A Friendly Chat with Philippa Dunne of Couples Counselling

Philippa Dunne is an actress and comedian best known for her work with Diet of Worms and The Walshes. Philippa sat down for a quick Skype with HeadStuff ahead of her role in Couples Counselling which is running in Smock Alley on March 1st and 2nd as part of the Scene + Heard Festival. Tickets are available here

Hello Phillipa, what’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you today?

We got to rehearse in a place called Outhouse on Capel Street. It’s a rehearsal space among other things but the room was really beautiful. It’s a Georgian building with double height ceilings and Georgian windows and coving and a chandelier and it’s just the loveliest rehearsal space I’ve ever been in that’s for sure so that was very nice.

How much rehearsal are you doing for the show?

We’ve been doing read-throughs over Skype since January. I live in London but the guys have been meeting up in person and I couldn’t do any of that but I was over in February so I met them once and we kicked off the proper rehearsals last Monday.

What’s it like rehearsing with Skype? Is it very different?

When we’re doing read-throughs it’s fine because it’s just reading the script and changing the script as you’re going along but I wouldn’t like to do it for proper rehearsal. It’s very unsatisfactory because you’re not in the room with the person so you can’t really get into it and sometimes there’s a time-delay and all that jazz. So yeah, It’s ok for read-through but not for proper rehearsal.

So what’s Couples Counselling about?

It’s about a guy who goes to this weekly therapy session and it’s going really badly for him. He really doesn’t like his therapist, he doesn’t think that she likes him, they’re not getting on but he has to go for certain reasons every week. Then the psychotherapist gets called away unexpectedly and a situation take shape so he pulls a load of strings thinking it’ll make it better but it makes it a whole lot worse. By the end he’s in a massive, massive, massive pickle and, his life is a bit messy as it is, but he’s made it far worse.

So it’s a like a classic farce?

Yes. Total farce. I wanted to use that word at the start but I was like “is it still a farce?”  Yes, it’s a farce.

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Everyone involved in the play has a strong sketch background. You, with Diet of Worms, (writer-director) Giles Brody with The Mess Around, Stephen Colfer & Hannah Mamalis with Dreamgun and Edwin Sammon with Republic of Telly. Does that affect how you all approach a piece like this?

It definitely helps. Like today in that lovely space it was the first time that we felt like we had room to block the scenes and I wasn’t in the scene but I was standing back and we were all problem-solving together. It’s definitely such an advantage. You mightn’t be aware of your experience but then it’s like wow, we can work together to get ourselves out of this little situation that we thought might not work but now we’ve all put our heads together and figured it out. And that’s from doing it for ten years, it’s brilliant. It’s all sitting in there somewhere.
Giles has been really nice and generous, he’s allowed us to voice our own characters as much as we want so that’s great for us because we can use our sketchy performance stuff to put whatever we want in. Within reason obviously. If it’s crap it’s not going in but yeah, he‘s allowed us to go mad if we want and that’s great.

How deep do you go into creating a character for something like this? Like, would you go into as much detail for a comedic character as you would for a dramatic character?

I know I used to. For certain Worms stuff I used to really come up with backstories for certain characters because I thought that some of the characters that I had might rub people up the wrong way so I wanted to have a good reason for why they were the way they were. I know that sounds cerebral for a bloody sketch but these would be characters that you’d work on for a thousand years, these were the ones in your back pocket since year dot and you’d always be building on them. When we started this play, especially when Giles said, “Do what you want with your character. Please, feel free”. I started to say to myself, “Now sit down and think about this really hard” and I tried it and it didn’t work but through rehearsals I’m getting a better feel of it. It’s all come together really organically which is such a relief, because we didn’t end up putting any work in, but the more I read the script with the guys it was like yeah just leave it alone and it’ll do its own thing, just bloody relax and let it happen because you know chill out would ye?

Tell us a bit about your character.

The character is called Dr. Karen Green and she’s the psychotherapist that Stephen’s character, Rob, goes to see once a week. Basically we start off the play hating each other and not really seeing eye-to-eye at all. So he’s the client and I’m the psychotherapist and there’s a bit of a personality clash. We mention that they’ve been seeing each other for twenty sessions and it’s really obvious that they’re kind of sick of each other but he’s obliged to go for certain reasons so that’s why they’re still working together.

I asked (former HeadStuff humour editor and Philippa’s co-Worm) Shane Langan what I should ask you and he said that you’re an excellent pickpocket and to be careful.

Oh god! No, I’d be the fucking worst. I’d be like, oh you dropped this.

You’ve been part of Diet Of Worms for nearly ten years now. Is it difficult to work with a new ensemble when you’re so used to working with a different group?

No, like we were saying just there, I’ve got all this experience I didn’t think I had because up until now, I just thought I’d been messing and having the craic with a bunch of friends and not realising how my past work is actually so useful. So because the rest of us in this play have the sketch work we’re working really well together. It’s so much fun, really good craic, and we’re having good oul lols every day. It’s reminding me of when I started out ten years ago and it’s that feeling of working with new people like that. It’s brilliant. It’s like a good kick up the arse, very energising.

Main image via Vimeo