All the world’s a stage for Sabina Higgins

President’s wife enjoys visit to Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts

Thu, Apr 10, 2014, 01:01

After playing a prominent role at the historic banquet for President Michael D Higgins in Windsor Castle hours earlier, Sabina Higgins returned to more familiar surroundings yesterday.

Mrs Higgins, an actor, broke from the President’s programme to visit London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (Rada), alumni of which include Richard Attenborough, Kenneth Branagh and Peter O’Toole.

On arrival, Mrs Higgins was greeted by her daughter Alice Mary, son John, and nieces Angela and Elizabeth. She was escorted to the academy by the Hon Lady Mary Morrison, lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, travelling in a royal Rolls Royce.


Tour
She was taken on a tour of the academy’s scenery workshop and George Bernard Shaw theatre before a stage-lighting show in the Jerwood Vanbrugh theatre by the academy’s director of technical training Neil Fraser.

When asked if she’d go onstage to give a performance, Mrs Higgins said she would rather say a few words. She explained how she trained as an actor in Dublin using the Stanislavsky method, was a founder of the Focus Theatre, and performed works by writers such as Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekov.

She said there was no group that she and the President felt more happy among than the creative community.

“It’s exciting for us all to be here together as friends,” she said. “It’s a privilege.”

When she eventually stepped on to the stage, Mrs Higgins said the arts made a “tremendous contribution” by bringing “the heart of the world together”.

Actor Fiona Shaw, who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as appearing in Harry Potter films, was one of the graduates on hand to meet Mrs Higgins. She had attended the Windsor banquet and said it was “spectacular” to see the Tricolour and British flags hanging together at the royal residence.

Ms Shaw sat between Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte and sculptor Sir Anthony Gormley, and said it was a “huge thing” to be invited to such a significant political event.

“I think in that way the arts are really useful as they defuse the sharpness . . . but there was no sharpness. The whole thing was so generous and everyone was welcomed beautifully.”

Karen Cogan, an Irish Rada graduate, said it was wonderful to see the arts being included in the state visit programme.

“[Mrs Higgins] was an actress and it’s just lovely to be able to take her around the theatre and meet her. It’s an honour.”


Embassy lunch
Mrs Higgins left Rada to attend a lunch at the Irish Embassy, hosted by Greta Mulhall, wife of Irish Ambassador Daniel Mulhall, which aimed to celebrate Irish fashion and design.

Her wardrobe for the state visit, which Emmy award winning costume designer Joan Bergin has advised on, has drawn significant attention to Irish fashion and design.

Among the 40 guests were designers Simone Rocha, Paul Costelloe, Louise Kennedy and Orla Kiely, Ms Bergin and actor Kate O’Toole. Also present were businesswoman Norah Casey; Carol Hanney, the wife of Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore; and Louise Wilson; and Willie Walters from Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design. Ms Rocha said it was “wonderful” to be involved in the visit and to see such a focus on arts, culture, fashion and design.

Ms Kennedy said the event was “a wonderful acknowledgment for the Irish fashion industry in London” and that Mrs Higgins had paid tribute to the creativity of Irish designers and offered support and encouragement to the up-and-comers.

A gallery of the outfits worn by Mrs Higgins on the visit is available at irishtimes.com