Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Next-of-kin: The bumper issue! Peter Sheridan, Louise Lennox and Katherine Lynch

A few pieces from my Next-of-Kin series for the Weekend magazine were published while I was away, so here's who you (and I) may have missed!

Peter Sheridan has moulded his life around the arts. He and brother Jim founded the Project Theatre Company in Dublin in the early 1970s, Peter going on to become a prolific playwright and author and Jim directing films like My Left Foot, The Field and In The Name of The Father.

“Our dad introduced us to the theatre when we were teenagers and we just fell in love with this medium even though we had been playing music, we had been in a garage band together,” says Peter.

Despite this familial way with words, Peter was surprised when his youngest son Fiachra approached him with a draft of his first book, a memoir called The Runners. It was published last year.

“I was very surprised when Fiachra started writing because of all my four kids I would have least expected him to,” says Peter. “My daughter Doireann always had a strong interest in my work, but the conversation between me and Fiachra would have been more like, ‘Isn’t it terrible Liverpool were beaten 3-1 yesterday?’”

There was no-one more surprised than Fiachra. He had a chequered career in his 20s, spanning a spell as League of Ireland footballer and a hedge fund manager and, eventually, his current day job as a maths teacher. “I went through a lot to realise teaching was what I loved,” says Fiachra. He wrote The Runners at weekends and in the holidays, and is currently working on a sequel.

“For the whole of my 20s, I really hadn’t a clue what I was doing. I think now: How did Dad achieve so much in that time? He had four kids in his 20s. I was nearly 30 when I had my first.”

Peter and Jim had just turned 20 when they founded the Project. Fiachra thinks his experiences of growing up in an artistic environment might have delayed the bite of the writing bug.

“I hated the arts and all I wanted to do was play football,” he says. “All I saw was the Project and actors sitting around drinking coffee and going to rehearsals. As a kid, rehearsals are inherently boring. When you’re a kid, you rebel against everything your father does.”

Peter, although committed to the arts, understood his son’s reluctance. “To be honest, I would have much preferred if they became footballers because that’s what I wanted when I was a kid, maybe play for Man United,” he says.

Neither, says Fiachra, did the financial insecurity of a career in the arts appeal.
“They (children Doireann, Ross, Fiachra and Nuala) always felt that the arts equaled poverty and they were right,” says Peter, “We were living on very small pickings in the 1970s and 80s. We lived in a very small house in Ballybough, I remember my two daughters sharing a bedroom that you could barely fit the bunk bed in.”

These days, Fiachra can see his dad’s house from the bedroom window of the north Dublin home he shares with his wife and their two small children. In the back garden, his six-month-old son Julen is gurgling at his granddad.

“When he became a father, I felt it was this huge bonding thing in the family,” says Peter. “You feel that thing of life starting again, of the circle continuing. It’s been a big bonding thing for us and has deepened our relationship in the past few years.”

The writing too has brought them together. “When Fiachra came to me with his first attempts, I was so taken aback. He has that gift of expressing something in a very unaffected manner.”

Praise from a proud father? Fiachra demurs. “I know the most honest opinion I will get will be from him. I don’t fear showing him something and him telling me it’s crap. That’s alright.”
• Peter Sheridan directs The Shawshank Redemption at the Gaiety Theatre Dublin until May 29.

TV chef LOUISE LENNOX and her sister NICOLA
When pastry chef Louise Lennox appears on RTE’S The Restaurant, sister Nicola is often carefully watching. Not to see Louise keep the visiting celebrity cooks in line - but to check that Nicola’s clothes are not making a surprise appearance on TV.

“My flatmate is convinced Louise has a key to our place and she comes up when we’re not there and raids our wardrobes,” says Nicola. “It’s when she wears the stuff to cook in that it annoys me. They get destroyed. She gets chocolate everywhere!”
Nicola, a nanny, tuned in one day to see Louise do a cookery demo on The Afternoon Show. “I was making a sandwich for the little girl I was minding and told her to tell me when Lou Lou was on the telly. She comes running in saying, ‘Nicky, Lou Lou is wearing a pair of your earrings!’”

Apart from the issue of accessories gone AWOL, their relationship as adults is much more stable than it was as children. The youngest two of five, there was a substantial gap between Nicola and Louise and their older siblings. As a result, they were both “the babies” of the household.

“We were as thick as thieves because we shared a room together,” says Louise, “But then we’d kill each other and be best friends an hour later.”
When they fought, they’d fight ferociously. “Oh, hair-pulling and biting and scraping,” says Nicola, “We each had our signature moves. I would start to cry and Louise would give me one of her sweets if I wouldn’t tell Mum, and I’d be like, ‘Okay’.”

Two very difficult times in their lives pushed the childish battles behind them. Both girls were diagnosed with dyslexia as youngsters. While Nicola felt her secondary school was supportive, Louise felt no-one but her siblings could really understand the frustration and embarrassment she suffered as a result of her reading difficulties.

