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Interview: Helen O’Brien ‘The Edinburgh Fringe is not like any other life experience’

Helen O'Brien
Helen O’Brien

“I DON’T know if there is anywhere else in the world for this kind of festival.”

This year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival is drawing to a close, and BBC Comedy Award Winner Helen O’Brien reflects on the past month of performing at the world’s largest and most renowned arts festival.

“When I’m at other festivals it’s just been the odd day, I’ve never been at a festival and stayed there. I was part of the festival in Northern Ireland but I was just doing one day.

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“[Edinburgh] is not like any other life experience.”

The accomplished performer and writer is currently showcasing Bronagh’s Big Weekend in Edinburgh.

Her one-woman show about awkward names, ra-ra skirts, bad haircuts, a 13th birthday and a mad weekend is set in 1987 as Bronagh is becoming a teenager, and draws on O’Brien’s own experience of growing up in a Irish family.

“I’m telling a story, it’s more like a play. It’s not anything like stand-up comedy.

“I take it chronologically through this weekend and part of that weekend is a birthday on the Friday, bridesmaid at a cousin’s wedding on the Saturday and the Irish Dancing Championship on the Sunday.

“There’s always family stuff going on around her [Bronagh], all these awkward teenage things, but when she’s dancing that’s when she forgets about it.”

Audiences at the Fringe were treated to O’Brien’s  comedy, emotion and Irish dancing, and reaction to Bronagh’s Big Weekend has been positive.

“Everyone’s really enjoyed it. I get applause for the dancing, somebody asked me to sign their ticket. I had a few requests for photographs at the end of the show, and I had a few hugs from people on the way out.

“It’s comedy but it’s quite emotional as well and I’m not trying to make them cry but a couple of them said ‘you made me cry’.

“You don’t actually see that much on stage or on screen about teenage girl problems, things that we’ve all been through, so women coming out saying ‘we’ve been through that’, it strikes a chord.”

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The performance has also been “a bit of a rollercoaster” for O’Brien.

“I enjoy performing this show more than performing any other show; it’s just me on stage talking to the audience. I love this story. I feel slightly like a 13 year old girl going through it every day.”

The Irish comedian began her career at the The Durham Revue comedy group where she was a member.

She later joined Off The Ground Theatre Company, where she starred in a large number of productions including Romeo and Juliet, Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad, and also played the lead role of Rita in Educating Rita.

Previously, she performed in and wrote sketch shows at The Edinburgh Festival including Innocent Bystanders and Domestic Goddi, which received critical acclaim.

More recently, O’Brien was part of the writing team for Sex Bombs, a new pilot for BBC Northern Ireland.

There are only four days of The Fringe remaining, but she is, “hoping that the Festival will create a bit of interest with other theatres.

“I’ve performed Bronagh’s big weekend in a few theatres already but we’re hoping for more theatre dates. I’m hoping for something to go on television as well.”

She is also performing Mrs Manning, a night of character, sketch and musical comedy at the free Fringe.

Helen O’Brien will be performing Bronagh’s Big Weekend at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival until August 25.

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Nemesha Balasundaram
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Nemesha Balasundaram is a Reporter with The Irish Post. Follow her on Twitter @nemeshaB

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