Belfast Girl: A Love Story

As it’s now less than two weeks till opening night, I wanted to let everyone know about Belfast Girl: A Love Story, from London Irish Theatre.

Set in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, Belfast Girl: A Love Story considers the human dimension of the Northern Ireland question, and uncovers the personal costs of political struggle.  Annie is the Belfast Girl of the title: a working class protestant who grew up during the troubles.  Her marriage to Orangeman Billy is on the rocks, and an unexpected visit from English Catholic Dave, her childhood sweetheart who she hasn’t seen since her teens, brings matters to a head in an explosive manner.  The play is written and directed by John Dunne, and features Mary Tynan (me) as Annie and Ian Macnaughton as Dave.

The story of Dave and Annie has been through several incarnations over the years.  The first, titled Belfast, premiered in the 1990s and featured the couple as teenagers, with Tanya Franks as Annie.  I become involved during the second incarnation, Belfast Boy, which was written to be the second play in a double bill with Geraldine Aron’s A Galway Girl, touring in 2009/10.  This was a two hander, with the older Annie and Dave meeting again after many years.  Belfast Girl followed in the summer of 2010, and I played Annie for the second time in a completely new work which also featured Annie’s brother and husband.  This play has recently had a Belfast run, in which the story was expanded to include two further characters.

Belfast Girl: A Love Story returns to the two-handed format, but with a twist.  There may be only two actors, but there are more than two characters!  I’m really looking forward to playing Annie again, and would like to invite readers of Notes From Xanadu to join the audience.  Previous versions Belfast and A Belfast Boy have both received critical acclaim from the press, and Belfast was a Time Out Critic’s Choice.

“John Dunne’s sensitive squint at the Ulster legacy adapts well to the stage.  What’s impressive about the rapid stucco of tense, bite-sized scenes is that they’re eloquently counterpointed by a driving commitment to character development.”  Time Out

“A sharply realistic play still willing to speak for love, however guarded, as the central human value.” City Limits

 “Fantastically gripping.”  What’s On

 “Moving stories in an Irish odyssey.”  Camden New Journal

Belfast Girl: A Love Story is playing on both sides of the Thames this Summer.  It opens on 20August 2013 at the London Theatre, New Cross, running nightly at 8pm until 24 August, with a Sunday matinee on 25 August at 4pm.  It then runs from 27 to 29 August nightly at 7.30pm at the Babble Jar, Stoke Newington and from 30 August to 1 September at the Precinct Theatre, Islington, with all performances there also at 7.30pm.  Tickets can be bought on the door, from the London Theatre Box Office (www.thelondontheatre.com), and from www.irish-theatre.com .

Belfast Girl: A Love Story

 

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A Tale of two Cities

Good Vibrations and Spike Island at the London Film Festival

I had great plans for the London film festival, with many press screenings marked out on my diary.  Unfortunately timing was against me, as it turned out to be a very busy period in my other two jobs (acting and teaching), and apart from “A Liar’s Autobiography,” which got cancelled (read the article here), I actually only ended up at two screenings.  But they were good ones.

Good Vibrations

My regular readers (if there are such people) will be aware that I enjoy a bit of music from the 1980s, so I was in a positive frame of mind when I turned up to see Good Vibrations – The Story of Terri Hooley.

For every Richard Branson, there are probably hundreds of Terri Hooleys.  Known as the Godfather of Ulster Punk, Terri was the owner of Good Vibrations record shop and label, was responsible for discovering the Undertones, and encouraged punk and alternative music to flourish during a dark time in Northern Ireland’s history.  I imagine that there were people like him in towns and cities all over the UK and Ireland during the 70s and 80s; running record shops, managing and/or playing in bands, and organising events.  Do these people ever make a profit in the long run or do their charming mix of naivety and idealism work against them in the end?  Good Vibrations never released a top 40 record, and Terri sold the rights to “Teenage Kicks” for £500 and a signed photo of The Shangri Las (which he never got.)  But that isn’t the point, as this film shows: Terri Hooley made a lot of people very happy, which was in itself no mean feat in Belfast at the height of the troubles.

This was a highly enjoyable film from start to finish.  Richard Dormer made an excellent Terri, and I particularly enjoyed Jodie Whittaker’s performance as his wife.  It’s hard to pick out anyone else as cast lists are not given out at press screening, but everyone performed very well.  It would have been nice to have a few more female characters – maybe some girls who hung around the record shop for instance – but apart from that I completely loved it.  One particularly memorable scene is when an RUC officer is hassling a girl in a bar for suspected underage drinking and Terri comes over and tells him he’d like to report a civil war.  Scenes like these show the bravery of the character as well as the naivety and idealism.

Of course, being a film about music, the soundtrack is a major part of the experience.  Set in a fertile time for Northern Irish music, the tracks chosen add to the energy and exuberance of the story, as obviously does the setting with its air of menace just under the surface.

Go and see this if you’re interested in music, Belfast, or just plain enjoy a good film.

Spike Island

Good Vibrations is a true story about a real man, with a real record shop/label, and the punk scene in Belfast, whereas Spike Island, my second choice of film, is a coming of age drama set in Manchester in the 1990s with the music of the Stone Roses providing more of a secondary theme.  As such it worked well, and the soundtrack (a mix of the Roses and the characters own band, Shadow Caster) added greatly to the ambience and power of the film.  The characters did seem to blend into each other a bit at points, and some of what could have been more potent moments could have been better explained (I was never sure why one boy joined the army for instance).  Having more female characters would have added more variety, and this film does not have the excuse of being a true story as a reason for not doing so.  Teenagers since the 1960s or 1970s onwards generally tend to hang around in groups of both sexes (I did) and the whole male bonding theme seemed to me a little old-fashioned.

That said, the music really lifts everything up, and the festival atmosphere of Spike Island and young love is captured perfectly (leaving aside the dubious morality of deserting your father on his deathbed to go to a Stone Roses concert that you don’t even have tickets for!)

Once again, I am hampered by a lack of a cast list, however everyone concerned gave a very competent performance, with Emilia Clarke standing out in particular.

Go and see this film if you enjoy a good coming of age drama with an excellent soundtrack, or want to recapture your youth!

Mary Tynan