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Jones's arresting Christmas comedy

As research for her new show, Marie Jones hitched a ride in a PSNI night patrol car and spent time in a police custody suite. Jenny Lee collared the acclaimed Belfast playwright for a chat about her Christmas cop comedy

FOR her latest play Belfast playwright Marie Jones turned to the PSNI for help. Thankfully it wasn't because she landed herself in trouble; rather, it was all in the name of research.

The Olivier Award-winning playwright has turned her sharp wit to Christmas again with a brand new seasonal treat set for the stage of Belfast's Lyric Theatre. Mistletoe & Crime is a laugh-out-loud comedy about two female police officers working the Christmas Eve shift in Belfast, where the usual suspects are up to mischief and the SOS bus finds itself busier than usual.

Katie Tumelty is Constable Aileen Quinn, a rookie officer on her first night who finds herself teamed up with Constable Sue Patterson, played by Tara-Lynne O'Neill, whose last night on the beat this is.

The 'Cagney and Lacey of Belfast' try to keep order amid the mayhem, while their own personal lives encroach on their work.

Jones's last Christmas play was Xmas Eve Can Kill You and when approached by the Lyric Theatre to pen another seasonal drama she once again wanted to write about the real Christmas that ordinary people experience and inject it with a generous dose of humour.

This time out she once again teams up with actor and fellow playwright Dan Gordon - best known for his comic turns in Give My Head Peace - who is hanging up his panto Dame costume this year to concentrate on directing. "I got him out of his high heels at last," Jones jokes. "Dan and I loved the format of the taxi driver we used in Christmas Eve Can Kill You. Journey's are great for plays because you can physically as well as dramatically move."

Of Mistletoe & Crime's inspiration, she says: "We were sitting talking one day

and Dan happened to say about a relative being a police officer and the two of us jumped up and down with joy realising that was what we needed for this show." Jones is extremely appreciative of the response they have received from the PSNI, being invited on 'ride-alongs' and to a police custody suite. "Thankfully I've never been arrested or in a custody suite so it was good to experience to talk to them about what they do on a night, experience the speed they travel in and visit the custody suite. People are usually in there for the night because they are drunken and they can't manage," she says. "During our research we even discovered there are people out there who want to be arrested because they want somewhere warm to lie their head."

The two lead actresses were also taken on an evening ride-along in Bangor.

"They were very excited; they kept waiting for a blue-light," says Jones, who says that while the experience was invaluable for research, she doesn't use any incidents from her first-hand experience in the play.

Jones admits she is a huge fan of 1980s detectives Cagney & Lacey and is enjoying the current re-runs of the US drama series on television. "Aileen and Sue are like the much-loved detective combo Cagney & Lacey who have their own personal stories intertwined with the drama."

She also sticks with the highly emotional setting of Christmas Eve where people are rushing around, celebrating or drowning their sorrows. "People's emotions are different on Christmas Eve than they are on any other day. Everybody is hyped in certain ways - either great joy or deep depression. There are several gears for everybody on Christmas Eve including the officers - all of which lends itself to good drama. "At Christmas we are all under pressure to have such a good time that we all go a bit crazy. The police are probably under the most pressure at this time of year, so I thought I'd poke a bit of fun at the many farcical scenarios they have to deal with. "Aileen and Sue have to deal with a lovers' tiff, broken probation and raving pensioners, to name but a few. It's very funny but also very moving at times. We have a great character - a woman on the verge of Alzheimers who gets lost. They find her sitting down at the BBC trying to get Hugo Duncan to come to her house for fruit loaf."

Jones has been heavily involved in the rehearsals, which have put her in the festive spirit early. "I totally trust Dan, but with a new play you want to part of the whole process because from the page to the stage is a long journey. To have a play on in Christmas and to be involved with all the cast makes it sheer joy. I come back from rehearsals with a million more wrinkles from laughing."

Completing the cast of local actors in Mistletoe & Crime are Christina Nelson, Ciaran Nolan, Gerard Jordan, Matthew McElhinney and Louise Parker.

Jones is enjoying the moment and not looking ahead to 2015 just yet. Her acclaimed play Stones in his Pockets only last week completed a British tour. The film version, starring Conleth Hill and Ronan Keating, is still in the pipeline, pending funding. "The producers are working away on the film. We've done the script and it's going through the usual stages. It takes forever, I don't know how anybody is involved in film; it would wreck your brain. I've done my bit and now I just continue with the theatre I love. If it happens it happens and if it doesn't it doesn't," Jones says. n Mistletoe & Crime opened at Belfast's Lyric Theatre last night and runs until January 11. Lyrictheatre.co.uk.

* ON THE BEAT: Katie Tumelty as Constable Aileen Quinn and Tara-Lynne O'Neill as Constable Sue Patterson; top, Belfast playwright Marie Jones

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