“It’s kind of how I got into cookery,” says Louise. “I used to stutter through reading assignments so my teacher let me figure out recipes from a cookbook my aunt gave me when I was ten and bake a cake for my homework. That was great – it gave me self-belief.”

She needed that confidence when she started secondary school, a different one to that which Nicola attended.

“The teacher would make me stand up and read and I’d have panic attacks, feeling this heaviness all around me. I couldn’t even read words like ‘the’ and ‘these’, which I normally could. I bunked off school a lot so I wouldn’t have to read aloud.”

Then, when Louise was 17, her best friend Janice died in an accident.
“Louise is two and a half years older than me and that was a huge age gap when I was 14, but when Janice died it drove us closer together,” says Nicola.
“From the day Janice died, I used to sleep on Louise’s floor,” says Nicola.

Louise takes up the story: “Because I was afraid to sleep on my own. Scared Janice would come down to say, I’m okay!’ It was okay for me to cry around Nicky. I’m really weird about letting people see me cry, but I felt comfortable in her space and then we developed a friendship on a whole new level.”

Louise describes Nicola as “really caring” – she does a lot of voluntary work outside her job as a nanny – and for her part, Nicola is proud of her sister’s TV work but knows it’s not for her.

“Our parents never compared us to each other,” says Louise, “There’s never been sibling rivalry in that way.”
Nicola thinks for a moment and adds: “The only thing I would be really jealous of is if she got to do something with Westlife. I really like them and she just wouldn’t appreciate it!”

Comedy actress KATHERINE LYNCH and best friend WARREN MEYLER
ONLY a very, very good friend can persuade a woman to burst out of a costume shaped like a sanitary product in front of a packed auditorium.

That was the test of friendship set for TV comedy star Katherine Lynch by her best pal and co-writer Warren Meyler – and she passed. As the only woman among a chorus of men entering Alternative Miss Ireland in 1998, Katherine had to stand out. She chose a drag alter-ego, Tampy Lilette, who she describes as a periodically-obsessed country and western singer.

“So we had her burst out of a giant tampon onto the stage, saying, ‘Sorry I’m a little late!’” laughs Warren.
“I was going, ‘What is that?’ when he suggested it,” says Katherine, “And Warren was saying, ‘It’s a tampon. Just get into it’.”

The pair take their comedy quite seriously now. They run their own production company, Waka, which created the RTE2 series Single Ladies and Wonderwomen, with Katherine the performer and Warren producer, director and co-writer.

Their shared comedy roots go back to the mid-1990s when they first met but it wasn’t exactly friendship at first sight. Warren was working in a late-night cafĂ© in Temple Bar called Smalltalk – “a real whiskey-in-the-teapot place” – when Katherine started as a waitress.

“We hated each other at first,” he said. “I thought she was weird, and she thought I was weird.” (Katherine interrupts: “He WAS weird. Warren was a Michael Jackson fan and he moonwalked everywhere.” For the record, Warren denies this. Strongly.)

Working nights proved a bonding experience. “We used to have people on shift work coming in, from doctors to U2 and Boyzone,” says Katherine. “One night Quentin Tarantino and Mira Sorvino came in and stayed till six in the morning because we doused them in whiskey. I sang Caledonia for Mira and she cried… in pain.”

They “settled into each other” and discovered a mutual love of kitsch, slapstick humour.

“We shared a flat together on Parliament Street and when we were broke we’d be sitting in and doing sketches and that’s how we ended up writing comedy together,” says Warren.

Over a decade on, Warren and Katherine still socialise and work together. They say their romantic partners are very understanding of their close friendship. Ask if that was always the case in the past and they laugh. “There have been one or two situations like that but someone who is threatened by your friendships isn’t right for you,” says Warren.

They are currently holed up in an office together writing material for Katherine’s live shows in Vicar Street this August. (“And Warren’s doing my VAT for me,” adds Katherine.) Don’t they ever get on each other nerves? “We laugh loads and we argue loads,” says Katherine.

They are still pals with the Smalltalk gang some of whom, like Brendan Courtney and Declan Buckley (aka Shirley Temple Bar), have also found success in the entertainment biz. They might be all grown-up now but it doesn’t take much prompting to get Katherine and Warren reminiscing about their party days.

“We were adamant we were going to get into the MTV awards when they were in Dublin, do you remember that?” says Warren. They blagged into seats beside Whitney Houston – with Katherine dressed in a floor-length white puffa coat pretending to be a Dublin hip hop star and Warren and a friend as her backing dancers.

“The poor boys were dressed like a pair of gay dancers with bellytops on them,” says Katherine, “I couldn’t take my coat off because I had my work clothes from the restaurant on underneath. I was sweating buckets!” Sounds like a good idea for a comedy sketch…

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