Review: The Real Housewives of Norn Iron

Elaine Hill Photography
Jane Hardy

THE Grand Opera House was in hen party mood last night. That's because the mainly female audience, exuding perfume and excitement, was about to see The Real Housewives of Norn Iron, Leesa Harker's newest dramatic outing.

It did not disappoint the fan base and for the first time, six actors performed her roles, instead of the amazing Caroline Curran conjuring up everyone solo. Ms Curran was there, of course, playing Jean, the Belfast mum-of-six. Weaselly American TV man Terry (entertaining Patrick McBrearty), hoping to save his career and his ratings via a feisty version of the Real Housewives franchise, had selected four varied Ulster women. Who were, naturally, hilarious.

Dora (Rosie McClelland) the Fermanagh farmer was eager to escape her barn life, her husband, and the cows. She also had a thing about glamour, not to mention her pin-up, Pamela Ballantine, which was nicely played. Iwonka (Diona Doherty) the Instagram obsessive from Derry with Polish antecedents, was engaging. And if you wanted a delicious Malone Road caricature (with nods to Mrs Robinson), Cynthia supplied it. Roisin Gallagher was superb.

Early scenes were a little static as the TV show set up our heroines for a night, with ghosts, in Crumlin Road Jail. The storyline really revved up later as the women fought the media set-up. and the play morphed into a bit of a musical. Cue Bonnie Tyler et al, with some nice dance routines.

The Northern Irish language was ripe as anything deployed by the plastic ladies from Atlanta and Orange County. There were even 1980s Dallas references which won whoops. Charity worker and audience member Lisa Taylor explained the appeal. "We're all looking to laugh at ourselves. I felt the show came to life as it held up the mirror."

Ostensibly about the deception of reality TV, The Real Housewives of Norn Iron is also about woman power as director Andrea Montgomery said, noting that the playwright's status as a working class feminist informs her work.

It is classic, no holds barred Leesa Harker. There was even a Viagra song, a reworking of "Santa is coming to town", which raised a laugh. What Ms Harker does superbly is capture the reality of these women's lives, the frustrations, hopes and necessary diversions. There is glorious vulgarity (including a farting scene), great sentiment and as always, there is heart. The TV stars end up supporting each other and enjoy a fourfold happy ending.

A new role as social worker for Jean, a revived romantic life with her husband the top copper for Cynthia, an independent departure for Iwonka and for Dora a glamorous invitation from UTV's finest. The Real Housewives will undoubtedly captivate on tour to Lisburn, Coleraine and Newtownabbey.

:: The Real Housewives of Norn Iron runs at the Grand Opera House (028 9024 1919, until June 16, then is on tour.

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