Thursday, December 06, 2018

Michelle & Arlene: Ulster Says Snow – they‘re broke and in Brazil not Northern Ireland! (Accidental Theatre until 13 December)

Early episodes of the enduring Michelle & Arlene satire focussed on the pair of political leaders finding ways of resolving the political stalemate that has removed Northern Ireland’s government rug from beneath the public’s feet. But even playwright Rosemary Jenkinson has had to abandon that possibility and move on to other political imperatives with her latest set of adventures.

Michelle & Arlene: Ulster Says Snow opens with the Secretary of State imposing a second, more drastic cut in MLA salaries, which sees the DUP leader and her Sinn Féin northern counterpart scratching around to make a living. Could her charity CD Arlene Sings Christmas be a festive hit to boost the Fermanagh & South Tyrone MLA’s financial coffers? A more likely possibility opens up when a Brazilian trade visit sparks a fund-raising gala.

Maria Connolly steps back into the shoes of Arlene Foster, with a reddy/orange dress, a crown broach, a scowl and something suitable in her Union Flag suitcase ready for Copacabana Beach. Mary-Frances Doherty has straightened out Michelle O’Neill’s long blond wig, carries a ready supply of miniatures in her travel bag – to get the pair half cut, like their pay – and, despite the bonhomie, never wastes an opportunity to tease or get one up on her unionist rival.

Director Richard Lavery breaks up the scenes with fun interstitial videos. The stylised performances of Connolly and Doherty are by now as familiar as they are ridiculous. The actors have probably spent more time together than the politicians they are lampooning!

Cyril the intern is introduced as a new foil for Foster, while O’Neill has developed quite a womance with Mary Lou. The ABBA/Waterloo cover (“My, my, at Mary Lou Arlene did surrender”) is a musical highpoint in the one act show that squeezes in a few Christmas numbers and some of Arlene’s ‘greatest’ hits.

With the effort of finding a political agreement for every citizen replaced with a focus on improving the bank balances of the two leaders who put us in this situation (and could click their fingers and get us out of it), even with Brexit hanging over proceedings the jeopardy is reduced and along with it some of the easy mirth of the earlier episodes.

Since Jenkinson has claimed she’ll keep making these plays as long as the deadlock remains – and the plot tends to get all the more ludicrous as time goes on – perhaps the next step is to take them up into the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings?

Michelle & Arlene: Ulster Says Snow continues at Accidental Theatre in Belfast’s Shaftesbury Square with performances on Friday 7 and Thursday 13 October.

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