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Brief Encounter With … Sorcha Cusack

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Sorcha Cusack has a career that spans over 35 years. She comes from an acting dynasty, daughter to the late Irish actors Cyril and Maureen Cusack and sister to Niamh, Sinéad and Catherine Cusack.

Sorcha was last seen on the stage in Birmingham Rep’s 2009 production of The Grapes of Wrath and is a regular on the small screen. She is currently starring in the European premiere of J.T. Rogers’ play Madagascar at Theatre503 directed by Tom Littler alongside Miranda Foster and Barry Stanton.

JT Rogers’s last full-length play to be produced in the UK was The Overwhelming about the Rwandan genocide at the National Theatre in 2006. He will be returning to the National later this year with his new play Blood and Gifts about Afghanistan. Madagascar is playing at Theatre503 until 5 June.

Given JT Rogers' other work is there anything inherently political about Madagascar?

The play only touches on a political sensibility. In my children, in the world, I want safety and security and everything to be nice and happy. And ostensibly I don’t want to look at the dark side of anything, including politics. So it deals with it by talking around it. And it’s that denial of that part of herself which to some extent causes the discomfort in the relationship with her children.

But Madagascar is essentially about loss, grief, guilt and, most of all, families. The damage parents can do – inadvertently. It might not be intentional, it might not be cruel; they may intend the best but it can mangle us. My character is shameless; she says that her son is the favourite. There are dynamics in every family where one child may feel less loved or appreciated than the other. And it’s about that and how her two children eventually manage to get out from under her.

Was that the case in your family?

There were a lot of us! My father was a very strong personality and it took quite a long time to assert yourself as an individual. He was great whilst you were young and agreeable but once you got to the answering-back stage it wasn’t quite so good as he was a very forceful person.

Due to the monologic format of the play has your rehearsal process for Madagascar been a very personal one?

In the play all three of the characters exist in the same room but in our own time, so we don’t interact. And that was very challenging – not to looking at another actor is a bizarre experience. We were all there together all the time in rehearsals; we didn’t work individually in that sense. But you had to keep quite distinct from the other actors because the pace of your narrative and the reason for you narrative is different. And it needs a different flavour.

Last year you were in Grapes of Wrath, is there something about American writers that especially appeals to you?

I think being Irish I possibly find a connection with American writers and indeed Russian writers more easily than I do with English writers because Ireland and England are so close geographically, one is very aware of the differences. We haven’t spoken to JT Rogers about this but my character’s surname is “Doyle” so one senses that there is perhaps some Irish connection in the historical baggage.

Did the fact that Madagascar was going to be at the Olivier award-winning Theatre503 have any hand in your decision to do this play?

I have been working very hard since last summer and the play is a huge line-learning undertaking – very demanding in a very short amount of time. So when I was asked to do it I thought “do I really want to go into this dark tunnel.” And I’m sure that the fact that Theatre503 was a bit more in one’s consciousness was an ingredient but it was essentially the writing that was the decision maker.

But I do enjoy the intimacy of working in a smaller space. Except for the people in the front row – the foot-waggers I find very difficult to cope with and the people who actually put their feet up on the stage. I get very angry. I mean foot-waggers probably don’t know that they're wagging their feet but the ones who put their feet up on your work-space I find upsetting. You can’t use that part of the stage.

Any plans for after this show?

I have just not stopped so I’m taking a break and going over to see my daughter who’s playing Thomasina in Arcadia at the Gate Theatre Dublin.

For more about Madagascar click here


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