Humour and myth central to show on mental illness

Sinéad O’Brien’s troubled relationship with her mother has inspired her debut one-woman show which will be performed in Galway next week. In it, she explores the impact of mental illness on loved ones as well as the person directly affected. She tells JUDY MURPHY how it evolved and how her second show, which will premiere in Edinburgh in August, will deal with her father’s relapse into alcoholism.

The author of Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt, famously proclaimed that the only thing “worse than the ordinary, miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood”.

In his case, it proved fertile grounds for his later writing.

A difficult childhood has also been the inspiration for  Sinéad O’Brien’s debut one-woman show, No One is Coming, which she will perform in Galway City on Tuesday, April 9.

Based on her own experience of growing up with a mother who had a mental illness, this dark comedy has received rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Amsterdam Storytelling Festival, which commissioned it in 2020, just before Covid.

Dublin-born Sinéad who spent her formative years in Galway, when her father was working in Digital here, was an only child. And while her family were comfortable financially, things were difficult as her mother had mental health issues.

As a child, she didn’t understand what was going on so that was tough.

“But what was worse was the stigma surrounding it and that it wasn’t talked about,” she observes of the illness, as she says No One is Coming isn’t just about people with mental health problems but also about those who love and care for them.

Sinéad lived in Galway until she was about 12, with her family being based in Renmore, where she went to primary school in Scoil Chaitríona.

And during those years, her father did his best to protect her from the reality of her mother’s illness.

But then they left Galway for the Midlands – again because of his work – and soon after that, her parents separated.

Sinéad remained with her mother and life became totally different for the only child.

“I suppose that’s where the title of the show comes from,” she explains of No One is Coming. “The idea that no one was coming to save me but also that I needed to stop waiting for permission to do things.”

At the age of 17, she returned to live with her father and life settled down. Then she went to college in Cork and after finishing her degree there, moved to London, where she did a Master’s in Dramaturgy. Eventually, after a period back in Ireland and working with a storytelling charity in London, she relocated to Amsterdam, where she’s currently living.

Pictured: Dublin-born Sinéad lived in Renmore for much of her childhood and attended Scoil Chaitríona. The family had moved here due to her father’s job with Digital.

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