Aoife Duffin: 'A good review can mess you up as much as a bad one'

Superb young Irish actress Aoife Duffin explains how she deals with the critics and what it’s like starring in ”Desire Under the Elms” in Sheffield

Aoife Dufffin in Desire Under the Elms
Aoife Dufffin in Desire Under the Elms
© Marc Brenner

Irish actress Aoife Duffin won plaudits in 2014 when she starred in the one-woman stage adaptation of the novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Her performance was viscerally intense, a moving, hard to stomach turn in which Duffin entirely embodied the voice of a lost, unhappy soul. It marked her out as one of the most exciting young actresses around. Since then her work has only reinforced that. This year she has stepped in last minute to play Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe – which WhatsOnStage gave five stars to – and now takes one of the leads in Sheffield Theatres’ latest production of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms.

Desire Under the Elms has now opened, how do you feel it’s going?
I’m probably the wrong person to ask because I am so inside of it now. I’m hyper critical. It’s such a wild piece that it can feel so different every night. Opening night we had a really lovely response from the audience.

Is it the sort of piece and character where you’re probably never going to go – I’ve done all I can with it?
It’s the nature of the beast. It’s so full of intense feeling that you can fall off a cliff at any moment. But that’s live performance and live theatre. No matter how many shows I do I still have uncertainty and fear going out on the stage.

Do you read reviews?
No. Although, when I was on tour with A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing I used to treat myself to them when we finished in each city. But it’s best to not think about that kind of stuff. You need to play each moment and to listen to the other actors. Reviews can be really distracting. A bad review will mess you up, a good review will mess you up.

Had you known the original novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is based on?
I knew it because the director had sent me the book. I read it because I had to. I am not much of a reader of novels, I spend so much time reading scripts. I forced myself to read it and after the first few pages I thought there’s no way I’m going to get through it. But I did.

What drew you to the story?
I felt like I really knew the character. I think that’s why the novel was so successful because you are inside of her experience. The way people talk in that world is the way people talk in the world I’m from. I’d never done a one-woman show to that extent, and my lovely agent at the time instinctively thought I should do it. It was random really, these things are mad.

Have jobs opened up a lot more since then?
It comes in waves. You turn stuff down and then you worry that maybe you shouldn’t have. Work begets work. There’s no exact trajectory. People can think you’re doing brilliantly but you’re sitting at home twiddling your thumbs.

You stepped into Taming of the Shrew last minute earlier this year, how long did you get to prepare?
The whole cast had rehearsed it, but the actor I replaced broke her foot in previews. The company had made a really great show, so in many ways I was lucky. I got to just step in. They moved the press night back two weeks for me, but it wasn’t two weeks rehearsals really, it was more like getting up onstage with a gun to my head. But I wouldn’t give it back, it was brilliant.

Desire Under the Elms runs at Crucible Theatre, Sheffield until 14 October.