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Arts

Funnywoman Nuala McKeever on life's ups and downs

Funnywoman Nuala McKeever will be back on stage soon with her acclaimed one-woman play In The Window. She tells Joanne Sweeney why she's content that Belfast is the place where she's meant to be

Looking ahead: Nuala McKeever ahead of her return to the Lyric with her play In The Window which she debuted there in 2013 Picture: Hugh Russell
Joanne Sweeney

BELFAST funnywoman Nuala McKeever is back on top as she marks the fourth anniversary of the death of her long-term partner Mike Maloney.

A popular member of the Belfast arts community, Mike died on April 20, 2013 following an accident at home.

The comic actress and writer who has made TV and theatre audiences howl with laughter with characters including Hillary Hamilton from Holywood, Mickey's Ma, the dippy air hostess and builder Jim Hardman says she's now in a much better place since her tragic loss.

Next month, she returns to the stage of the Lyric theatre in her one-woman comedy In The Window. She's also working on a new comedy show that will be debuted at the Open House Festival in Bangor this summer and is even contemplating a bit of stand-up over the next few years.

Nuala McKeever talks to the Irish News ahead of her return to the Lyric with the play she debuted here in 2013. In The Window Picture by Hugh Russell.

Nuala is also busy behind the scenes, sharing her own humorous and inspiring take on life's ups and downs in a series of communications courses for groups and organisations.

And she has written 50,000 words of a novel that's "begging to be finished".

"I've done a lot of work on myself over the past year after reading a book, Finding Your Own Star by Martha Beck," explains the comedienne, who, in 2015, spent six weeks learning mediation in the Tassajara Zen Buddist Centre in Carmel, California.

"I sat out in the garden meditating and doing some of the exercises suggested in the book and found it to be the most wonderful experience as it helped me formulate finally what it is that I'm trying to say.

"It's about listening to your essential self. I suppose over the last year I've really focused on asking myself, 'what do I really want?', not what does she want or he want – just what I want.

"It's a bit scary to ask yourself 'who really am I?' as we are all so busy running around trying to keep everyone else happy. But I think now that I've really built a relationship with my inner child.

"We tend to put all our energy into the stuff that we can't do anything about and haven't enough energy to deal with those things that we can, so while I've done a bit of work over the years, I've really started this dialogue with myself. The mediation really helps me to sit still and to listen to what comes up."

Nuala McKeever as her character - 'misfortunately' Air Hostess

This deeply reflective side of the north Belfast woman is perhaps not what her fans of her work in UTV series McKeever (1999 to 2001) and her hugely success role in satirical sketch shows as a member of The Hole in the Wall Gang such as Two Ceasefires and a Wedding and Give My Head Peace, may expect.

While she's a lively conversationalist and able to break into several characters and accents at any time, Nuala is also very politically aware and opinionated, an activist who's interested in veganism, gay and equal marriage rights and in sustaining local communities.

She recently had fun bringing out her much-loved characters in a series of short video skits that she and her brother produced, where they are asked what they understand by the term 'vegan' – the results were, naturally enough, hilarious.

"They were just good fun to do," says Nuala.

"I'm always amazed at how much people still like those characters. I think there's still life in them yet and there's always a few new ones in my head."

Nuala says this is the last time that she will perform In The Window, a dark comedy about a woman called Margaret who has a date with a bottle of Rosé wine and a bowl of pills before she's interrupted by a young burglar who comes through her window.

It's the fourth play she has written and it sold out in Belfast several times, was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival and, last year, played to audiences in Mumbai, India, and Kansas in the United States.

"In The Window has been a source of great joy to me, as its black humour really touches people in the audience, making them laugh and cry and think," she tells me.

"Its story is told by Margaret, the main character, but there are four characters and I play them all. The best compliment I've ever had is that my sister saw it once, came back to see it for a second time and wanted to know who played the young fella and the policeman – and she just wouldn't believe it was me!

"It was written and performed while Mike was still alive, and it was very poignant to perform it again after he died.

"I wrote a lot [in a weekly newspaper column] about how I coped after his death, and I still get a lot of people who come up and thank me for sharing it with them.

"It turned out to be the issue I got the biggest reaction to."

Neil Harrison

Being so very talented, does she have regrets that her career has not taken her further afield?

"I've never wanted to go anywhere else. I suppose I could have gone to London," she muses.

"I suppose that I've always had a bit of sense of being in this moment, like if you can't make it here, where are you going to make it? And if you can't be happy where you are, where can you be?

"I'm very proud of Belfast; I love it here, where we come from and the people. I've spent enough time in America to realise that I'm definitely not American."

Since Nuala was young, she says she has been interested in how people think and what it takes for us to be who we are; she enjoys how the combination of humour and humanity can make life more joyful.

"All the work that I do, the comedy, the communications stuff, it's all about looking at how we do what we do and having a laugh with it," she says.

"I recently did a talk for a women-in-business event. The women were really inspired, not by me, but what they could achieve and that's a real rush. Humour is a really nice way to achieve that.

"I don't set myself up as an expert but I'm an expert on my own life and what worked for me was listening to people, reading books and being inspired by others."

  • In The Window, May 31 to June 04, The Lyric, Belfast. Tickets and full details via Lyrictheatre.co.uk. To contact Nuala for workshops, see Nualamckeever.com
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