Brighton Fringe: indomitable grandmother's fight for Irish Republic

Shoreham writer/actor Janet Behan offers Kathleen and Me at the Brighton Fringe 2021 produced by Stepaside in association with Shoreham Wordfest.

Friday, 18th June 2021, 6:05 am
Janet Behan
Janet Behan

Janet, author of the celebrated biographical play Brendan at the Chelsea, brings a film portrayal of Kathleen Behan, her invincible grandmother, to The Living Record venue until June 27 available 24/7. The running time is 60 minutes and tickets are £9 on Filmed in this centenary year of the Irish War of Independence, Kathleen and Me comes promised as a fascinating voyage into the life and times of Janet’s vibrant and indomitable grandmother, Kathleen Behan.

“Kathleen lived through The Easter Rising, Spanish Flu, the War of Independence and the Civil War.

“She took an active role in the fight for an Irish Republic and threw her energy into trying to make it a socialist one. She survived near starvation and grinding poverty, holding her family of seven children together through thick and thin while never relinquishing her innate feminism. Her golden boy Brendan became famous all over the world for his plays and books and rowdy behaviour. Through it all she kept going with laughter, songs and wit.

“In her 92nd year, in the early 1980s, Kathleen’s son Brian (Janet’s father) made recordings of her memories.

“Around the same time she recorded some of the ballads and rebel songs of her youth. The memories became a book, Mother of the All the Behans, and the songs an LP, When All the World is Young.”

Using Kathleen’s words and favourite songs along with her own memories of her grandmother, Janet and director Jessica Higgs have created a powerful and endearing portrait of a woman who witnessed, first hand, the birth of a nation.

“Kathleen was someone I knew well and, although as a child I found her intimidating, as I grew, I came to love and respect her.

“She was a wonderful role model, showing how to survive anything that life throws at you while living it to the full.

“I last saw her in 1984, not many months before she died, but she’d lost none of her wit, none of her joy in living. And she was still singing…”

Director Jessica Higgs said: “As a lifelong Hibernophile, it has been an absolute pleasure working on Kathleen and Me. Many happy hours were spent delving into the history of the Irish Republic and that of the dissenting Behan family. From that excavation has emerged the towering, playful figure of Kathleen Behan, finely realised in Janet’s performance.”

Janet and Jessica formed Stepaside to work together in 2016 to work on Janet’s play Realtine/Noreen which grew into Why Shouldn’t I Go?, telling the stories of three very different Irishwomen with one thing in common, religion and the impact it has had upon their lives. Why Shouldn’t I Go was performed on tour in 2019 and can be seen at The Lantern, Brighton in September 2021.

A member of the Behan clan – niece of playwright Brendan Behan, Janet has worked as an actor for more than 40 years.