Wel got to know Rowena more and more deeply, as she always had time for us, invited us over for sumptuous meals, and this unflappable, kind, supremely talented artist became a wonderful friend. Rowena added a touch of class to every production: for Yeats Besotted, her set design, furniture, costuming all were sumptuous and practical at the same time.
For The Ballad of Reading Gaol she built a crank - every Victorian prison cell had one, Wilde would have had to operate it 10,000 times a day - from bits of machinery she had cobbled together from a neighbouring farmer, and of course it fitted into the back of a car, invaluable practicality for taking it on tour.
Rowena's final contribution to Mouth on Fire was costuming for our film version of Beckett's short story The End. It was during lockdown we were all masked but there was no mistaking Rowena's ever helpful way, stepping onto the set between takes for Marcus Lamb's shoes, adding more dust to his bowler hat, ensuring his blackened teeth hadn't worked themselves clean again...doing so much of the unseen work that would have stood out like a sore thumb if she hadn't been present to think of it and get on with it.
Of course, had she not been ill, Rowena would have been with us as we workshopped Cor Deiridh (Beckett’s Endgame) a fortnight ago. Everyone involved in the workshop had worked with Rowena on previous productions and we made a short video on her birthday to send her a song and wish her well while she was in hospital as no one was allowed in to see her.
We will miss Rowena profoundly, not just her professional eye and the touch of class she brought to every production, but because we loved her deeply, how could you not? Rowena gave and gave and told wonderful stories while she did it: of her family, upbringing, travels; and her cooking was as wonderful as her costumes.
So long, kind friend. All our love - Cathal, Melissa and all involved with Mouth on Fire xx
Rowena Cunningham worked with us at Mouth on Fire on countless occasions since 2013; she made costumes, reworked costumes and found props from anywhere and everywhere for shows as diverse as The Canterville Ghost, The Happy Prince, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Saints and Sinners, Yeats Besotted, The End, Rockaby, Play, What Where, Waiting for Godot, The Ballad of Reading Gaol and many more.
We had adapted an Oscar Wilde story, and wanted a ghost to pull his head off his torso and have a chat with it, but had no idea how to achieve it. Shadaan Felfeli, reading the part of the ghost, said calmly: "Of course it can be done, just ask Rowena..."
That was when Rowena glided into our lives - devising a mechanism with some coat hangers that provided Shadaan with false shoulders - allowing his head to go down to his midriff with his "shoulders" remaining where they were. It was pure physics, and Rowena, a retired art teacher, did it like she did everything, with patience, aplomb and good grace; making the difficult and time consuming look easy. We were not able to do without her talents as a costume and prop maker ever since that first introduction.
The amount of time, money and above all stress that Rowena saved us all! All Rowena's contributions were made with her cheery selflessness, thoroughness and eye for beautiful material, upholstery and period detail.
Her sketches for our 1970s themed A Midsummer Night's Dream in Dublin Castle (5,000 people attended !!) were stunning - the Aladdin Sane yellow bodysuit stood out as outrageously revealing as well as epitomising the glam rock era that we were aiming for on a white boxed set.
Mouth on Fire Theatre Company - Dublin, Ireland