Not only does Niamh Cusack belong to one of Ireland’s leading acting dynasties, she is also related to Brian Friel, the writer of the play in which she is appearing in Sheffield.
“Yes, it’s a tiny world. His wife Ann is a cousin of my mother’s,” she explains. “Because my father and mother were actors he was very much part of my landscape. He’s in his eighties now and he is Ireland’s greatest living playwright.”.
Sheffield Theatres is acknowledging this with a season devoted to him which is opening with Afterplay at the Crucible Studio.
“It’s a two-hander and the characters are from two different Chekhov plays, both of which Brian Friel has done versions of. Sonya, my character, is from Uncle Vanya, and Andrei is from Three Sisters andit is about them meeting by accident one night in a coffee shop in Moscow 20 years after the events of the play.”
The Russian writer was Friel’s hero, she says. “In his plays Chekhov was writing about very internal things which reflect the universal and I think that’s what Brian in his plays has been interested in. He has done versions of Vanya and Three Sisters so both these characters are absolutely rooted in Chekhov. That’s where they come from but where they are now is Brian’s imaginings but I think they are very much in touch with their histories, just as we all are.”
She thinks being Irish helps even though the play is set in Russia. Sean Gallagher is English from an Irish background and she thinks their contrasting accents illustrate the size of Russia. “Neither of the two people come from Moscow and they meet there but they have come for different reasons. I think the Irish temperament is not dissimilar to the Russian temperament.”
Cusack has previously acted in Friel plays, Dancing at Lughnasa on stage and Aristocrats on radio and her first play in England was Three Sisters at the Royal Exchange.Although she’s not acted in Sheffield she knows it well. “My husband (Finbar Lynch) did Macbeth here about 14 years ago and we came up on holiday. But I love the north anyway,I did Heartbeat and love the Yorkshire Moors and then I lived in Manchester when I was doing another television series, A & E so I feel very much at home here.”
Most recently she was in The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night in the West End but had left by the time the theatre roof fell in in December. “I wasn’t there that night although my son was,” she reports. “He was ushering and it was a great shock but he says the front of house people were really amazing.”
Does that suggest another in the line of actors? “He is 19, he’s interested, but I don’t know if he will become an actor - he knows the ups and downs.” But then she herself came to acting later than sisters Sinead and Sorcha after starting out as a musician.