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Ask Frankie anything- she’ll solve your matters of the heart
Renowned and much-loved radio presenter of the program Women's Page, Frankie Byrne, graced the living rooms of Irish listeners, entertaining them from 1963 to 1985. Women, men and families alike avidly listened as Frankie responded to listeners' letters about their personal relationships and marital problems. Frankie dispensed advice that varied from compassion to reproach, often conferred with tongue in cheek wit.
Niamh Gleeson's play, which follows the personal and professional life of Frankie Byrne, originally packed Dublin's Gaiety Theatre for an extended run and then, due to the appeal of the play, went on to tour Ireland. The Australian premiere of the play, directed by Beaconsfield resident Frank Murphy, opened at Fremantle's Kidogo Arthouse.
Frank Murphy, himself a broadcaster on Radio Fremantle explains, "Frankie's highly-successful show began to reach into the hidden Ireland of the taboo and the secrets, and some of the letters are as relevant to today's society and issues around social justice as they were back then."
Alide Chaney as Frankie Byrne, Jennifer McGrath as Esther and Mike Anthony Sheehy as Frank. Photo credit John Reed
The Australian cast were brilliant with only three actors portraying all 70 voices and individuals, from Frankie's family and work colleagues to a multitude of characters who wrote heartfelt letters to Frankie, desperately seeking solutions to the problems of their heart.
The central character, Frankie, is played by Alide Chaney, who is well-loved and respected in the Perth Theatre Community as both an actor and director. Alide captured the audience's heart, taking them on a journey through Frankie's complex personal and public life, from her troubled childhood to her successful career and the heartaches that led her to alcoholism and then her frail and final years, as she succumbed to dementia.
Alide Chaney as Frankie Byrne and Mike-Anthony Sheehy as Frank Photo credit: John Reed
Mike-Anthony Sheehy and Jennifer McGrath had the incredible challenge of playing the many other characters portrayed within the show. Their acting skills were sensational as they transitioned from one character to the next in the fast-moving play. Jennifer was outstanding as one moment she was a young troubled teenager and moments later she convincingly portrayed a powerful corporate boss and then a naive 30-something whose beau was stringing her along with no commitment. Jennifer switched from one character to the next using her voice and facial expressions alone and barely the slightest costume change which may have simply included a scarf or a different blouse.
Frankie and her sister Esther Photo credit: John Reed
Frank Murphy describes the play saying, "The audience gets to live with Frankie, and her sister Esther who lived with her, and with some artistic licence we get to trace almost the entire life of Frankie, each scene tears back another layer of what seems like old wallpaper that has been in place for a long time." Niamh Gleeson did a brilliant job of holding the audience's attention as the play darted seamlessly back and forth in time to cover events and significant times in Frankie's life, interspersed with heartfelt letters seeking advice and wisdom from Frankie.
Frank Murphy sums up the importance of this play to him, "Frankie ended up with dementia. She like many other women had cruel and difficult decisions to make and I want the work dedicated to such women. I regard this as one of the most challenging pieces I have undertaken for many years. "
The play finishes in Fremantle on 26th August after a limited run. If you get the opportunity to see it performed again, you can expect to enjoy a fabulous and skilful portrayal of a colourful character with an intriguing private and public life.