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Deirdre O’Kane: ‘1Dee’ at the Soho Theatre, 18th – 19th March 2016

| Comedy | 16/03/2016


By Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Deirdre O’Kane is one of Ireland’s most talented actresses and comedians.  As seen in the recent hit-series Moone Boy, she excels in the role of candid matriarch, with a wise crack and a sharp tongue.  In the nineties and noughties, this translated well in the stand-up arena, which she broke into at the same time as good friend Dara Ó Briain.

Now, after a seven-year hiatus from live comedy, O’Kane is back with a new live show, 1Dee, at the Soho Theatre, billed as an honest account of motherhood and her mid-life crisis.

Choosing one direction

As with many successful people, Deirdre O’Kane has an inner restlessness that drives her on to new challenges.  How do I balance the demands of motherhood without going totally insane?  Is it enough to be a respected actress in Ireland?  Or, more fundamentally, should I focus on acting or comedy?

The last one troubled her for some time. “I think I need my fix of both”, she says.  “But I used to fight against it all the time: ‘Why can’t I just commit to one thing: be an actress or be a comic?’  Now I’m determined to roll with whatever’s in front of me and let the chips fall as they may.”

This has led to a varied and fruitful career, alternating between her first love – acting on stage and screen – and stand-up comedy, which she got into twenty years ago to give voice to her creative side.

Over the past seven years, her first love won.  Now she feels a pull towards stand-up and it’s unexpected.  Because since her last tour, O’Kane has been busy: giving birth to the second of her two children, starring in the award-winning sit-com Moone Boy and several critically acclaimed films.  Her desire to perform live comedy disappeared and – for a while – she didn’t think it would come back.

Return to writing

Last year marked the start of her return, after playing the lead in Noble – a biopic of children’s rights campaigner Christina Noble – directed by O’Kane’s husband, Stephen Bradley.  It wasn’t working with her other half that pushed O’Kane into the arms of a live audience.  Both were too focused on overcoming the challenges of filming in Vietnam for any friction to arise.  It was promoting Noble, which “didn’t feel like real work”, that made her realise she had a creative void in her life.

Despite the film’s success – particularly in the US and Ireland, where it earned O’Kane a Best Actress IFTA – the restlessness returned and she admits to becoming difficult to live with.

“In the end, Steve, my husband, said: ‘Look, Jesus, just write! It doesn’t matter if you don’t get up [and perform what you’ve written].  Just go and do two hours of writing for your own sanity!’  So I did.  And probably because I hadn’t written for so long, it came thick and fast.  Before I knew where I was, I knew I had the guts of a show.  So then I said: ‘I might as well get up and do something with it!'”

And she’s delighted she did. “When I did get up, I found this new energy for it.  I think I’m better: I’m older and a bit more relaxed.  And doing it my own way, for myself.”

Motherhood material

O’Kane brings her new show, 1Dee, to London for two nights at the Soho Theatre with material that’s even more candid than before, addressing the difficulties of being a stay-at-home mum – “nothing’s as hard as that” – and dealing with a mid-life crisis – “reaching a certain age and staring down the barrel of what’s to become of me”.  And with her sharp but extremely likeable approach, you feel it’ll really strike a chord with the right audience.

She dearly hopes so but, irrespectively, O’Kane’s relishing the freedom of “being a bit rock ‘n’ roll again” and remembering why she first got into comedy: to write her own lines.  Twenty years ago, watching US comic Anthony Clark at a festival “the penny just dropped that this wasn’t a stream of consciousness”.  He had a script and he nailed it.  “So I thought: ‘That’s kind of what I do, I just have to pen it.'”  She started writing material in the car on the way home.  The following year, O’Kane hit the circuit herself.

“Once you’ve cut your teeth that way, you’re kind of off.  And then because I was doing high-profile TV shows in Ireland, I was able to cross over and start playing my own theatres in my own name.”  She soon hosted and co-wrote The Lounge, whose guests included Rich Hall, Adam Hills and Dara Ó Briain.  And after a successful start to her comedy career, O’Kane moved to London where Ó Briain persuaded her to settle nearby in the elegant suburb of Chiswick.  From there, she gained further traction before the hiatus intervened.

This time around, the success of Moone Boy, co-written by Chris O’Dowd, should help ticket sales.  “In Ireland and America, the show’s been a huge success,” O’Kane says of the charming comedy that earned her another IFTA nomination.  “I’m delighted for Chris and he deserves it.  I think he’s a huge talent, I really do.  And he’s a worker, he grafts.  He didn’t have to write Moone Boy when he did – he could happily have sailed along as an actor – but he’s got a great comedy head on him.”

You sense that O’Kane has both of those qualities in common with her compatriot.  This weekend, Londoners will get to see for themselves.

What’s On London wishes Deirdre O’Kane the best of luck with her new show, 1Dee. Tickets remain available for 18th and 19th March 2016 from the Soho Theatre website.

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