Anne Gildea told David Hennessy about finding the comedy in the menopause, touring the world with the Nualas and documenting her battle with cancer in a book that has since become a film.
A founding member of the now defunct popular comedy-musical trio The Nualas, Dublin-based comedienne Anne Gildea is bringing her latest comedy show to London.
“It’s a joyous exploration of the menopause,” Anne laughs when we catch up with her.
“I’m doing a show called How to Get the Menopause and Enjoy it.
“When The Nualas finally stopped performing together in 2018 I was like, ‘Oh my god, what am I going to do now?’
“Because I’m not that known on my own, so I was kind of messing around doing stuff and then lockdown happened.
“It was a great opportunity to really knuckle down and work on a show, and it was actually my partner who suggested that I do a show called How to Get the menopause and Enjoy it so I had plenty of time to do all the research.”
How to Get he Menopause and Enjoy it is a funny journey through ‘the change’.
Is it easy or hard to find the comedy in something like the menopause?
“When it’s something that there’s so much silence around, then there’s always going to be a bit of craic with it.
“I started writing about it during lockdown and at that time, it was hardly being mentioned at all but then Davina McCall did a programme on the menopause and then there was a few programmes in Ireland, and suddenly everybody’s talking about it.
“It’s everywhere, and it’s a great moment to be part of.”
What has the reaction been like? “Un- be-lievable.
“It just took off straightaway.
“The brilliant thing I can do with the show is I can always go out and talk with the audience afterwards.
“I get so many stories.
“A sad thing is meeting all the women who sometimes would have been on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) for a while and it really helped them and then the doctor said, ‘Oh, you can’t stay on it’.
“And then they’ve ended up with loads of medical problems.
“I have talked to so many women in that kind of situation where there was so little understanding from doctors in the past.
“I’ve heard extraordinary things.
“One woman was telling me that her mother went along to the doctor when she was 48 and she said, ‘I want HRT’, and the doctor went, ‘Oh you don’t need that. This is just a natural part of getting older’, and just totally dismissed her.
“Other women say that the doctor will go, ‘Oh, sure, I wouldn’t know about that. That’s women’s stuff’.
“One woman told me a doctor said to her, ‘You’re not asking for this for vanity reasons…’
“As if there’s something vain about wanting HRT.
“That’s the thing I discovered doing my research.
“HRT isn’t just about ameliorating the symptoms as you’re in the throes of it, it’s about sustaining your health long term because the depletion of oestrogen can really affect a woman’s brains, bones and heart.
“That’s a thing I talk about in the show.
“And certainly in Ireland, one in four women will die of heart disease or stroke, women get twice the rate of dementia that men get and we’re at four times the rate of osteoporosis.
“And those three things in particular related to brain, bones and heart are co-related to the fall in oestrogen that happens during menopause.
“That’s just a quirk about female biology.
“And it doesn’t affect every woman in the same way.
“But certainly, oestrogen is such a crucial hormone, every cell in a woman’s body has oestrogen receptors.
“So it has real long term implications, that loss of the hormone.
“I always say I’m not pushing HRT, and I’m always saying I’m not an expert.”
Born in Manchester, Anne would grow up in Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo.
Were you ‘the English kids’ at school etc?
“It’s so funny when I was a kid me and my brother and sister really didn’t like it when we moved. We moved from Manchester to a farm in the middle of nowhere and we absolutely hated it.
“People would go, ‘Where are you from?’ And we’d just be, ‘England’.
“We were English kids which is funny because we’re Irish.
“We’re Irish through and through to the depths of our roots, our parents were Irish and everything but we had a very strong sense of being English.
“I guess when you’re a child, what do you know?
“My cousins in Manchester are all second generation.
“They’re really proud of Ireland but very English.
“I don’t have time for people that go on about the difference too much.
“Ireland and England are really close neighbours and we’re more similar than different.”
After finishing school, Anne would go off to train as an actress in London.
“I lived in London for seven years.
“I absolutely love London.
“I kind of got a scholarship and I went to drama college.
“And I started out doing comedy on the circuit when I lived in London.
“I love it but I mean, I left London in 1994 so I haven’t lived there for nearly 30 years.
“So I guess it’s utterly changed.”
You came to London in 1987, was it difficult at that time because the tensions?
“Well, here’s the funny thing. Because I was born in Manchester and when I left, I didn’t talk about being Irish and people didn’t particularly know I was Irish because I can slip quite easily into a kind of North of England thing.
“I just wanted to leave Ireland behind for various reasons so when I went to London, I just cut loose from everybody I knew and I set up a whole new life.
“I never did the Irish thing. I didn’t hang out with Irish people.
“I didn’t go to Irish places. I wasn’t part of the Murphia.
“I clearly remember that when I moved to London, the Birmingham six had just lost their second appeal.
“That was really depressing. It was so clear that those guys were innocent.
“I always remember that.
“I remember it was just before the Kings Cross fire.
“These were the big things that happened around the time I moved to London.
“It was a quite a bleak time but I never really felt that thing.
