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Who wrote this script anyway?

Byline: By Sam Wonfor

Live Theatre are keeping it thoroughly in the family this weekend as a grandmother and granddaughter let an audience into their lives. Sam Wonfor meets Mary and Maddi.

In learning-your-lines terms, an hour of dialogue is a whole lot ( a fact which has not escaped Mary Flannery.

"It always seems like such a good idea when you're talking about doing these things," laughs the 65-year-old as she surveys the paper mountain on the table, which doubles as her script.

Mary is in rehearsals for a double-handed monologue of sorts, which she will perform with her 15-year-old granddaughter on Saturday as part of Live Theatre's Live Line Festival '06.

"When you see it all written down like that, you do realise how much you prattle on," she says, shaking her head.

"She does most of the talking ... that's why she's struggling," chips in Maddi O'Sullivan, the aforementioned teenager and former member of Live's Youth Theatre, who is returning to the stage for two performances of Mary and Maddi on Saturday.

Crafted from 12 hours of interviews with its two subjects, the script is made up of verbatim chunks of what they said while talking about "anything and everything" as Mary puts it.

"I found it very cathartic, actually. There is a lot of deep stuff in there," she says, gesturing to the paper pile once more, "from way back in my family when the kids were young and even before that. I got quite emotional at times; it was a bit like a counselling session for me," she smiles.

From Mary's experiences of bringing up her five children, Bridget (Maddi's mum), Claire, Tim, Bernadette and John and a story about a cheese sandwich, which ensures hysterics all round, to Maddi's tangent-travelling take on her ability to hit a squash ball, it's fair to say that if you go to this performance looking for a narrative or cohesive storyline, you'll come out scratching your head ... but that's exactly the point.

"It is quite difficult to follow," says director (and former Live literary associate) Sunila Galapatti. "It's not in sequence or anything like that, but we hope that by the end of the performances, the audience will have a sense of who both Mary and Maddi are. That's what we're trying to get at. It's all exactly as they said it, including all the ums, erms and everything. It's difficult for them to learn because you never say something the same way twice in normal conversation."

"I never realised how often I say 'like'," laughs Maddi. "I was convinced Sunila had added some extra ones in for good measure."

Mary, a retired nurse who lives near Maddi in Tynemouth, says: "It is scary when you see it all there and you have to learn it. It's the hardest script I've ever had to learn. I've never done anything like this before ... I'll be very nervous by the time it comes to Saturday."

The idea for the piece came earlier this year when Mary, who has been a decade-long member of Live Theatre's over-50s writing and performance group, Live Wires, was busy completing her degree in performing arts at Gateshead College.

Sunila begins the story. "We did a show for last year's festival with five teenagers each talking about their individual lives.

Paul [James, the festival director] and I were talking about what to do this year and we started exploring the idea of getting a young person again, but getting them to bring someone from their life too." It didn't take long for Paul to come up with the idea of putting Mary and her granddaughter centre stage during the four-day festival, which is designed to showcase and celebrate the education and outreach programmes which Live runs all year.

Mary takes on the tale. "Paul phoned me and asked whether I would be doing this year's Live Lines festival and asked whether he thought Maddi would be interested too. He knew her from her days in the youth theatre and had thought of us as a pairing."

Cue Maddi. "I hadn't done any drama for ages," she admits, although it turns out to be the thoroughly teenage definition of 'ages', translating to a year or so.

Then comes the statement which epitomises a healthy teenage outlook on time management. "I used to really enjoy being a member here, but when I turned 14, they changed the rehearsal night to Fridays and my social life just died on the spot ... so I had to give it up.

"But when they asked me would I do this, I thought 'yeah, why not?' I've got lots of time off school over the summer and this is something you only have to commit to for a few weeks and then it's done. It's hard work while you're doing it, but we've had a good time too.

"We're really close anyway and see each other all the time, but this has been quite intensive," she adds with a laugh. "I did have a little tantrum during rehearsals when I just couldn't get a particular bit of the script," Mary admits, "and Maddi told me it was like she was the grandmother and I was a three-year-old ..."

Maddi laughs at the memory, demonstrating for the umpteenth time the close relationship they share ... a trait which runs through the whole family.

As well as the five grown-up children Mary and her husband, Peter have, there are also 12 grandchildren already swinging on the branches of the family tree. It's not unheard of for the whole lot of them to fly off on holiday together, although Maddi says it's unlikely they'll all come to the theatre on Saturday.

"We've got to give some other people a chance to come and see the show," she laughs.

* Mary and Maddi will be performed at 4pm and 8pm on Saturday. For tickets, call (0191) 232-1232 or visit www.live.org.uk
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 9, 2006
Words:991
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