Sunday, January 23, 2011

Once Upon a Time with Sinead Cusack

Most Richard Armitage fans know Sinead Cusack for her unforgettable performance as Hannah Thornton in the BBC's 2004 series "North and South".  When I first was lucky enough to watch "North and South" on US TV (aired only once in 2005!) I remembered the name first, and then slowly the face, as someone familiar. You see I once was more than lucky to see Sinead Cusack on stage back in 1985 in the US city I call home.

We're lucky enough in my part of the world to get visits from touring companies from the UK, usually The National Theatre and The Royal Shakespeare Company.  When I was younger I seemed to have more spare time somehow, and also the tickets were not as expensive as now, and I used to go to the theater from time to time. Imagine my delight when I saw that one of my favorite plays, "Cyrano de Bergerac", would be in town with a great actor I new  and loved well from  US Public Television (PBS) and "I, Claudius", Derek Jacobi.  The only thing I knew about Ms. Cusack before seeing her on stage was her marriage to another wonderful UK actor, Jeremy Irons.  On reading the program and actors bios that evening I was impressed to learn that Sinead Cusack came from an illustrious acting family and was the daughter of Cyril Cusack who I also remembered from many classic movies. (I think you know by now I'm a bit of an Anglophile.)

You may wonder how I remember all of this so many years later, and especially Sinead Cusack as Roxane. Well, remember that "Cyrano" is one of my favorite plays and I've seen the play in different film and TV incarnations and also on stage various times, but that night and that performance by Mr. Jacobi and Ms. Cusack is in my heart and mind as one of the most wonderful performances of the play and most moving and satisfying nights at the theater I've ever had. I don't remember every minute of course, but I can close my eyes and still remember the final scene and the two of them alone on stage.

The production was also filmed and aired on UK TV sometime in 1985.  Below is a scene with Derek Jacobi as Cyrano and Sinead Cusack as Roxane:

Fast forward years later to be lucky enough to see Sinead Cusack in another wonderfully moving performance as John Thornton's (Richard Armitage) strong,willful, loving, mother Hannah in "North and South". Here's a scene between Hannah Thornton and Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe):

I think it must be a challenge to actors to portray the many layers of  emotions and history between a mother and adult son or daughter. The fine tuned and multi-layered performances of Mr. Armitage and Ms. Cusack  are perfect in showing the love and respect between them, but also the challenge for the mother, Hannah, to let go of John's exclusive affection and John's fine balance between pursuing the woman he loves, Margaret, and maintaining loyalty to his mother.  There's not a moment in this series when you can catch either of them "acting" but rather fully feeling and living their roles.

Thank you for letting me share my stroll down memory lane today.  Hope it will encourage all of us to learn more about Sinead Cusack's  illustrious career.

Thank you to RichardArmitageNet and others for photos and screencaps.


  1. Margaret Hale from North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is one of the extraordinary heroines of Classic Lit. Elizabeth Gaskell isn't quite as known or as celebrated as Dickens or the Brontes, people who had been big friends of hers, according to her biography, but she was a gifted writer in her own right and her talent shows in this wonderful gem which I will reread again in the not-so-distant future.

    1. I found amazing "North & South", the setting, the clashes of ideas (North/South) , Margaret is a very brave woman who will learn to reply only on herself . I love how Elizabeth Gaskell tells her stories , I ma quite suprised to learn that she is not as famous or known as the bronte sisters which I found less talented because they usually retold their own 'lovestories' in their book

    2. I know that in the US, at least when I was in school long ago, we never read any of Gaskell's work and I admit I didn't know about her until I saw North & South. I think now with PBS showing other programs based on Gaskell's books she's become better known here for a segment of the population at least. I love the Bronte sisters by the way, loved their books when I was a teenage and still do.


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