INSIDE STORY:Sissy's Kitchen has closed up for another year, many visitors from Irelnad and abroad have sat awhile, entertained by Sissy, Granny Annie and Mick. KEVIN MACDERMOTT visited the real kitchen of Sissy's creator BREEGE MOYLES to get an insider's view of the family from the 1950s.
“Sissy cannot understand why you would sit and watch somebody else's life on a square box on the wall and not care or mingle with the people immediately around you,” says Breege Moyle, explaining the homespun philosophy of her character Sissy from the famous Cavan kitchen.
“She has a strange way of looking at it, but maybe Sissy is right at the end of the day, maybe we're the silly ones. She doesn't sit with a little square thing in her hands talking to people all over the world and ignoring the person in the next seat beside her.”
Seated in Breege Moyle's house we get an insight into what makes Sissy tick. It is a bit surreal surrounded by a flat screen television and modern gadgets. Breege is able to invoke the mind of Sissy from 1950s’ Cavan, and that mind, at once simple and wise, has provided entertainment for festival goers for twelve years now.
Sissy's Kitchen was born out of the need to guard precious artefacts and personal belongings that people had loaned Breege to exhibit at the Fleadh in 2005. Realising that the items had to be protected while on show, Breege came up with the idea of recreating a 1950's kitchen, and just for good measure she brought in the characters of Granny Annie, and long suffering husband Mick. This is perhaps the greatest example of Breege thinking outside the box. She attributes her “quirky imagination” down to a happy childhood as the youngest child in a grown family. Her siblings had all moved away to England, as was common in Ireland in the 1960s so Breege spent a lot of time with her father while he was working.
“In effect I was almost like an only child. My imagination grew from playing out in the fields,” says Breege. “My father would be out working and I would spend the day with him, just making imaginary friends, that’s where my imagination grew from.”
Although not the same vintage as Sissy, Breege remembers fondly the times of great joy in her family home.
“I remember when it was the turn of our house to host the game of 25. My mother would bake a soda cake and maybe a curranty cake and the men would come at 7 o'clock on their bikes into the kitchen. I'd be sitting in the kitchen, I was only a child sitting quietly in the corner, but I do remember the hum of them playing the cards and maybe the odd big cheer or laugh, maybe somebody won a trick or that.
“I do remember thinking this is lovely, everyone in good humour, everyone's laughing, whereas the rest of the day it would have been hard work, milking the cows making the turf. To me that represented a lovely happy scene, of warmth of laughter,” she says.
Despite having no real drama training Breege easily slips into the character of Sissy. Asked if Breege and Sissy are some sort of theatrical split personality, she laughs but is quite candid.
“It is nice to be able to jump into another personality. The strange thing of this is I don't think I could get up and make a speech as Breege Moyles, I couldn't get up and do a reading in the church as Breege Moyles, because I would shake with nerves. I couldn't get up and do a recitation at a concert as Breege Moyles, but as soon as Sissy takes over there's no stopping.”
Sissy's Kitchen is not a solo performance and Breege is quick to acknowledge the work of her fellow actors, Anne Smith who plays Granny Annie and Dessie Harrington who played husband Mick. Anne Smith had never performed in public before 2005, but it quickly became clear that she was a natural hit with the visitors to the kitchen.
“She doesn't have to say too much she just plays the part of a sweet old granny with the Silvermint sweets in her pocket and the fact that I give out so much about her, people actually say to me - ‘Would you leave her alone, she's doing you no harm!’ Everyone takes her side,” admits Breege.
Dessie Harrington retired from the kitchen a few years ago. In true Sissy style however his disappearance was easily explained away: “Mick was after listening for many years to poor Sissy wanting to get the water into the house and the electric light in, and the compromise was that Mick would dig a well just outside the front of the house so that I wouldn't have to go to too far with the bucket for the water. He was down about four foot, he had dug very hard.
“Unfortunately one November when it was after raining a lot he came home from the pub, he was known to maybe have one or two drinks during the week, and poor Mick went to examine his lovely well and unfortunately, toppled in and we didn't find him until the next morning, and as Sissy said herself - ‘You know money was tight and what was the point of taking him out of one hole to put him into another?’ So Sissy filled up the well and didn't tell anybody.”
Of course as Breege explains that wasn't the end of the matter.
“It all escalated into trouble a year later when Sissy tried to marry and no death cert could be got because Sissy hadn't registered his death. I do hope that he'll one day do a Bobby Ewing and return in the shower, but it's highly unlikely as Sissy doesn't have a shower. The only downside was we had to leave Swanlinbar shortly afterwards because we couldn't drink the water.”
While sometimes the line between Sissy and Breege blurs in conversation, this is more due to a familiarity with the character, created totally out of Breege's imagination. That sense of ownership allows Breege to be slightly disparaging about her alter ego from sixty years ago.
“Sissy doesn't intend to be funny, she isn’t the smartest tool in the box, it’s her uncensored tongue, she doesn't have the ability to know the right way to say things. When a young girl comes in, in a short skirt, Sissy would say 'That’s an awful way to be dressing, would you not be afraid of getting a cold, a chill in your kidneys?'
Sissy will take down one of her own skirts and dress her and send her off!”
Sissy's Kitchen is a popular attraction at festivals once or twice a year and Breege would like to see a bit more of Sissy, but she isn't expecting international prominence to come anytime soon.
“Sissy needs to be in the middle with these people around her, people coming in, people going out, children crying. I'd love to take it somewhere, but there is a lot of background explaining to do,” says Breege. The popularity of the kitchen has led to people returning annually to interact with Sissy and Granny Annie and now Michealín Óg.
Asked why she continues to resurrect Sissy, Breege has no hesitation: “The thing I set out to do is to make people laugh. It’s wonderful to see people laughing, and I just don't mean laughing I mean a laugh where their face reddens and the veins in their neck pop out - and I have seen that.
“When they are laughing, I'm buzzing inside; I'm secretly laughing inside even though I can't laugh out, but I just love to see people laughing.”
As I was leaving Breege's kitchen she showed me her latest project and it was obvious that Sissy betrays more of Breege's personality than she may realise. She is hand feeding three house martin chicks fallen from the nest after the mother left them.
Sissy may have gone away for 2017, but it's clear from chatting to Breege that we will have the pleasure of visiting Sissy's Kitchen again in the not too distant future.