‘It kind of feels like I’m com­ing back to my­self’

Lisa Lambe is best known for her mu­sic, but re­cent stints in the na­tional theatre have given her the chance to flex her act­ing mus­cle. The Dublin na­tive tells KATIE BYRNE about the dif­fi­cul­ties of jug­gling both and how easy it is to be­come pi­geon­holed

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - CULTURE -

Dublin was un­der a blan­ket of snow the last time Lisa Lambe per­formed in the Abbey. Schools were clos­ing, shops were run­ning out of bread and the open­ing night of The Un­man­age­able Sis­ters was de­layed as the Beast from the East took its toll.

This time she has re­placed the snow boots for flip-flops. The ac­tress is re­hears­ing for Jimmy’s Hall dur­ing the very wel­come heat­wave, and she’s mus­ing on the mer­cu­rial Irish weather when we sit down to chat on an un­sea­son­ably warm Tues­day morn­ing.

Jimmy’s Hall, an adap­ta­tion of the Ken Loach film of the same ti­tle, is back in the Abbey by pop­u­lar de­mand. The play tells the true story of Leitrim farmer Jimmy Gral­ton who was de­ported from his own coun­try for building a dance hall, and Lisa is de­lighted to be play­ing the role of Jimmy’s love in­ter­est, Oon­agh, once again.

“This is a heart­felt pro­duc­tion on so many dif­fer­ent lev­els,” she says as she set­tles into a couch next to me. “And the process of mak­ing it has been ex­tra­or­di­nary. Ev­ery process is dif­fer­ent but I es­pe­cially en­joy these pro­cesses where you get to be phys­i­cally so alive.”

Scot­tish di­rec­tor Gra­ham McLaren adapted Paul Laverty’s film script for the stage and this bois­ter­ous retelling gives the mu­sic a lead­ing role.

“We had nights last sum­mer where peo­ple were danc­ing in the aisles!” she re­mem­bers. “The au­di­ence are toe-tap­ping the whole way through.”

Lisa says the cast first came to­gether this time last year. The ma­jor­ity of new pro­duc­tions be­gin with a ta­ble read but the di­rec­tor de­cided to take a dif­fer­ent tack.

“We sang the songs and shared those joys, and we heard each other in a dif­fer­ent way,” she ex­plains. “Then the text came or­gan­i­cally out of that.

“For the first few weeks we re­ally fo­cused on the mu­sic and find­ing the heart­beat of the show,” she adds. “And it’s great to go vis­cer­ally into those places and dance it out of you.”

Lisa also en­joyed the di­rec­tor’s pared­back ap­proach to char­ac­ter-building.

“The way Gra­ham works is that he’s in­ter­ested in the real — the strip­ping back,” she ex­plains. “What are you try­ing to say? What is your ac­tion here? What is this sen­tence say­ing? What are you try­ing to do to the other per­son?

“And the main thing for him is that we all just look like our­selves — not too much make-up; hair is raggy. Just real. I kind of feel like I’m com­ing back to my­self. It’s strip­ping away any masks that you wear over time.”

Lisa’s wild mane of cop­per curls is loose and free-flow­ing for this role. “[My hair] can be re­ally part of what I’m do­ing and re­ally not part of what I’m do­ing,” she says. “I love pieces where it’s not part of me so peo­ple can see me in a dif­fer­ent light. Peo­ple al­ways ask, ‘Would you cut your hair?’ Yes, of course I would, but I’ve never had to.

“You can be eas­ily pi­geon­holed,” she adds. “That’s what you look like, that’s what you are. But I have so many things that I want to say, and that’s com­ing through in my new mu­sic.”

Most peo­ple are fa­mil­iar with Lisa’s work as a singer. She’s a for­mer mem­ber of the multi-plat­inum jug­ger­naut that is Celtic Woman and a solo artist whose de­but al­bum, Hid­ing Away, reached the top spot in the iTunes Ire­land Vo­cal Charts.

But theatre, she says, is equally im­por­tant to her. She de­scribes it as a “mus­cle” and she’s glad to have had the op­por­tu­nity to flex it with some chal­leng­ing pro­duc­tions over the past cou­ple of years.

Lisa grew up in Fairview, Dublin, as the youngest of 10 chil­dren — seven boys and three girls. Her fa­ther was — and still is — heav­ily in­volved in St Vin­cents GAA Club, and hurl­ing and foot­ball dom­i­nated most of the fam­ily’s down­time.

Lisa was dif­fer­ent, though. She was singing as soon as she could speak so her par­ents en­rolled her in the Bil­lie Barry Stage School when she was three. ‘Lit­tle Lisa’, as she be­came known to the late founder of the school, made her stage de­but in Madame But­ter­fly in the Gai­ety Theatre a few months later.

Stage-school chil­dren are some­times thought to be pre­co­cious. The ac­tress doesn’t agree with the stereo­type.

“I worked with Bil­lie and I think I owe a lot of my craft to be­ing around her,” she says. “She was ex­tremely re­spect­ful of the theatre and she gave us a great work ethic. She was a beau­ti­ful, grace­ful lady and I just loved her.”

While Lisa at­tributes her work ethic to Bil­lie Barry, she at­tributes her skill to her Bach­e­lor in Act­ing Stud­ies at Trin­ity Col­lege. “We re­ally con­nected,” she says of her class­mates, who in­cluded Ruth Negga, Aaron Mon­aghan and Aonghus Óg McA­nally. “I think that class was re­ally spe­cial.

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