Review: Political satire Distortion at The MAC is a clear winner

Michael Condron as ambitious local politician Kevin Quinn in Distortion

WHILE the reliably dysfunctional world of Northern Ireland politics is often beyond parody, its amusingly Machiavellian murk certainly makes fertile fodder for good old fashioned satire.

Amanda Verlaque's Distortion, a Belfast-set story of power-hungry political ambition and media manipulated subterfuge, boasts recognisably realistic characters and key plot points which could easily have been snipped from our local headlines.

Starring Mary Moulds, Valene Kane and Michael Condron, this pitch-black political drama centres on married politicians Kevin (Condron) and Heather (Moulds) Quinn, whose fledgling progressive political party is eager to court a new generation of post-Troubles voters engaged with social issues rather lingering tribalism.

Despite their on-message qualities of being relatively young, liberal and having married across the religious divide, it's clear that Kevin and Heather lack the nous to negotiate their way up the greasy political pole – her to Belfast City Council and he to Westminster.

Luckily, Kevin has persuaded noted political spin doctor Jo Devine (Kane) to help boost their standing: Heather needs extricated from puff piece oblivion and placed at the forefront of the 'difficult conversations' their party is attempting to initiate, while the overly-laddish Kevin needs her help to, in his own words, "stop me making a d*** of myself", if he ever wants to be taken seriously.

Valene Kane as Jo Devine and Michael Condron as Kevin Quinn in Distortion

Initially, the arrangement gets off to a fractious start. Although they are courting the LGBTQ+ vote, Heather and Kevin are both casually homophobic behind closed doors – despite Jo being openly gay. There's also the familiar whiff of extra-marital activities lingering about this constantly bickering, entertainingly foul-mouthed would-be power couple, a political time-bomb that will need defusing if they've any hope of achieving their goals.

However, Jo sees "nuggets of gold" in who they are, what their party represents and the positive, progressive effect putting them into power could have on their country and her own career. "Let's stop history repeating itself ­– let's wake this f***ing place up", she urges.

The stars align when a south Belfast by-election is triggered in the wake of a veteran Unionist leader and noted homophobe being luridly hoisted with his own petard in every major tabloid.

Thus, the stage is set for power games behind the scenes and in the full glare of the media (represented by Lata Sharma's intrepid TV hack) as Jo attempts to whip both her self-serving charges into electable public servants. Sparks fly as the spin doctor discovers that the dynamics of the couple's relationship are far more complex – and potentially politically incendiary – than she ever imagined.

Directed by Rhiann Jeffrey and filmed at The MAC in an effectively moody and minimalistic 'hybrid theatre' manner, Distortion is sharply written and hugely entertaining with it, thanks to a cast who truly commit to their respective roles.

A percussive, piano-based score by Garth McConaghie (who might well be a fan of Nicholas Britell's work on TV hit Succession) adds to the mounting intrigue and tension as events build towards an endgame which will either make or break Heather and Kevin – or perhaps both simultaneously.

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