- 15 Sep 22
The Dublin-based actress and writer's brand new play Blister will complete it's four-day Dublin Fringe Festival run at The New Theatre from September 20-24, with matinees on 23 and 24.
Dublin based actor and writer, Síofra O'Meara, is taking the Dublin Fringe Festival by storm with her hilariously dry-witted new play, Blister. Síofra stars opposite Eddie Murphy as one half of problematic couple, Linda and Patrick.
Ahead of the show's debut, Hot Press chatted to Síofra about the humour and themes in Blister, her thoughts on the Irish arts scene, self confidence, and much more.
Blister premieres towards the end of Dublin Fringe Festival, which features a stacked line-up of incredible artists and creative works.
"It's really funny because we're on the last week of the festival, so, it's great because we have the most rehearsal time, but it's also really bad because when everyone else is partying and celebrating in the pub while we still have a show to do," O'Meara smiles. "I’ll still be a hermit up until the 24th probably."
Observing a young couple who gain an unwanted visitor - herpes - Blister deals with the stigma, shame and life changes that come with gaining a sexually transmitted infection (STI or STD), and aims to inform the audience about the lifelong but massively common virus. However, it manages to do so with the an ever-lingering dry Irish humour.
"The humour is important because obviously, there's moments that aren't funny at all," Síofra notes.
The journey of creating this play has revealed how little a lot of adults in Ireland understand STIs.
"If you're in your adulthood, and you've ever been to get an STI test, you know how anxious and what kind of mental state you go into when you think you could potentially have something," the actress explains. "Especially something that's branded incurable, such as herpes.
"When I started learning about the STI, the misinformation that follows the positive diagnosis and the negative mental impact that comes with it is just fascinating," she continues, enthusiastically. "If you watch any YouTube video of people talking about herpes, the comment section is filled with people saying: 'I'm so happy I saw this because I thought I was never going to date again, I thought it was never going to be able to fall in love with anyone.'
"I didn't know that if I went in for an STI test and I pee in a cup that I wasn't being tested for herpes," she tells me. "I didn't know it had to be a blood test. In our production company people didn't know about it until they read the script.
"So I wanted to write something exploring that misinformation and exploring the mental impact of herpes. And how Patrick and Linda's dynamic is before and after that."
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Síofra also aims for this play to portray the issues in modern dating and how difficult it can be. Themes of toxicity and mental health issues run through the conversations in the play, perfectly laying out the world of young adults today.
"Blister is based off a bunch of relationships I've been in, and have observed through friends. This idea of someone in a relationship deciding to go to therapy and the things that come with that is something I really found interesting. Because going to therapy is an uncomfortable experience, you know? It's not like going to get your eyes tested, it's digging up your trauma and everything that comes with that.
"Words like 'gaslighting', 'breadcrumbing', and the language that we use surrounding dating and relationships and even trying to diagnose the other person in a relationship is something I find really fascinating.
"My friend was in a relationship with someone who was so therapised that it made it hard to have a discussion without their partner being like no, that's my boundary. And it's like, 'I know, but I have to ask you if we're going out or not!'
Having written the play and now in a starring role, it was interesting to see Blister is not directed by O'Meara, but instead by Simon Geaney. Is it difficult to let go of that control and vision? Not at all, Síofra thinks.
"You have to let go of the reins, you know. Eddie Murphy, the actor playing Patrick, is hilarious. Sometimes he just says things that are way funnier than anything I could have ever written. I'll be like, 'Eddie, put that in, whatever I said, change it, just put it in.'
"It's the same with Simon, the director, if he's struggling to figure out how we're gonna go from one part of the scene to another, I'm like 'just change it.' They're both so experienced, and have been doing what they've been doing for years. The main thing is really trusting each other, because then you can really start having fun."
An integral outlet to the arts community, Dublin Fringe Festival plays host to a lot more than just Blister.
"The programme this year is full to the brim of people whose work I've never seen before, who I've never seen perform before," O'Meara offers. "Maybe I've been living under a rock, but it feels like it's not just full of people who we've seen a bunch of times, it's very new, very ambitious ideas. Dublin Fringe has always been a way to get new voices out there and new people out there and seeing someone you've never seen before do the best performance of your life, and they blow up, or seeing writing and then suddenly that person has skyrocketed - it's so exciting."
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Emerging as an actress through the festival herself, Síofra spoke about the mental turmoil that can come with life in the arts.
"The worst thing is while you're comparing yourself to like people who are your peers, constantly. You're like, 'Oh, they got that job, because they're prettier and more talented.' With people who identify as women as well, we're like, 'Am I thin enough? Am I curvy enough? Am I good looking enough in that kind of way?'
"I saw this person on Twitter saying: 'When do you just give up? When is it no longer normal to have the recurring thought of is this for me?' Sometimes you get enough knocks and so little validation, that you're wondering if you're old news.'
"I've had a lot of agents say to me that they won't take me on because I write a lot of my work. That's madness because at the moment, there's Phoebe Waller-Bridge and all these writers and actors who've started creating something themselves because they weren't getting cast or they weren't in the roles that they wanted to be in.
"A lot of people tell me I have to go to the UK but I don't want to have to leave my country, I like writing stories about Ireland and the people here. It's sad. It feels a bit like the housing crisis at the moment where I'm like: 'I love you so much Dublin; but do you love me?'"
On this vein, Síofra also spoke about support for the arts in Ireland. With the recent cancellation of the Scene + Heard festival, due to lack of Arts Council funding, it's worrying how artists will survive this cost of living crisis.
"The Basic Income Scheme is fantastic for the 2,000 people who got it... I am not one of those people. No one I know is one of those people. It's upsetting that the next three years of your life are now more difficult. Everyone knew it was a lottery, but it's just so disappointing to get that rejection email, and knowing that if I got that, the next three years would have just been a bit different for me.
"It's mad to be resentful of people who got it just cause they've an extra few hundred euros coming into their bank account, but that's what's needed now to be an artist. Especially in Dublin - it's one of the most expensive places in the world, never mind trying to create art here.
"I live with my parents and I'm writing crazy plays about herpes in my childhood bedroom. That's what the reality is. I was living in my own apartment for years but that meant I had to work full time and it was taking away from what I wanted to do.
"Having things like the agility award is very helpful, but I don't know how long that's going to continue for. And that was the first time a lot of people were getting ice cream. Getting Arts Council funding is very similar to doing the lottery, where people are just waiting by their laptop to hear.
"But there's spaces for us," she notes, hopeful. "Obviously, the Odlum's Flour Mill is turning into a beautiful new space, which is going to be for rehearsals and workshops and other art forms. But, we have entire theatres that are abandoned. Spaces that were used but the organisers and people behind them haven't been able to keep them afloat. It can make you feel a bit hopeless at times.
"It's easy to forget about it all when you're having a great time putting on a fringe show, but then usually around this time of year, people would usually start getting their ideas together for Scene + Heard and that's not happening this year. It's very upsetting. That's just in my little realm of theatre, writing and acting that I know about all this stuff. There's hundreds of other art forms that have the same types of things being cancelled and spaces being let go of. It's really sad and I'm sure everyone agrees with that."
As we enter the hardest winter in a lot of people's lifetimes, Dublin Fringe Festival brings a shimmer of hope to lives of artists and creatives.
See Síofra O'Meara in Blister, running from September 20 - 24 in The New Theatre, 6.30 daily, with matinee performances on the 23 and 24. Tickets are available - here.
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