor­rie ac­tress Amy De Bhrun’s labour of love to tell the tale of one pi­o­neer­ing woman from Lim­er­ick

Irish Daily Mail - - It’s Friday! - by Michelle Flemming

SHE was the first woman in Bri­tain to hold a com­mer­cial fly­ing li­cence, the first woman to para­chute out of a plane, the first to train as an air­craft me­chanic and, in 1928, she be­came the first pi­lot to fly a tiny open­cock­pit plane from Capetown to Lon­don — and these were just Lim­er­ick woman Lady Mary Heath’s feats in avi­a­tion.

She was also Bri­tain’s first javelin cham­pion, held world high-jump records and re­turned from the 1923 Women’s Olympiad in Monte Carlo with medals in high jump, pen­tathlon and long jump.

Dur­ing the First World War, she took a most un­la­dy­like job as a dis­patch rider, car­ry­ing mes­sages be­tween Bri­tain and France.

Yet here in Ire­land — the home­place of this trail­blaz­ing pi­o­neer, dubbed Lady Lindy by the Yanks — Lady Mary Heath has faded into the mists of his­tory.

But now her spirit is be­ing re­vived in I See You, a pow­er­ful new play by Amy De Bhrún — soon to be known to Coronation Street fans as Adele — a call to arms ex­plor­ing the dan­ger­ous cycli­cal na­ture of fe­male op­pres­sion and the dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences of al­low­ing women’s voices to go un­heard.

‘She was this in­cred­i­ble trail­blazer,’ says Amy, who was in­tro­duced to the story of Lady Mary Heath by a friend. ‘She was the first per­son to para­chute out of a plane, she had three mar­riages, she won all these awards for ath­let­ics, she came from an abu­sive home, where her fa­ther blud­geoned her mother to death. He was found guilty of mur­der but de­clared in­sane.

‘My great aunt and gran­dad were from New­cas­tle in Lim­er­ick and my great aunt re­mem­bered hear­ing about her but nowa­days it seems not many peo­ple have.’

Cer­tainly, in a just and fair world, we’d be shout­ing from the rafters about the ex­tra­or­di­nary life and times of this woman, born So­phie Peirce-Evans in Knock­aderry, Co. Lim­er­ick, in 1896.

MOVIE di­rec­tors and pro­duc­ers would be clam­our­ing to im­mor­talise her mag­nif­i­cent feats in fea­ture films and doc­u­men­taries, writ­ers would be in­spired to write tomes about her re­mark­able life and no child would leave school with­out learn­ing about this in­cred­i­ble woman.

Yet aside from the book, Lady Icarus by Lindie Naughton, and a doc­u­men­tary, very lit­tle has been told about Lady Mary Heath.

That one woman liv­ing more than a cen­tury ago could live such a ground-break­ing and epic life and fall un­der the radar is sim­ply mind-bog­gling. Even by to­day’s stan­dards, she would be a hero — and rightly so.

‘Lady Mary was liv­ing 100 years ago, yet we still don’t cel­e­brate these amaz­ing role mod­els,’ says Amy. ‘Af­ter read­ing about her, I started de­vel­op­ing a show with this woman par­al­lel­ing with a mod­ern-day woman called Mary and link­ing the two.’

In her play, Amy — who plays Lady Mary Heath — weaves her story with that of Mod­ern Mary, a fic­tional mid­dle-class Dublin woman trapped in an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship she hasn’t got the strength to leave.

Amy ex­plains: ‘Lady Mary is stuck in the walls of his­tory and Mod­ern Mary is stuck in this abu­sive re­la­tion­ship. There are parallels there: Lady Mary’s par­ents’ re­la­tion­ship was abu­sive and she left her own abu­sive sec­ond mar­riage. Mod­ern Mary doesn’t feel she has the strength to leave until she hears Lady Mary’s voice in an ab­stract way and thanks to her, she re­claims her power.

‘Then Lady Mary can die with mean­ing, knowing her story has meant some­thing.’

Did Amy feel daunted try­ing to build a char­ac­ter of such weight and com­plex­ity, about whom she knew so lit­tle?

‘It was in­tim­i­dat­ing,’ she ad­mits. ‘I only re­ally had the one book and I had to find her char­ac­ter first — who she was, what made her tick. She was ec­cen­tric. She was kookie and funny, and as a woman, she gives a lot of light with her zany per­son­al­ity — find­ing that was a huge key into her char­ac­ter.’ With huge strides be­ing made in Ir­ish arts thanks to the Wak­ing The Fem­i­nists move­ment, grow­ing awareness around the Me Too move­ment and women’s rights very much on peo­ple’s minds as the Re­peal ref­er­en­dum looms near, the tim­ing for such a play could not have been bet­ter. Amy, who plays Jarl Hrolf in Vik­ings, has a wealth of films be­hind her, in­clud­ing Ja­son Bourne and Penny Dread­ful, as well as TV work. But be­tween roles, rather than wait­ing for the phone to ring, she makes her own work and has starred in six self-penned, one-woman shows that she has per­formed to crit­i­cal ac­claim across Ire­land, Bri­tain and the US. ‘When I came into the in­dus­try, I was au­di­tion­ing for a lot of men — men who’ve since been called out in the Me Too move­ment and it was a dif­fer­ent time for women — Wak­ing the Fem­i­nists hadn’t hap­pened. It felt like there were lots of lim­i­ta­tions,’ she says.

‘But now is a re­ally good time for women, things are chang­ing and it’s up to me to not just call for equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion but to put my money where my mouth is and put good work out for women.’

When cast­ing Mod­ern Mary she went straight to Rox­anna Nic Liam, an Abbey and UK Na­tional The­atre vet­eran, who was in Love/ Hate and a num­ber of movies.

Hil­lary Dz­imin­ski, cre­ative pro­ducer with The Corps Ensem­ble, tells how she was blown away by the play.

‘As soon as I read it I knew I had to be in­volved and it just needed to be made — it’s so timely and relevant and mean­ing­ful,’ says Hil­lary, an Amer­i­can who came to Ire­land to do her Masters in the­atre at UCD three years ago and never went home.

‘I’m not Ir­ish and I can’t vote so I’ve no voice other than giv­ing voices to other peo­ple’s sto­ries. With ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pen­ing right now it gives a perspective and tells a story in a re­lat­able way. Arts are in­her­ently po­lit­i­cal and con­tro­ver­sial but it’s so good to come to a play that makes you ques­tion your life but also el­e­vates you and makes you want to dis­cuss these issues.

‘In the three years I’ve been in Ire­land, I can see the the­atre scene is evolv­ing to be more in­ter­rog­a­tive. You can walk out of a play feel­ing frus­trated but that opens dis­cus­sion and that’s how change hap­pens, with peo­ple look­ing for an­swers.’

Amy agrees: ‘It’s a pow­er­ful play that feels relevant and it’s stir­ring up a lot of emo­tion for us as women. We’re proud to be nam­ing this woman — it’s not pro-woman and anti-man, it’s pro-hu­man and an amaz­ing story that men can get be­hind too.

‘We’d like peo­ple to go away form the the­atre feel­ing ex­cited and ex­hil­a­rated with a hunger for change.’

O I See You runs at the The­atre Up­stairs until May 26. Tick­ets are priced at €12.50/€10. For in­for­ma­tion see the­atre­up­

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