Thursday, December 21, 2017

Game of Gnomes and Trump's Big Bad Belfast Christmas (C21 Theatre)

Two very different one act plays graced the stage of The Black Box in Belfast last night.

Brendan Quinn stumbled up first with his fifty minute solo show Game of Gnomes. His alter ego, an aspiring out of work actor Brendan Sythe (a proud product of Larne community drama classes), explained to anyone willing to listen in the make-up truck how he’d got this big break on a well-known film set.

Deftly switching between characters, mannerisms and accents, Quinn whipped up laughs as he outlined the confusing audition process, a bizarre bootcamp, and his subsequent experience working as a Castlecourt Elf. Around a dozen roles populated the piece, including a grumpy yet worldy-wise Santa, a coy female Elf and an outrageous mother who mistook him for a gnome.

Tom Finley’s direction brought to life well-written overlapping conversations that comically fused together and utilised the limited set (three black cubes) to create height and movement on the diminutive stage. By the end, the audience were hooked on the story and whooping along with the finale. While Sythe may not have initially seen the potential in his festive “great character piece”, the Black Box audience certainly lapped up the story acted out by Quinn.

After the interval bar break, it was the turn of Trump’s Big Bad Belfast Christmas, with two local actors reprising roles they had played elsewhere in recent weeks in a new satirical play by Rosemary Jenkinson.
“If there’s one thing Northern Ireland has a talent for, it’s building walls; though we’re good at building bridges too … with peace money.”
Escaping the White House staff eggnog-fuelled party, US President Trump (Miche Doherty) flies to Belfast in ‘North Ireland’ to find out about our beautiful walls which have kept people apart all these years. DUP leader Arlene Foster (Maria Connolly) is his willing tour guide, her party name temporarily confusing the Republican president. Darlene and Donald slip, incognito, into a loyalist bar for an eventful pint!

Doherty’s impossibly long red tie, well-coiffed wig and glare brought this not-so-fantastical world leader alive despite his trim waist and unclassifiable accent. His bravado-filled performance captured the essence of the mulch-maligned president. Connolly never stepped out of character, eyes constantly darting around, and switching between gloom and glee as she tried to manage the erratic big wig.

Despite only being scheduled for two performances, and the rehearsals accelerated, cast were confident with their lines and hammed it up to the delight of the audience who joined in with the reworded Fairytale of New York (more Nightmare on Newtownards Road) and the boisterous finale Summer Christmas Lovin’ (“She ate sausage / I had some champ”).

As well as the brutally cruel lampooning of there two well-known political leaders, the refracted image on stage gave a quasi-international perspective on some of the ways and customs we take for granted and so often forget to critique in Northern Ireland, as well a chance to question how different or similar we are to our 50 state cousins.

A triumphal evening of festive comedy from C21 Theatre Company which finished their year of productions with a definite bang.

You can catch more of Arlene in Michelle and Arlene Holiday Special: Planes, Trains and Tractors in Accidental Theatre’s 12-13 Shaftesbury Square venue on Thursday 21 and Friday 22 December, and C21 Theatre are back with another Rosemary Jenkinson play May The Road Rise Up in the Lyric Theatre from 20-24 February.

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