First Encounters: Lynne Parker and Hélène Montague


Lynne Parker is a director who co-founded Rough Magic Theatre Company in 1984. Over the past 30 years it has become one of Ireland’s leading theatre companies; involving artists such as Pauline McLynn, Arthur Riordan and Anne Enright. Niece of the late playwright Stewart Parker, she is originally from Belfast. She lives in Phibsborough, Dublin

I saw Hélène before she saw me: she was the musical director of [Kurt Weill’s] The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which was being done in Players in Trinity. That was the first thing I saw when I came to college in Dublin and it really blew me away. I thought she was terrifying because obviously she was so brilliant. I was deeply intimidated by how talented she was.

She’s an unusual person with quite an unusual background – it’s a ballet and music background at a very high level and she was training to be a concert pianist from the age of 12. She was home-
educated, had never been to school. She appeared to be quite fierce but was also quite vulnerable and I suppose part of why we became friends was because I really liked the two sides of her.

I got to know her much better working in Trapdoor, a company that was a kind of precursor to Rough Magic – she was one of its founders. We realised that despite our very different backgrounds we had a common language – we both had a strong sense of humour and melodrama and the whole electricity of live music in theatre was very important to both of us. She’s a wonderful actress as well. I remember her standing in the middle of a rehearsal room as Mrs Erlynne in Lady Windermere’s Fan, while barking out instructions to the musicians because she was also doing the score.

I don’t think we realised how lucky we were to have someone with that degree of proficiency in both areas – added to which, she’s an amazing cook. When we were on tour we’d come back to whatever house we were staying in with loads of chums and Hélène, from practically a bare cupboard, would feed everybody really well. I think her parents’ west Cork dance school catered for kids and she was used to catering en masse. She’s an amazing host, very warm, she just loves looking after people.

My dad’s an engineer, my mother was a civil servant. My interest in theatre came partly from Stewart but I’d been with the National Youth Theatre in London, just knew that I had the bug, that’s something Hélène and I share. We’ve never not been in contact: she’s an associate artist of Rough Magic, still works with the company.

Creatively we have a shared vision and there’s a shorthand we have in rehearsal, we finish each other’s sentences, don’t have to be polite to each other – we’re mutually bossy.

Rough Magic Theatre’s production of The Critic by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, directed by Lynne Parker, opens in The Culture Box in Temple Bar on October 4th, see

Hélène Montague is an actor and musical director/ composer who has been involved with Rough Magic Theatre Company from its beginnings. She currently teaches performance at Inchicore College of Further Education and is founding an opera company called Opera Glasses. She lives in Kimmage with her husband Declan O’Brien and four children, Lucy, Dominic, Daniel and Cecily

Lynne remembers me playing in the Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, the first thing I ever did in Trinity. When I was 17, my father, who was working in the Project at the time, was asked if he knew anyone who could do musical direction. He sent me in – I’d been completely home-schooled, and had just moved to Dublin from west Cork. I went in, was asked, can you play this and that was it – I was told “be at rehearsal on Monday”.

I don’t remember Lynne coming to Mahagonny, but I do remember Lynne and Pauline [McLynn] as freshers. I appeared to be very sophisticated at the time but I was really all over the place.

I co-founded a theatre company called Trapdoor and we put on Molière’s A Doctor in Spite of Himself. Lynne was the lead, she was just so perfect. Then we did a musical – I vividly remember her singing, she has a stunning voice.

The passion we both had for theatre was something that bonded us very early on. I was an honorary member of Players; I was never actually in Trinity.

My family were very involved in the arts, but they were fairly impractical – I was studying at the Royal Irish Academy of Music but didn’t even have a Leaving Cert.

I thought Lynne’s family were the epitome of wonderfulness: her uncle was Stewart Parker and he was just amazing. And her mother and father are just such wonderful, kind, loving people who were very encouraging to me. My family weren’t like that: you might get “Mmm, ye-e-s”, that was the height of it.

Lynne and I have spent a huge amount of time together over the years, off-stage and on. Early on we were unfunded, just about surviving. I was very used to this, my arty family had no money, but it was much more difficult for some of the others. My parents were both ballet dancers who moved to west Cork; they had a ballet school there and my father was also a writer.

Rough Magic really was a collective, we had innumerable meetings to thrash out what we were trying to do. Around 1990/1991, Lynne’s life was totally about cementing the company. If she hadn’t stuck with it, it wouldn’t exist now.

As you get older you find the people who are really important to you – and Lynne would be top of my list. We speak the same language, work together so easily. I asked her to help me with something recently and she said, “y’know Hélène, you really have to learn to say no. The only person you’re not allowed to say no to is me.”

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