An audience with Fiona Shaw

Fiona Shaw pictured in action alongside, Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliff, in The Prisoner of Azkaban.
Fiona Shaw pictured in action alongside, Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliff, in The Prisoner of Azkaban.

This is Fiona Shaw’s first visit to Derry in five years but it is a place with which she has a strong affinity, not least due to the fact the University of Ulster, Magee viewed her substantive body of work as of sufficiently high calibre on which to bestow an honourary doctorate.

“I’ve been here lots and I have an affinity for Derry for that reason and because I feel very moved by the city. The scale of the city, being built as it is on a river between the hills reminds me of Cork.

Actress, Fiona Shaw pictured with drama students from St Cecili'a College at the Verbal Arts Centre. (2404SL11)

Actress, Fiona Shaw pictured with drama students from St Cecili'a College at the Verbal Arts Centre. (2404SL11)

“This is a very dramatic city to come across. That river and those hills are absolutely impaled on my brain. When I came over the hill today and saw the river, the two churches, the Bogside and graveyard, I found it almost like a fairy story. It is a beautifully positioned town, geographically if not politically.

“It was a very moving experience.”

Ms. Shaw speaks with the eloquence and passion of a woman who has been immersed in the finest love poetry the UK and Ireland has to offer. In fact it is for that very reason the leading actress has visited Derry’s Verbal Arts Centre this week, but more of that later.

Born in Cork, Fiona moved, aged 21 to study Drama at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.The arts are very much part of Ms Shaw’s genetics. Upon graduation from RADA she was “whisked straight into the National Theatre so I didn’t have ten years starving in a bedsit, I suppose that prevented me from going home”.

“I thought I was moving away for five minutes but that is what you think at that age don’t you?”

Since then Shaw has almost become an ‘ever present’ at the National Theatre. In fact she will return this autumn, having just agreed to a role in Howard Barker’s ‘Scenes from an Execution.’ In a Journal exclusive Ms Shaw admits she only agreed the role this week. The leading Irish actor also admits that the National Theatre has become a second home. “Well I go there every two years, then go away and leave them alone,” she laughs.

Describing acting as her ‘real job,’ Fiona has a colossal cinematic CV, having featured in over fifty hit movies and countless plays as diverse as Harry Potter, Super Mario Bros, My Left Foot and Three Men and a Little Lady.Her television credits would be the envy of any aspiring actress, Ms. Shaw has also just completed an eight month stint in LA shooting hit US HBO vampire drama; ‘True Blood’ After which she skipped the Atlantic to direct the Marriage of Figaro in London.

“So I haven’t actually acted in a play for a year and a half years. So I am refreshed and ready to go back.

“I did 12 episodes of True Blood and it was like 12 movies. I enjoyed it but it was a very long time to be away.”

Asked how she selects her roles Ms. Shaw states: “I usually play weird and barking mad. I never seem to get the glamourous roles. I like to play the more interesting parts on the spectrum I suppose. The barking crazy people are much more fun to portray. I do a lot of goofy films. I enjoyed playing Mrs Nugent in The Butcher Boy, it ranks very highly with people. It was a fantastic movie both to work on and to watch. I think it was one of Neil Jordan’s best.”

Today the Corkonian is recognised most of all thanks to her portrayal of Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter franchise, Fiona said: “It went on for ten years and no one thought it would be so huge. The strange part is that I was often locked in a little house doing my scenes, I never saw the school and that is what people ask about most often, Hogwarts.”

In Derry to promote her latest project, the Peace Camp which has been commissioned by London 2012 in partnership with City of Culture 2013, Fiona said: “I got roped in, that’s exactly how it happened. My friend, Deborah Warner asked for help as the concept is huge. To install these eight installations, huge swathes of tents in eight locations with the UK and Ireland’s favourite love poems forming a sound track to the installation.

“People can walk by these tents, while listening to the nation’s favourite recorded love poems. We have only a half developed idea, the original idea was only a fragment of one so guess whose been left to develop it? I have to say though it has turned into a fantastic journey for me. I’m getting to see the regions. I’m learning. I’ve discoverd that Northern Ireland has probably the greatest percentage of love poets per head of capita of all the regions I visited. They are overwhelmingly men, very famous poets locally who, almost exclusively, all concentrate on love poems. There are no women writing love poems so they need to get writing.”

It is very much a project which requires total immersion. “I’m boggle eyed with love poems now. People come with their favourite love poems some of them are very strange and bizarre which I like. It is not the kiss and cuddle aspects of love that I am seeking. It is the manner in which love marks our lives and it does so fundamentally and that is true be it the pursuit or absence of love.

“I’m trying to get a competition going between the great love poems of the four centuries, between John Donne and Shakespeare. These men have great welly, there is no doubt when you say their lines, you are saying something.”

Ms. Shaw is off, her love of language and meaning shining in her recital of some of her favourite lines.

“‘If any ever beauty that I did see, desired and got but was a dream of thee,’ or ‘She is all states, all princes eye nothing else is.’

“Isn’t that the most erotic thing you ever heard?” she asks. Or how about: ‘All my America, my new found land’ I would love to have that said to me.

“The project is a wonderful collaboration. I have become the audience to my audience and that is a lovely thing which I am enjoying very much. It is a lovely thing but sometimes I get overwhelmed by things. You get to know a lot about the world but fundamentally you learn that poems that deal with love deal with so many other emotions, such as loss, yearning and loneliness. They all exist in love.

“You get to know a lot about the world.”

Asked how her immersion in love poetry was affecting her own private life, Fiona said: “It might have a wee effect on my life but it has really affected my dreams and I’m dreaming about a lot of people I have loved.

“Strange dreams about being on boats and losing, I have noticed a lot of dreams about the sea and it has to be down to love poems.”

The Peace Camp installation will be at the Mussenden Temple and White Park bay County Antrim for four nights from July 19.