Belfast Blues at Lyric Theatre, Belfast
You may think you know about the Troubles but unless you've felt the fear and sensed the raison d'etre behind the Belfast gallows humour, you really don't. The new Secretary of State and the clueless Cabinet should see Geraldine Hughes' stellar memoir drama, Belfast Blues, which has started a swansong week at the Lyric Theatre.
The outline of Ms Hughes' autobiography is pretty well known: the grim Divis Flats upbringing, appearance in the movie Children of the Crossfire and eventual move to America, and stardom. But the devil's in the detail. Ms Hughes, plainly dressed and without make-up, morphed convincingly from her younger self to 24 characters including decent, amusing corner shop owner with facial tics Eddie.
It was at times harrowing, especially the scenes where Hughes, backed by monochrome period images recalls seeing a four year old boy's standoff with a group of young English soldiers. And worse, the sight of the corpse and head "the size of a soccer ball" under a blood stained blanket of a boy's decapitated corpse being taken past their door.
There is, thankfully, stoic humour as well. Geraldine's First Communion is a comedic tour de force, her facial expressions hilarious as she tried not to chew the not terribly nice tasting Communion wafer. Faith and the contradiction of a daily diet of horror gets a good outing. Young Geraldine knows she's been good, yet the bad things keep happening. F*** you, Christ she says finally on her knees. The audience erupted in laughs.
This is a masterclass in acting, very well directed by Carol Kane, and Geraldine Hughes proves herself a star performer, although Hollywood status is something Geraldine has always resisted. She shrieks as a kid "I'm not a star", later adding "I think education's more important”.
Plays by people like the late, great Christina Reid are pertinent. The ending reminded me of Tea in a China Cup, written from the other side of the peace wall. Geraldine Hughes recounts her father's death, his desire for her to look after her mum Sheila (in the audience). Then we learn the two women couldn't bear to accompany her dad Eamon's coffin right to the graveyard. Finally, Geraldine Hughes, as her mum, says in quintessential Irish fashion "I'll make us a wee cup of tea." You wanted to reach for the Kleenex at this point, but happily know there was a happy ending waiting for her. Yes, work with Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, stardom. Five star.
Belfast Blues is at Lyric Theatre until August 11. Tickets and info at lyrictheatre.co.uk