Photo: Jenny’s havin’ a baby! Ep 114, The Search, Outlander Starz
I’m an avid admirer of Laura Donnelly, the actress, and Laura Donnelly, the person, seems pretty cool. For me, Laura absolutely embodies the character of Jenny; I like Book Jenny a lot, but thanks to Laura’s portrayal, I like Show Jenny even more. And The Ferryman… Wow. Have you seen it?
I saw Laura in The Ferryman at the Gielgud theater in the West End of London in September of 2017. Mom and I were in the UK for 12 days, and managed to squeeze in The Ferryman before we left for Scotland (where we attended Scott Kyle’s Highlander Fling and Sam’s MPC Gala, among many other things). When I say squeeze in, I mean it. We’d stored our luggage with the bellman in our Mayfair hotel after checking out, and due to a mix up in finding our luggage after the show, we ended up sprinting to make the midnight departure of our Caledonian Sleeper to Edinburgh. We were so keyed up, neither of us slept a wink that night. We sat up giggling like schoolgirls all night, talking about the play, and other things, as the train rattled along across the darkened English countryside. My mother is a McDermott, so the Irish characters in the play felt very familiar to us.
Right after the show, we walked back to the stage door and waited for Laura to emerge. We were the only ones waiting in the dark, and she was the last one out. She looked exhausted, so I quickly told her how much we enjoyed her performance, and that I love her portrayal of Jenny in Outlander. I asked one question – which was, “How do you manage to evoke and experience the emotional intensity it takes to play Caitlin Carney night after night?”
SPOILER: If you haven’t seen The Ferryman yet, don’t read on. She told me that it was different for her every performance, and some nights, the tears just didn’t come – she laughed, “My son’s dead, and I’ve got nothin’… you just go with what comes up.”
My impression was that she’s a tiny person. After experiencing her energy on stage just minutes before, she seemed almost unbelievably small standing next to me. I learned later that Laura was actually pregnant at the time, which explains the exhaustion, and makes the fact that she played Caitlin Carney daily, even more extraordinary.
In October of 2018, I was in New York City attending and covering the New York Comic Con and Paleyfest, where the Outlander gang appeared to promote the release of Season 4. The Ferryman had just begun its preview on Broadway, and I sprung for really great seats. I saw it on its 3rd night of previews, and the cast was on fire – it was clear they were extremely pumped to be on Broadway. I could feel the hope that it would be well received, and the combined relief and elation when the audience responded favorably. It was fun to notice the differences between the US and UK audiences. At intermission I heard some comments about people not understanding parts of the dialogue due to the thick Irish accents. Nevertheless, we are enthusiastic in the US, and the applause at the end was vigorous. The cast soaked it up and beamed. SPOILER: My seat was directly in front of Laura’s mark for Caitlin’s breakdown, just before Tom Kettle proposes marriage, and I felt it. I was also at the mark for Aunt Pat’s longest cigarette ash in the world, and where the IRA leader gets his throat slit (I had forgotten about that part, so it was a bit shocking!). I took a long, slow walk back to my hotel afterward, just to release and process it all, despite having experienced it before.
My husband is 100% of Irish descent, so our kids are mostly of Irish ancestry. We took them to Northern Ireland and Ireland in summer of 2018, and I really wanted my family to see this play. For me, it was akin to visiting and introducing them to relatives from both families, who are now deceased. Salty Aunt Pat is like my own late Great Aunt Mae, who was a fiery Irish lass, a NYC tailor in her earlier years. As an old woman, she sat in her chair smoking, cracking jokes and adding facetious, astute peanut gallery comments to the conversation in the room.
