Plucking comedy from a turkey farm
Don’t talk to Sharon Horgan about Christmas. The actor-writer grew up on a turkey farm in Bellewstown, Co Meath, and the festive season was just a blur of turkey feathers as she plucked herself into frenzy.
“It’s really not a pleasant job plucking turkeys, not nice at all and at the age of 16 I became a vegetarian,” she says. “It was just one of those things growing up that Christmas for our family was always different to everyone else’s. It was just this crazy scramble to get the birds plucked on time, absolute lunacy with feathers flying everywhere. My parents would only be able to get out on Christmas Eve to do the shopping because there just wasn’t time to even think about it before. But in its own strange way, it was an amazing time.”
Horgan is using her Christmas childhood experiences for an autobiographical comedy show that goes out under Sky’s Little Crackers strand. The idea is a well-known person writes and stars in a show about their younger years and joining Horgan this year with their own programmes are fellow Co Meath comics Tommy Tiernan and Dylan Moran, as well as Joanna Lumley, Paul O’Grady and Alison Steadman.
“I don’t know what it is about Meath, but there are three of us in there,” says Horgan. “Although I think my show is the only overtly Christmas-themed one.” For The Week Before Christmas Horgan writes about events that happened to her while plucking turkeys on the family farm. As a bonus she gets to play her mother in the show: “I stand around sporting an Irish 1980s’ look.”
It’s the first time she has ever written anything about her own life – and family. “It was a huge responsibility in that sense,” she says.
“I really needed to ensure there was no misrepresentation of anyone because I’d never hear the end of it and I really needed to be happy with the end result.
“That worry aside though, it’s such a great privilege to be able to relate this story. Because I was writing from personal experience there weren’t the same constraints and challenges you get with sitcom work where you’ve got to set up a continuing narrative and all of that. Everything that I have in the show is true – it’s just that all the things didn’t happen in the same year.”
The show is set in Bellewstown in 1984, when Sharon was 14, and is a coming-of-age tale with a twist. “It’s odd in that you have this great young actress playing me when I was that age and me playing my mother. The casting was difficult in that it’s always tricky with teenagers – you want awkward but you also want ingénue. The girl playing me turned out brilliantly. And because it’s about my own life I had to get it absolutely right. I had to remember exactly how I talked as a 14-year-old in Co Meath. I also had to get over that sense of fake confidence that young teenagers can have.”
Horgan was desperate for The Week Before Christmas to be filmed in Meath but it turned out to be too expensive a proposition.
“We ended up shooting on a farm in Essex and the weird thing is it was uncannily like the farm I grew up on. It’s also going out on 3D – which I still haven’t got my head around.”
Oddly in the course of our conversation – which began with her saying the job of turkey plucking was “not pleasant, not nice at all” – the more she delves back into her teenage years on the farm, the more she reconsiders the job. “You know, you used to get paid for doing it so it was easy money in a sense and, you know, it was great craic.”