Belfast Telegraph

By day she is busy as a doctor in A&E, he's a funeral director... but by night they're having a ball in Spamalot

 

By Judith Cole

Meet Belfast doctor Ciara Mackey and Newry funeral director Paddy McGennity, two stars of Spamalot, ahead of its Grand Opera House run which starts next month.

‘I sang in pubs to pay school fees’

Ciara will be playing Lady of the Lake

Ciara Mackey (30), an A&E doctor, lives in Belfast and has a leading role in Spamalot. She says:

As a child I wanted to be a ballet-dancing vet but I'm a singing doctor, so it's not too far off.

I was always dancing as a child and my two strong influences growing up were my nanna and my mum. My nanna, who passed away a few years ago, was a professional singer and instilled a love of the musicals in me - especially Calamity Jane, my favourite by a mile. So it was a highlight for me to play Calamity Jane at the Grand Opera House in 2013. And my mum was a dancer - so that's where my musical side comes from.

There are no doctors in my family, but I always enjoyed science and wanted to do something really useful and practical. I've been interested in medicine from my teenage years. I could never do an office job or be sitting down for too long.

I moved to Belfast in 2008 to study at Queen's University, Belfast - I had visited family there as a teenager and always loved the city, and another factor was that it has good musical and drama societies.

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A&E doctor Ciara Mackey is starring in the musical Spamalot at the Grand Opera House

Now, I'm on the career path to achieve my dream - to be a consultant in emergency medicine specialising in trauma. From working in A&E as a junior doctor, I just loved it. The nurses and doctors I worked with, the fast pace, the never knowing what's going to come through the door next. I'm someone who's easily bored and you'd never be bored in A&E.

Certainly, the hours are difficult and some of the situations can be stressful - patients are sometimes there on the worst day of their life. There can be a lot of emotions flying around.

I did some singing in pubs to pay for my medical school fees - and it was actually good experience for working in A&E on a Saturday night. You have to have a thick skin to sing in pubs - and it gave me experience in chatting to drunk people when you're the sober one, and how to not rile anybody.

I joined the Ulster Operatic Company when I came to Belfast and the first musical I did was Rent. Earlier this year, I won Best Female Singer for my role as Janet Van Der Graaf in The Drowsy Chaperone, with the Newcastle Glees group. I was singing while cartwheeling and backflipping - so I think they probably took that into consideration.

And now, I'm absolutely loving Spamalot. I'm a Monty Python nerd - as a teenager I was always quoting them, so it is a dream to play this role. The rehearsals are such fun - everyone is going all out to make each other laugh. My character is the Lady of the Lake, an ethereal being who gives King Arthur his sword. She is great to play as she's a diva and is determined to get her solos in.

However, as much as I love it, I don't know if I could make a career out of it, to drive myself around auditions and take every gig going, as opposed to the ones I just wanted to do. I have such admiration for people who do it. And I have loads of friends who are singers and actors, but you have to really, really, really want it to earn a living at it. But I always loved science as well, and my career is so rewarding - it is so good to have the best of both worlds.

I work a lot of shifts, so I have to be very organised. I use Google Calendar for everything and I work my annual leave around a show. There are things in my calendar 18 months in advance - if it's not in the calendar it's not happening.

I am fortunate to have a very supportive boyfriend, Simon. He loves coming to shows and he saw The Drowsy Chaperone three times.

He's a video producer and it's great because we have two completely different days, so we have lots to talk about at the end of the day."

‘Acting is rarely sombre and quite a nice release’

Paddy will be playing Sir Bedvedere

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Funeral director Paddy McGennity is starring in the musical Spamalot at the Grand Opera House

Paddy McGennity (26), a funeral director, lives in Newry. Now starring in Spamalot, he says:

I first became involved in musical theatre at the age of 15, when a friend of mine told me he'd heard there were plenty of single women and virtually no men turning up to rehearsals for a production of Annie with the Bosco Drama Group in Newry. I should thank him, as it was a few years later, during a production of Godspell, that I met my girlfriend Catherine, who was also taking part.

Up until then, class clown would have been my main role. I sang in my primary school choir but didn't continue with it. The rehearsals for Annie were my first foray into this amazing world. And when you step on to the stage for the first time, you fall completely in love. There is no feeling like the adrenaline buzz you get performing in front of an audience.

When I left school I toyed with the idea of becoming a professional actor, but I went to London and had a particularly heartbreaking audition for Central (Royal Central School of Speech and Drama) that didn't go my way. That made me ask the question: are you willing to deal with this level of rejection on a fairly constant basis for the rest of your life? And the answer I came up with was 'no'. Then I moved to Australia with a friend and on my return spent six weeks studying law, which was enough to know I hated it. So, I sat down with my folks to talk about my future and we agreed that I would come into the family undertaking business full-time and be ready to take it on when my father retires. I also have a brother, Mark, who's studying, and a sister, Sarah who is a youth worker.

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Ciara Mackey (second right) and Paddy McGennity (second left) with the cast of Spamalot

My grandfather, also Paddy McGennity, started our business out of a pub he owned, the Ballybot, in Cornmarket, Newry. It would have been fairly common practice in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties for the local publican to also be the undertaker. My grandfather had been a bus conductor and saved up his wages to buy the bar. My father took on the pub from my grandfather and then sold it, but maintained the undertaking business.

It's an unpredictable job - you're never sure when the phone is going to ring. My standard day involves working on the masonry side of the business, which can include carving an inscription into a headstone, collecting an order of granite, or fitting. My father is the main point of contact for funerals, but if perhaps we have two funerals on the same day then my father will deal with one and I with the other.

The toughest part of the job is any time you're dealing with someone you know personally, and of course dealing with the death of a young person is never easy. The most rewarding aspect is the fact that in their darkest hour people are turning to us for support. There's a huge amount of pressure that goes with that, but also pride that our reputation is such that when people are at their lowest ebb they say 'we're going to use McGennity's'.

My career comes first and my aim is to keep serving anybody who comes to us for help as best we can.

Musical theatre is such a contrast. At work I'm always totally respectful and often quite sombre, whereas my hobby is rarely sombre and quite a nice release. Spamalot, which is produced by the Ulster Operatic Company, is allowing me to fulfil a long-held ambition to perform on the Grand Opera House stage. Our rehearsals have been such fun - you never leave one without having a proper belly laugh. I'm playing Sir Bedvedere, who is the stupid knight.

We are being directed by Neil Keery, who also directed a show I was in earlier this year, The Drowsy Chaperone, with the Newcastle Glees Musical Society. I played Man in Chair and was absolutely chuffed to win Best Actor for this role at the AIMS (Association of Irish Musical Societies) awards in June. To get the nomination was surreal and when my name was called it was like hearing it through water, I had to double-check.

My favourite roles so far? I was lucky enough to play Javert in Les Miserables when I was 17, which spurred me on.

In more recent years, it would be Man in Chair or Gomez Addams in The Addams Family for Banbridge Musical Society last April, which was so much fun. And I'm currently rehearsing Twelve Angry Men with the Newpoint Players in Newry, which we're putting on in November.

It's amazing to work alongside people as dedicated as those involved in amateur theatre, and as hard as w e all work towards the show itself, the craic along the way is always brilliant."

Spamalot, Grand Opera House, Belfast, October 10-14. For tickets and more details, visit goh.co.uk. Ulster Operatic Company, visit theulster.co.uk

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