“I always felt really at home.”
Anne would perform in London with comedy trio Doris Karloff before segueing to stand-up.
But it was when she landed back in Dublin that she became a co-founder and long-time creative/performer with comedy group, The Nualas with Tara Flynn and Susan Collins.
How did it all begin?
“This is what happened.
“I came back to Ireland the end of ’94 and straightaway, I got a television role.
“I worked on a show called The Gerry Ryan Tonight Show, and I was Gerry Ryan’s sidekick.
“I used to do live sketches and stuff on it.
“I did that for five months, which was an amazing introduction back into Ireland.
“And then when that was finished I was going, ‘Oh Jesus, what am I going to do now?’
“Because I love comedy, I love performing but I wasn’t that mad on just going around doing clubs doing stand up.
“The television show had just finished.
“I was at a party and I met Tara Flynn and Susan Collins.
“We were in the kitchen and we started singing and we went, ‘Let’s meet and write something together’.
“It was one of those amazing moments where the stars just aligned, and we took off straight away from our first gig.
“Everybody was going, ‘Oh, this is so brilliant’.
“That was 1995 so it was a time when everybody’s talking about girl power.
“It was the time of the Spice Girls and when the Celtic Tiger was beginning.
“We kind of pivoted around that because we were the idea of country girls who were just as comfortable on the farm in their sequined wellies as they were jumping on a Concorde somewhere.
“It was that idea of taking that earthly Irishness and going, ‘Sure we can go anywhere’.
“It was the most brilliant moment and it was a very optimistic time in Ireland too.
“Everything was changing so quickly and Ireland was moving out of this dark time: Moving statues, Kerry babies scandal, and Ireland was kind of weird.
“It was so poor compared to London, and then suddenly it all twisted, it all changed around that time that we began and it was just a wonderful time.
“The Nualas’ beginning was just incredible.
“The most amazing things happened for us.
“I remember we were doing a gig in The Baggott Inn.
“We had been in a cafe beforehand talking about whether or not to go to the Edinburgh Festival and we decided not to because we didn’t have the money to go.
“And then a man came to our gig and he’d overheard us.
“He said, ‘I’ll pay for you to go to Edinburgh’.”
Their unique brand of self-penned songs and provocative chat would go down a storm in Edinburgh.
The Nualas would then tour worldwide including an extended seven-week run at The Irish Arts Centre, New York, extended UK tours and other major venues across Ireland, Australia and Asia.
All the years I’d lived in London, I was really struggling. I was always so poor
“And then suddenly The Nualas took off and it was amazing.
“One of the best ones was we did a big show for the charity Cooperation Ireland in the Royal Albert Hall.
“I think that’s probably the biggest gig that we played in England and it was amazing to play the Royal Albert Hall.
“I think that was 2001 and then we went to New York and we had an amazing run there, it was just after 9/11.
“Yeah, we had amazing times with the Nualas.
“We only finished up the end of 2018 because Sue’s act, The Dirtbirds had really taken off.
“I was quite happy just Nuala-ing along and then suddenly was like, ‘Oh, I better get something together’.”
The Nualas would disband in 2002 before getting back together in 2011.
You say you love working in a group and The Nualas have reformed once already.
Could there be another reunion?
“No, I think The Nualas was definitely of its time and we had a really good innings and we did some great work.
“I’m really interested in where I can take this work now.”
Anne has published two books, a novel, Deadlines and Dickheads, and a memoir, I’ve got Cancer What’s Your Excuse (Hachette,
2013) inspired by her run-in with breast cancer.
This memoir would inspire the feature film, The Bright Side, starring Gemma- Leah Devereux and Tom Vaughan- Lawlor.
“I had breast cancer in 2011.
“I got breast cancer, and I was writing a newspaper column so I wrote about it in my newspaper column.
“And then I got asked to do a radio interview about it.
“And then when I did the radio interview somebody said, ‘Let’s make a documentary’.
“So we made a TV documentary about it.
“And then when the TV documentary went out, somebody said, ‘Can you write a book about it?’
“So I wrote the book about it,” she laughs now.
“And then somebody optioned it for a film and a film loosely based on my book was made by Ruth Meehan.
“Her sister died of cancer and she was coping with the grief of that when she picked up my book at the airport.
“That was amazing.
“I haven’t written another book since.
“I did get an offer to write a book around menopause but I wanted to really think carefully about what that would be.
“It’s so funny.
“When I was younger, I would jump into everything.
“I’ve gone absolutely the opposite as I’ve got older, I really sit on things and think about them.
“People are absolutely loving the show.
“And it’s not just for women. Menopause is a very inclusive condition.
“You don’t have to suffer from it to get it. Men who come along to the show really enjoy it.
“People, all age groups, love it.
“I always stay around for chat and I am really looking forward to bringing it to England.”
Anne Gildea brings her How to Get the Menopause and Enjoy it show to The Exchange in Twickenham on Saturday 21 October and to the Irish Cultural Centre on 11 November.
For more information, click here.