Kilkenny writer Shortall brings Orphan Disease home to Kilkenny

This April 23rd a new play by Kilkenny-born Catherine Cronin comes to the Watergate Theatre. The one-woman show, Orphan Disease, opened in Zurich, Switzerland last August with the company Close Encounters Theatre (CET). Cronin has been living in Zurich for over twelve years but Kilkenny and Ireland remain close to her heart and her work. This is certainly evident throughout Orphan Disease.

In December 2018, Cronin was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, and, later, the BRCA2 gene mutation. This incident forced her to re-evaluate her life and goals. She emersed herself in writing which emboldened and encouraged her to face her illness with strength and positivity.

During the pandemic, she joined an online writing course with CET and was later approached by the company’s artistic director to write a play about her experience with cancer and the impact the BRCA2 gene had on her family. The journey of Orphan Disease has been a cathartic experience for Cronin and her family. Cronin’s paternal grandmother, Annie Dwan, passed away at a very young age from breast cancer and, likely, carried the BRCA2 gene also. Orphan Disease explores the two very different journeys these women had in two very different time periods, , all while walking the line between tragedy and comedy.

While Orphan Disease is her first play to come to the stage, it is not the first play Cronin wrote. Last summer, her piece, Håber Undone, was chosen to be one of three plays featured in Druid’s Debut online series. It was directed by Sarah Baxter and starred Kate Kennedy, Ian Toner, Brian Doherty, Adetomiwa Edun, Charlotte McCurry, and Peter Corboy. It told the story of scientist, Luna, and her desperate attempts to find solutions to climate change and to her own personal issues. Cronin recalled in the show’s live post-discussion that Luna had been an invaluable companion throughout her chemotherapy treatment.

Today, Catherine continues her treatment for cancer but thanks to an excellent medical team and a life enriched by following her passion for writing, the prospects for a longer, healthier life are now much more realistic than back in 2018. This show unpacks the loss and pain of cancer but also leaves the audience with a life-affirming and hopeful message. Orphan Disease was directed by Tara Brodin with Emma Kelly working as the play’s dramaturg. Tickets are available at the Watergate.

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