Drama and laughter in the hospital waiting room

Alan McKee directs Handbag Positive at Belfast's Waterfront Hall studio from October 16-30

CURRENTLY touring with his GAA comedy, St Mungo's Luganulk, which he wrote and stars in with long-time professional partner Conor Grimes, Alan McKee is set to pull on a new kit as he makes his directorial debut.

McKee directs Handbag Positive, a play is set in an emergency waiting room in a Belfast hospital where two women who were childhood friends but haven't seen each other in over 30 years are reunited as they await news of their sick mothers. To a Bay City Rollers soundtrack, the women reminisce about their childhood and catch up on what has happened them in later years.

"I'm looking forward to being in a rehearsal room where I don't have to learn any lines," laughs McKee, who sees directing as a natural progression for him. "Any director I've worked with will tell you I'm always full of opinions, so I suppose it was inevitable."

Handbag Positive is written by Donna O'Connor who co-wrote, along with Brenda Murphy, and starred in the comic play A Night With George and who manages to fuse humour with emotion.

"Donna writes with a very authentic Belfast voice," McKee says. "It can be dark and black at times, but the comedy works on a number of levels. These two women, although now in their 50s, very quickly revert back to being teenage girls so there is also a lot of giddiness in the flashbacks to them as young girls."

The women are played by Christina Nelson and Allie Ford (Dympna from Give My Head Peace), both of whom McKee has previously acted alongside. So what type of director will he be?

"I know what I like in a director, so I will try to do that. The most important thing is to be prepared, so even if you are making it up as you go along, don't let the actors know that."

The setting of an emergency department adds to the heightened emotions and acts as a platform for references to lengthening waiting lists. "It will make you laugh, it will make you cry and also make you think about the state of our NHS," says McKee.

  • Handbag Positive is at Belfast's Waterfront Hall studio from October 16-30 (

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