True love against the odds

CORA FENTON is a being a little vague, deliberately as it happens, when it comes to describing the plot of this week's Oran Mor play, Fred and Alice.

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Ciaran Bermingham and Cora Fenton star as Fred And Alice in this week's Play, Pie And A Pint drama at Oran Mor
Ciaran Bermingham and Cora Fenton star as Fred And Alice in this week's Play, Pie And A Pint drama at Oran Mor

"It's a quirky love story," she says of John Sheehy's play, which has toured Ireland and attracted rave reviews.

"And it's about two mischievous characters who meet and fall in love. Alice loves Fred straight off, but he takes his time. They eventually get together, and the play is about how they go about their lives."

We discover that Fred and Alice, who meet in a care home, have learning difficulties.

"Ah, yes, the writer doesn't labour this point," explains Cora. "It's because sometimes we judge people by what we see. We stick labels on them. And while we may judge people from the way they're categorised, we should also see how brilliant they are."

Cora Fenton plays Alice, an energetic, passionate young woman, who is upbeat most of the time but has moments of sadness, bewilderment and a blackness.

Alice finds meaning and comfort in numbers, and suffers from OCDS. But most of all, her life is enhanced by her relationship with Fred, played by Ciarán Bermingham, who struggles to communicate and is given to obsessing over music and words.

"Fred carries a tennis racket around with him, but doesn't play tennis," says Cora, smiling. "We discover how he uses it like a guitar, and Alice thinks this is beautiful.

"And so she goes off and gets a badminton racquet and she learns to 'play' as well. Before you know it, they're both playing at Wembley Arena - in their own minds off course."

But the drama kicks in when the couple decide to move in together. The powers that be decide this isn't appropriate. But Fred and Alice are determined to be together, so they decide they will move into a Wendy House.

"When I left home to study I found it hard to look after myself," says Cora, "so you can imagine how tricky it is for people with learning difficulties."

The play is focused on the simplicity of a relationship; at the end of the day love can conquer all. However, it's also about the complexities involved, when the lovers can't quite cope with the world around them.

"They learn how to support each other," says Cora. "As they say in the play 'I'm mad without you'. While each has difficulties on their own, together they form a third person who gets by."

John Sheehy didn't base the characters on people he knows.

"He was more interested in identity and how we all fit in," says Cora. "But he did do lots of research. And in fact, John and I came up with the characters ten years ago when we were doing some improv.

"We thought they worked together, but John went on to do other things, and then we came back to the idea of Fred and Alice."

Cora adds; "We all have some OCD tendencies to some extent. What John has done is to heighten this. And he's a great observer."

Fred and Alice represent a real acting challenge; to be accurate, but without being patronising.

"We don't want to do caricatures. And we love the characters. We've really come to know them and we feel we can make them real."

Cora, who was born in County Limerick, has achieved great plaudits for her performance.

Was acting her first love?

"First of all I wanted a pony," she says, grinning. "I asked my dad for one when I was four and he said 'Wait unti you're nine.' Fair play to him - he delivered it when I was nine."

Cora loved drama and sport at school. But sport looked the better career option and she studied, then worked in Sports Science.

"But one night I went to local drama group and was torn. Then John Sheehy, who wasn't in the business at the time, got a brochure from a college in Cork and said he was thinking of doing the acting course. It made me really consider the possibility."

Ireland's Butch and Sundance leapt together over the rapids.

And for 15 years success has continued.

"I'm never going to be rich," says Cora, "but we've been busy. And we've been making a living out of it.

"Yet, we still get nervous. This play is like an all-Ireland hurling match. You have to hit the ground running because it involves a flurry of words."

Cora adds, smiling. "And this is our first international gig. How scary is that?"

l Fred and Alice, Oran Mor, until Saturday.

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