Tara Lynne O’Neill on new Rough Girls football play and the comeback of Derry Girls

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Tara Lynne O’Neill

“GOOD SR I’m working, isn’t that something to be happy about?” exclaims Tara Lynne O’Neill when we call to find out how she is doing with the rehearsals for Rough girls.

The Derry Girls star looks like many actors whose paranoia over job security escalated during Covid’s forced shutdown of the entertainment industry. However, after being commissioned by the Lyric Theater in Belfast to write this new women’s football-themed play in 2019, O’Neill was actually sitting on a finished version of Rough girls throughout the pandemic – it was just a matter of when it would actually be allowed to open.

The animated musical drama directed by Kimberley Sykes – which takes its title from Oscar Wilde’s joke that “football is great as a game for rough girls, but hardly suited to delicate boys” – finally makes its mark. debut at Lyric on September 9. , marking the return of professional theater to the Belfast stage.

It’s another important step in the gradual return of live entertainment amid the ongoing easing of restrictions related to the pandemic.


Rough Girls: Ruby Campbell, Caroline Curran, Eloise Stephenson and Nicky Harley. Photo by Brian Morrison

“I’m currently sitting in the auditorium so it’s very exciting,” says the Derry Girls Star.

“I was doing my one-woman show Shirley valentine when it all stopped. I was actually the last show here so it’s great to come back and open the theaters with 11 women doing some history. “

The story runs through the heart of Rough girls. Set between 1917 and 1921 and based on actual events, the play is billed as “the untold story of the Belfast football suffragettes”. The show full of music and choreography centers on the city’s very first women’s football team, which challenged patriarchal prejudices to rally thousands upon returning from WWI.

Hosted through the Ladies Football Guild, the women’s match was immediately popular with local fans: 20,000 of them gathered in Grosvenor Park in Belfast on December 26, 1917 to watch the Ladies of the North of the Ireland take on the Tyneside Ladies.

With men’s football on hold due to the war, these women continued to draw huge crowds over the next two years until their flourishing sports career was hit by the all-powerful English Football Association: in December 1921 , it has banned its clubs hosting women’s matches.

“They thought it was ‘inappropriate for girls’ and issued a letter of intent in which they claimed there was more money spent getting girls to games than was going to the game. charity, ”says O’Neill of the brutal crackdown. on women’s football, a blatant attempt to refocus public attention on men’s football then resurfaced.

“But the women’s games were a huge success here. They were family events at a time when, in 1920 and 1921, men’s games were becoming political battlegrounds for more than football. There is no doubt that the numbers were more important for women’s games at that time. “


Tara Lynne O’Neill rehearsing for Rough Girls. Photo by Brian Morrison

Fortunately, Rough girls opens at a time when women’s football is once again enjoying great popularity, not least due to the international success of the Northern Ireland senior women’s team: led by Cliftonville Ladies midfielder Marissa Callaghan, they recently secured their historic place in the final of the Women’s Euro 2022 competition under manager Kenny Shiels, and are set to return to Windsor Park for the first time in more than a decade for the next Cup qualification of the women’s world against Latvia on September 21.

“It’s wonderful to watch and I can’t wait to see them perform at Windsor Park – although I think I might be on stage at the time,” enthuses the writer and actor, a big supporter. from the Northern Ireland women’s team and who interviewed some of the players as part of their research for Rough girls.

“It’s great to see someone like Kenny line up behind them, as well as the IFA and the whole country – it’s not often that we have something so positive to send to the world.”

While previously writing Christmas shows for MAC in Belfast, O’Neill admits that Rough girls is the most ambitious writing she’s ever undertaken – and while she won’t reveal whether the completed show will include live ammunition, it looks like the ongoing rehearsal process has been incredibly satisfying.

“Mia Hann, the famous female footballer, said that every champion was once a rookie who didn’t stop,” she tells me.

“I’m a newbie but I’m learning a lot and we have such a brilliant team – so I really feel supported and we have some amazing players too. Northern Ireland has the best talent and it’s just great to see them all in one room.

“We have a very well known percussionist, Emma King, who has worked on Knock! working with us, we have Katie Richardson as musical director, Dylan Quinn from Dylan Quinn Dance does the choreography and then Kim conducts. So it’s really exciting to work with this huge team of people.

“That’s what I love about theater – it’s not about just one performer, it takes a whole team to make it happen. I’m sitting here watching the scenery build and even that alone adds up to 20 or 30 more people. You forget that the arts actually employ so many people. “


Tara Lynne O’Neill as Lyric Shirley Valentine. Photo by Johnny Frazer

As to what Rough girls is actually about the playwright and actor from Belfast – who also has a role in the new production as “She” – explains that in this story, teamwork really makes the dream work.

“It’s about coming together,” enthuses O’Neill.

“It is the coming together and the things that we can achieve when we come together that we cannot achieve on our own – that joy.

“It’s less about football than what we can do when we come together – and how essential getting together to watch sports or theater is for a community. This ‘need’ in us is why theater and football have been around for so long.

She adds: “I think it’s actually very timely to come out” post-pandemic “- I don’t know if you’re even allowed to say that at the moment because we’re not completely done with it – but it’s is what we missed. It’s as much a play about theater and the place of women in theater as it is about football. “

As the opening night approaches, the Derry Girls star hopes the audience will be changed for the better by the message it contains.

“I’m really excited about this,” she enthuses.

“I just tried to write a story about women who inspired me. I hope that when people come to watch it they will also feel inspired by these women. All I can is that people go out and think about supporting not only their local theater but also their local women’s football team – because we can’t exist without you. “


Tara Lynne O’Neill as “My Mary” Quinn in Derry Girls

As for the other girls she’s involved with, O’Neill aka “Ma Mary” assures us that work on the Covid-delayed third series of Lisa McGee’s international hit sitcom is well in hand.

“I don’t know the exact dates but we are definitely filming before the end of the year,” she tells us. Derry Girls to recover.

“I can’t wait, so season three should be released early next year.”

Rough Girls is at Lyric September 9-25, tickets and times on Lyrictheater.co.uk. Rough Girls is proudly supported by Electric Ireland


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