Arts

Patsy Cline songs inspire new Belfast comedy

The songs Patsy Cline inspired west Belfast playwright Brenda Murphy to write a comedy starring Caroline Curran – who, like Murphy, is a fan of late queen of country music. Jenny Lee spoke to the creative duo

Caroline Curran with Ciaran Nolan and Marty Maguire, her co-stars in the Brenda Murphy play Crazy

WHEN it comes to affairs of the heart, in her short career Patsy Cline captured a plethora of emotional highs and lows in the lyrics of her songs. Now Belfast playwright Brenda Murphy, who says Cline's songs form "the soundtrack of her life", has used the American singer as an inspiration for her latest comedy.

Crazy, directed by Martin Lynch, tells the story of a 30-year-old Belfast woman Ruby, who is obsessed with Patsy Cline and still in search of Mr Right. When she joins internet dating sites and goes through a succession of weirdos, sex maniacs and the odd Cheatin' Heart, she starts to Fall To Pieces and wonders if she's ever going to find the man of her Sweet Dreams.

Having grown up being told by her own mother "nothing can happen you in this life that Patsy Cline hasn't sung about", Murphy applied this advice to her latest fictional character, so when Ruby turns to her idol and her songs for some answers she is shocked by what happens next.

It's not the first time that Murphy's late mother Bridget, who died four years ago, inspired her work; Murphy's 2014 play Two Sore Legs, which this summer she will take to the Edinburgh Festival, was penned in her mum's memory.

"Mum was a big Patsy Cline fan and as I've got older, and especially since she passed away I find myself sticking on Patsy Cline CDs more and more often. It started me thinking about young love, crazy affairs of the heart and the inevitable broken hearts. Crazy is a love story but most of all it's a comedy."

And has she applied Patsy's advice to her own life when growing up? "Absolutely. When I was young, I was going out with somebody and he went to the toilet and didn't come back. I walked home alone singing Walkin' After Midnight. I think he was married, saw somebody in the bar who knew him and did a runner out the toilet window," she laughs.

Cline, born Virginia Patterson Hensley, died in a plane crash in 1963 when she was just 30. In that short time she wrote herself into the music history books, becoming the first female country star to headline her own show and the first female solo artist inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame. She was married twice, divorced once due to her husband's desire for her to adopt the conventional role of housewife, and had two children.

"If she were still alive, Dolly Parton and her would both be the queens of country. She was a ballsy type of girl and would have got into the country-rock scene if she was living," says Murphy, whose favourite Patsy Cline track is A Church, A Courtroom & Then Goodbye. "One of my mates did that as well. Patsy must have been having a laugh when she wrote half of them."

Even before she put pen to paper, Murphy knew she wanted Caroline Curran to play her leading woman. The Belfast actress has quickly become the queen of local comedy following her hilarious turns as Maggie Muff in 50 Shades of Red, White and Blue and in Pearse Elliott's comedy The Holy, Holy Bus.

Coincidently, Curran also grew up listening to Patsy Cline. "I love her, because my mum was a musician who sang the pubs and clubs. My favourite song is Crazy because my mummy sings it like no other person in this world – apart from Patsy Cline".

Despite singing being in her genes, Curran has never sung professionally and admits that singing "petrifies" her. "I'm not going to try and imitate Patsy Cline because no-one ever could. I'm going for the more subtle approach," she laughs.

To prepare for the role, Curran bought Patsy Cline's autobiography and her CDs. "When you read about her life and see what she's gone through you see the deeper meaning behind her songs words."

The actress, who is also aged 30, will be keeping her Belfast accent as she plays Ruby. "Ruby is sweet and innocent, but there is an incident that has happened in her past that has tainted her. She is always questioning why these things keep happening her and why can't she find the right person. She wants to give love and get it back. But she always heads for disaster with comedic consequences."

Ruby is house-sharing with her cousin Eddie (Marty Maguire) and friend Gary (Ciaran Nolan) who set her up on a series of blind dates. "They are very extreme but she's just excited to be getting out and meeting the potential 'one'," adds Caroline, who herself is engaged.

Having worked on both sides of the curtain – she began her theatrical career as a stage manager – Curran is now turning her hand to writing, co-authoring this year's Theatre at the Mill Christmas show with her friend Julie Maxwell. "It's my first time but it's really exciting and something new for me," says Curran, who has been overwhelmed by the offers of support from fellow writers.

And she need look no further than Brenda Murphy, who is sticking with comedy for her next script, based on a unisex Belfast hairdressers. Having penned 18 serious political plays including The Ballymurphy Massacre and Forced Upon Us, the award-winning playwright and former republican prisoner is enjoying the freedom of comedy, though admits it's harder than she thought.

"People told me comedy is one of hardest things to write and I didn't really believe them. But then when I went to write, I thought, God it might sound funny to me but how will it translate? But I've been very lucky with the actors who have delivered my work really well," says Murphy, writer of A Night with George and Baby It's Cold Outside.

With Crazy, she discovered she was on the right comedic track during a weekend away with friends in Donegal. "They read the script and I listened. When they started laughing I knew I was OK."

:: Crazy runs at the MAC from May 26 to June 14. Contains strong language. Themaclive.com.

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