Firhouse resident to perform in play about proclamation signatories

By Mary Dennehy

LIVING in Firhouse for the past 40 years, thespian Barbara Brennan is performing in a theatrical play about the seven signatories on the Proclamation of the Irish Republic – and will be reading a monologue crafted by award-winning author, Emma Donoghue.

One of the nation’s finest and experienced actresses, Barbara has enjoyed a long, varied and highly praised career which includes theatre, TV and film work – with the seasoned actress performing in stage productions such as The Importance of Being Ernest, The Hanging Gardens and The Glass Menagerie, with screen work including The Clinic, The Tudors and the 2003 film, Veronica Guerin.

LIFE Barbara Brennan Signatories 

Barbara’s latest project is Signatories, a moving and personal theatre piece commissioned by UCD (University College Dublin) as the centrepiece of its 1916 commemorations.

Eight world class Irish writers, including Hugo Hamilton, Frank McGuinness, Marina Carr and Emma Donoghue, present the seven signatories and Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell in a series of monologues - which bring the audience into their innermost thoughts.

Unique, emotive and engaging, Signatories is showing in Kilmanhaim Gaol later this month before visiting the Pavilion in Dun Laoghaire, Civic Theatre in Tallaght and the National Concert Hall.

Despite a very busy rehearsal schedule, Barbara took some time out to speak with The Echo.

What was your first acting job?

I started acting when I was a child and my first job was in a radio play when I was just eight. That first play was called The Darling and I voiced a boy! I was so small I remember standing on an orange box so I could reach the microphone.

You come from a long line of actors, were you encouraged into acting from a young age or do you feel that it’s in your genes?

I don’t think I was necessarily encouraged into acting but both of my parents were actors, so we were always around it and going to see plays. When I think about it, I probably did inherit it, it’s in my genes.

Your daughter Eva has followed in your footsteps, what is the most important piece of advice you would have for any young person hoping to tread the boards or get into TV? 

Don’t do it! Seriously, that would be my advice. If somebody ignores that advice and wants to pursue a career in acting, I would then ask them if they are prepared for the pit falls and rejections that acting brings. If they feel they can take that on board, then go for it. Acting is an amazing profession but it’s not easy so you really have to love it and be prepared for both the highs and lows.

You’ve had a varied acting career, when you look back what job stands out the most and why? 

It’s hard to pick out just one thing. I played Sally Bowles in the musical Cabaret in the Olympia Theatre back in the seventies and that lead role led me to other lead roles. These were great times, I was in my mid-twenties and I had landed my first leading lady role.

Tell us a little bit about your new production Signatories and who you play?

I play Nurse Elizabeth Farrell who carried the white flag of surrender for Pearse in 1916. Signatories is all monologues and my monologue starts off the play - which starts at the surrender. It’s a very moving production that gives people a small glimpse into the lives and the people behind the signatures on the Proclamation. It gives audiences a bird’s eye view of how these people felt before going to their death, what was going through their minds.

Kilmainham Gaol is an amazing and relevant setting for the play, what does it feel like to be working in such a historic place? 

There is real atmosphere in Kilmainham Jail and a real sense of connection with the past. There is something very evocative about it.

The monologues in signatories are written by some of Ireland’s best writers, with your monologue written by Emma Donoghue.

Yes, some of our greatest writers have written these pieces and the piece that Emma Donoghue wrote is terrific, there’s a really personal feel to it. Emma is a great, descriptive writer and there’s a beautiful narrative to her piece.

Signatories is also showing at the Civic Theatre, have you been here before? What role do you see local theatres playing? 

Yes, I worked at the Civic when I was in Elaine Murphy’s play Shush. I only performed there this once but remember loving it as a venue and the audiences were great. I think theatres like the Civic do a great job in making theatre more accessible to people who may not be inclined to travel into the city. It’s such a nice thing to have a theatre on your doorstep in the suburbs.

If you could act alongside any actor living or dead who would you chose and why? 

That is a really hard question. There’s a lot of people I would love to work with and lots of people I have worked with who I’d love to work with again. We have some great actors here in Ireland and anyone I’ve worked with has been an honour. I simply couldn’t pick! 

Directed by Tony Award-winning director, Patrick Mason, Signatories is showing in Kilmainham Gaol on April 22, 23, 24, Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire on April 26 and 27, Tallaght’s Civic Theatre on May 3 and 4 and the National Concert Hall on May 5. 

To book tickets for the local shows visit or call the box office on 4627477.

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