Cailíní brings the darker side of sisterhood to the stage

Sophie Clarke chats to Íde Simpson and Megan Doherty from Ablaze Productions about their play Cailíní, which will be showcased at the Lyric Theatre in May

Cast of Cailíní
The cast of Cailíní put their heads together before the play's performance at the Lyric Theatre

THE bond between sisters is a relationship that has appealed to dramatists since time immemorial. From William Shakespeare to Charlotte Brontë, Tennessee Williams to Brian Friel, Fleabag to Frozen, sisters have featured at the heart of some of the most performed plays and pictures in the canon.

However, the team at Ablaze Productions have done something very different with this narrative.

Ablaze is a theatre company born from the need to unite the female creative voices from within the Irish theatre industry. It is headed by Belfast and Dublin-based theatremakers, Íde Simpson, Megan Doherty and Beth Strahan.

Their ethos is to create work that challenges the gender norms placed on women in Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is at the forefront of their latest production, Cailíní, which was written as part of a final piece for their university degrees.

Cailíní follows the five dispersed Mahon sisters who return to their family home at the behest of their sister Una with news that their father is ill.

Cailíní | Trailer from Lyric Theatre on Vimeo.

The play aims to explore the struggles of domesticated femininity and celebrate the idea of the ‘flawed’ woman.

“Collectively, we all really wanted to explore strong, multi-layered, Irish women,” Megan explains.

“It’s also came at a really interesting time because the Article 41.2 amendment has just got the no vote, so mother and woman are still used interchangeably in the constitution. So, the fact we’re performing our show against that backdrop I think is an interesting lens to look at things through.”

Nodding in agreement over our Zoom call, Íde adds that she gained a lot of inspiration from watching other productions which centred around strong and complex women.

“Megan and I lived in London last year and we saw a brilliant show in the National Theatre called Phaedra based on the Greek myth; she was a crazed, really powerful woman.

Megan, Beth, Íde - Photo credit Connie McGowan
Megan, Beth and Íde from Ablaze (Connie McGowan)

“Then I watched a performance of Medea with Helen McCrory, and I started thinking about these female characters and how they’re so dislikeable and yet I’m still rooting for them, and I couldn’t quite understand that.

“I think what we’ve done is written a plethora of people who are not necessarily bad or good but they kind of lie somewhere in the middle.”

In addition to heading the production team both Íde and Megan also have big parts to play on stage. Íde will portray Una Mahon who appears to be the catalyst of the piece, whilst Megan plays her sister estranged Clodagh Mahon who gets caught in the crossfire as a series of events unfold.

“It’s great being in rehearsals and getting to act – it’s nearly a break from all the producing stuff,” laughs Megan.

“It’s where we get to let loose and have some fun.”

Cailíní debuted at the Samuel Beckett Theatre Dublin in November 2023 to a sold-out audience.

“We got such a great reception when we put it on in the Samuel Beckett, but I don’t think it really registered with me until it was complete,” Íde confesses.

“I had an inkling that it wasn’t the end after we finished the run at the Beckett,” Megan adds.

“I just knew that we were going to do something else with it.”

As it transpires, Megan’s sixth sense was spot on as they are currently preparing to bring the production to the Lyric Theatre in May.

Íde has previously had a short extract of her first play Fighting Words performed at the Lyric, however she claims that bringing a full show to the iconic space is a completely different experience.

“In terms of its stature in the theatre world the Lyric is a heavily accoladed, very well-known theatre and last year it won the UK theatre of the year award. So, I’d say in our minds it’s something really massive to have the opportunity to perform there.

“Especially because I’m from Belfast, I’ve grown up there and I’ve always looked up to the people who brought their shows to the Lyric and now that our chance has come around, it feels completely surreal.”

The prospect of performing at the Lyric is a mixed bag of excitement and anxiety. However, both Íde and Megan have developed their own specific ways of coping with opening night nerves.

“Breathing, in and out and slowly” is Megan’s preferred technique whereas Íde prefers to listening to the relaxing lyrical stylings of Eminem…

Cailíní will run from May 2-5 at the Lyric Theatre’s Naughton Studio
Cailíní will run from May 2-5 at the Lyric Theatre’s Naughton Studio

“I don’t know why this is the case, but I need to listen to Eminem Without Me before every performance, it’s like my ritual and I do it before every single show because it gets me in the zone,” she laughs.

Three out of the five dates to see the performance have already sold out with limited availability remaining for the remaining shows.

“Whenever I started writing I was 17 and I did an amazing scheme called Fighting Words and they really took a chance on young voices and young writers,” recalls Íde.

“I think the support of young and emerging talent is the most fundamental part of the arts industry right now because these are the people who are going to be building up the industry in the years to come.

“By supporting that and giving your time means more than anything in the world to an artist.”

Cailíní will run from May 2-5 at the Lyric Theatre’s Naughton Studio. lyrictheatre.co.uk