In early 2019, I read that Laura would be leaving the role of Caitlin Carney, so I quickly got tickets for the whole family. We flew to NYC for a wonderful weekend, the highlight being the play. We were lucky enough to be at Laura’s last performance as Caitlin Carney. The mood was different this night; there was an undertone of grief among the characters. SPOILER: Aunt Pat, usually salty, but comedic, laced with bitter, was less comedic and mostly bitter this night. Tom Kettle cried his little eyes out during his last proposal to Caitlyn. Most of the children cried through their multiple curtain calls. We had excellent seats, and I noticed just before the play started, that Jez Butterworth (the playwright and Laura’s boyfriend), was a few rows back from us. I noticed the accents were toned down in this rendition, they must’ve gotten the feedback. I forgot to warn my then 12-year-old daughter about the final scene, which is the throat slitting. When the lights came up, we all looked at each other, and she leaned over and said, “Don’t worry Mom, I’m just scarred for life.”
After the play, we stood in front of the Jacobs theater talking among ourselves about where to have a late dinner, and I noticed Jez and family were also milling around. I took the opportunity to shake Jez’s hand, and let him know I’d seen his creation three times, and that I brought my whole family this time to see it. He was exceedingly humble, and gracious. I commented about the kids crying during their curtain calls, and he told me this cast was continuing on to Newcastle, with a new Caitlin, so this was actually the whole cast’s last night on Broadway. The new cast would be taking the NYC stage a few days later! We walked back to our hotel in the crisp February air, via Times Square, and had wonderful discussions for the next days about the play.
In light of this new COVID-19 reality, I feel even more grateful for the experience of seeing The Ferryman – 3 times! To have traveled to London with my mother, to be in crowds, heedless of the luxury, eating delicious NYC food, going on the hop on hop off bus with my family, attending church at St. Patrick’s – all mask and relatively worry free. It just reinforces to me, to appreciate the moment. We don’t realize what we have until it’s gone. (Temporarily, hopefully).
Below you’ll find photos from the various adventures mentioned above…
West End, the Gielgud, Sept. 2017
Everyone’s in a jolly mood, about to see this wonderful play…
And, indeed she was!
Mom, taking a breather after we made it onto our train! (first “sprint” in many years! 😅)
Some shots from Scott Kyle’s Highlander Fling, 2017. Scott puts on one of the best events out there imo…
Gillebride MacMillan cuts a rug with guests
Stephen Walters and friend played for us…
and Ádhamh ÒBroin channels Scotland with his song…
Later that trip, at the MPC gala…
October, 2018, NYC – did I mention that I couldn’t get a cab from my hotel, (for 30 minutes!), so took one of these VERY expensive Pedicab things to make it to the show on time – Highway Robbery!!
Later that week, I met Karmen Schmidt (Outlander Anatomy) in person for the first time! We went to the Paley Center For Media panel with the cast, and we sat together, along with Lisa from Outlander Headquarters and my buddy Fern.
One of the highlights of that trip for me, was meeting this taxi driver, who loves music so much, that he became a taxi driver, so he can listen to music all day and also play it in his car anytime he wants to in between fares. He is Russian, and in other jobs he would wear headphones to listen to music, but his coworkers and employers were always convinced he was a Russian spy!!! Passion will find a way…
February 2019, My family and I attended Laura Donnelly’s last performance of The Ferryman on Broadway; it was very special.
Jez Butterworth receives praise and accolades for the show…
We toured the city, and ate in lots of wonderful places. Look, no masks!
A big unanswered question in my mind is, will we get Laura Donnelly back as Jenny as the seasons go on? I hope so!!! I can’t imagine anyone else playing that role.
I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane, and that you enjoy this interview. It’s by a drama school classmate of Laura’s – Graeme Rooney – from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, now called the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS). Several Outlander cast members attended the RCS, including Sam Heughan, Steven Cree, and Grant O’Rourke.
Graeme has a podcast called, A Performer, A Pint, and A Pod, and did a fun and informative interview with Laura. Click here for that: Laura Donnelly Interview.
May you be safe and well, wherever you are on this planet. Much love xo
I’ve released our Episode discussion for Ep 508, Famous Last Words and added some directors notes from Stephen Woolfenden into the post, and other goodies after I published. If you haven’t seen that one, or need to catch up on others, go here: Episode Discussions. We are lacking #BTS501, still to come.
For Droughtlander material, of course, reread the books, and go here: Reader Favorites.
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