The Times We Lived In: Like mother like daughter

Published: February 23rd, 1993. Photograph: Peter Thursfield

It has been called an Irish Cinderella story, but there's a bit more to James Stephens's whimsical novel The Charwoman's Daughter than that.

For one thing, it inspired Fergus and Rosaleen Linehan to write a musical, Mary Makebelieve, which was hugely popular in Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s. With an original score by Jim Doherty and a cast that included Barry McGovern and Eileen Reid, it was a show that just kept growing: it premiered at the Peacock in 1982, transferred to the Abbey stage in short order, then toured triumphantly around Ireland.

In 1993 there was a new production at the Gate Theatre, which is when our photo was taken. And if this image wouldn’t make you want to get your glad rags on and get yourself to Cavendish Row pretty sharpish, I don’t know what would.

As the teenage Mary, Jacinta Whyte looks as fresh as the proverbial daisy. Her hands rest protectively on the shoulders of her widowed “mammy”, played by Rosaleen Linehan – or maybe she’s holding on because she looks perky and upbeat enough to fly away if not anchored to the stage.

The mammy, meanwhile, is dressed in black – actually, not quite black; her blouse has a discreet but definite pattern, and that hat could feasibly take her to Ascot – and wears a smile so slight, regal and knowing, it puts the Mona Lisa into the halfpenny place. See me? she seems to be thinking. If you want to marry my daughter, you’ll have to pass me first.

If there are opening night nerves on the part of either actor, they certainly don't show. In due course the critics gave the piece their blessing. "Fast- moving and very enjoyable," wrote Frank Shouldice in the Irish Press. He went on to praise Barry McGovern for his rendition of the comic number A Policeman in Love – which is something, I reckon, we'd all pay to see, any day of the week.

Arminta Wallace