It is striking how respectful Cathy Belton, appearing in Wonderful Tennessee at the Lyceum, as part of Sheffield Theatres’ Brian Friel season, is to the playwright.
She refers to him as Mr Friel even though she is by no means unfamiliar with the great man. “I have done Living Quarters which was the first thing of his in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and I played Sonya in his Uncle Vanya which he has written Afterplay about. I was part of the 80th birthday celebrations in his home town where we read about 10 of his plays. It was celebration of his work and a real gift to read these scores and he attended every one. He’s a beautiful man.”
Wonderful Tennesse tells of a reunion of three married couples in their forties in a remote part of the Donegal coast.
“I play Berna who is married to Terry who has organised it and I have a history of being in and out of psychiatric units and managing to keep going,” she explains. She’s quite fragile, then? “I think the genius of the play is that we are all quite fragile. I think you pick it up from the first line of the play ‘Help we’re Lost’ and I say, ‘Where are we?’
“It’s a real middle life play, you’ve got to forty where you’ve either decided to have kids or not have kids, you’re married and where do you go from here? It’s a quite delicate piece, asking where are we now, where are we going, and is this all there is? .”
The actress from Galway divides her time between Dublin and London. She was seen recently in the film Philomena starring Judi Dench as a mother searching for her adopted child as Sister Claire the nun who coolly tells them the records have all been burned.
“Last summer I shot another film in London, A Little Chaos, directed by Alan Rickman who I worked with in the Abbey Theatre two years ago. It’s a beautiful film about these two gardeners who built the Versailles gardens and Alan is Louis XV. Kate Winslet is one of the gardeners and I am her lady in waiting but unfortunately we are not in Versailles but did it at Ealing Studios which was great to have that sense of history.
“It’s great to do work about different places, it keeps you asking questions, to keep challenging yourself . I couldn’t do anything else but I love what I am doing. That luxury and indulgence to work on stuff that is asking about the human condition and yourself all the time.”