Brian Beacom

STAGE a modern classic play such as West Belfast-set Bold Girls and it makes perfect sense to cast Lucianne McEvoy.

But it’s not just because she’s an acclaimed actress for the likes of her work with the National Theatre.

Lucianne brings a knowing to the world of the Troubles that’s certain to surface in her performance.

The actress was born in Dublin, but her parents were originally from Ulster.

“We are the only Dub branch of the family,” she says smiling. “And we’d go up and down all the time to visit relatives. I remember going to Newcastle in County Down where my Auntie Eileen, my favourite auntie, lived and she would take us shopping to Belfast.

“Auntie |Eileen was very pragmatic woman, with a really dry sense of humour. And just before setting off she’d say a wee Hail Mary. I asked my mother why later and she said ‘Oh, just in case you were bombed.’”

Lucianne, who now lives in Glasgow adds; “I remember once we were in a restaurant in Belfast when there was a bomb scare and we were evacuated from the restaurant.

“But my Auntie Eileen took her dinner plate with her and continued to eat. She was determined not to let it get in the way of her nice meal.”

Auntie Eileen’s prayer, and her act of defiance, illustrated the coping mechanism the women of that world developed.

“It all became pedestrian for them,” says Lucianne. “It had to be that way.”

This world is revealed in Rona Munro’s Bold Girls, set in 1990 and described as “a story of love, friendship and betrayal among four women in a working-class community.”

It’s also a play about how women survived the Troubles, put food on the table, but on a wider sense how they survived their relations.

In many ways, their surrender to their men’s greater need has seen the women become defined by their partners.

Lucianne plays mother-of-two Marie and a widow to Michael.

“He was shot,” says the actress. “We don’t know by whom, but she has two kids to bring up in a tight-knit community.

“The other characters have husbands who are missing, or in Long Kesh or wherever.

“Marie, we learn, has a romanticised idea of her husband, but the truth begins to unravel as the play progresses. It’s been easier for her to imagine him as a hero.”

Does this mean there’s a degree of complicity and self-delusion going on here amongst the females?

“I think there’s a large dollop of both going on,” says Lucianne, with a wry smile.

“In fact, I the concept of complicity is key to the play.”

The play may be set in Belfast during a time of war, but Lucianne points out it’s a women’s story that could be set anywhere.

“It’s a story about a marriage and a group of friendships that gets challenged by the idea of the past crashing into the present,” she maintains.

“The secrets get told and truths are uncovered. And I suppose we learn something by the end of the play which is that you do have a responsibility for the things that happen to you.”

She add, grinning; “Being in a relationship is like having terms of agreement. Certain things aren’t talked about.”

The debate about expectations and roles within a male-female relationship is very much of this moment.

“The gender stuff that’s going on now is a vague way of referencing how we treat and respect each other, and what we expect of each other. For me, that’s what this play is about.”

It asks; what is expected of wives in a marriage? Should they have a stronger voice? Should the sons be spoiled by their mothers while the daughters are told to get out of the way and clean up?

“We have to look at what we have expected of our relationships and what we have been taught by our parents,” says Lucianne.

Marie’s mindset is blown up when newcomer Deirdre emerges and asks questions of the women.

Has discovering her character in rehearsals made Lucianne look at her own relationship?

“You always draw from you own life as an actor,” she suggests. “And yes, this does make you think about what you’ve learned from your parents. It makes you think the next time you buy a gender-based toy for the children.

“But we have to be honest about that. And often life is too busy for honesty.

“What happens to Marie is this honesty is dumped out all over her living room floor.”

While the women in the play come to question their lives, Lucianne has nothing but praise for those who held families together during the Troubles.

“I’m continually trying to evoke the spirit of my aunties, my mother and my grandmother,” she says, smiling. “I love the spirit of these women.”

Lucianne can’t help but enjoy the frisson that comes with appearing in the play alongside Deirdre Davis, Scarlett Mack and Sinead Sharkey.

“It’s made me think of going back to Northern Ireland as a young girl. I can remember us wanting to see the Orange march, even though we were Catholics. As kids, we just wanted to hear the music, see the parade. And my Uncle Barney shrugging his shoulders as he took us to see it.”

Of course, the actress will have no problem with the accent.

“It’s easy for my ear to slip back into it,” she says. “When I learned to speak I had a Northern accent and then when I went to school I soon lost it. I was accused of sounding like an American.”

She adds, smiling; “But I’ll find out how accurate my accent is when my parents come to see the show. They’ll put me right.”

• Bold Girls, the Citizens Theatre, until February 10.