Wednesday, June 05, 2019

The Real Housewives of Norn Iron (Grand Opera House until 8 June + NI tour)

You could argue that in penning The Real Housewives of Norn Iron, Leesa Harker has written a clever, satirical comedy which exposes local theatre audiences to the self-serving and scandal-hungry agenda of reality TV shows by transplanting a trashy US show to the environs of Northern Ireland with a brash emerald-suited host and four very different women. It’s nothing like the tame BBCNI There’s No Place Like Tyrone, but with Love Island returning to small screens and the ethics and standards of the Jeremy Kyle Show being raked over, the theme is very current.

There’s Cynthia, the posh-BT9er who is named purely for a particular equine joke, played by Roisin Gallagher with all the faux airs and graces that one might expect from the popular stereotype. Rosie McClelland excels as Dora, a Fermanagh farmer (and farmer’s wife) who sees life and recreation through a distinctly agricultural lens. Diona Doherty’s Iwonka battles with an insecure relationship underneath her public Insta-tastic hashtagging influencer front, while Harker-show veteran Caroline Curran revels in the role of Jean, a straight-talking Mum of six who doesn’t mince her words.

Patrick McBrearty plays the sleazy host, Terry Trousersnake, who has one eye on the show’s ratings and the other on its talent. As well as adding to the hen night frenzy with his ripped torso and gyrating groin, his character throws in plot grenades that reveal secrets to disrupt the female bon homie that breaks out once the women realise that they have more in common than divides them.

The on-stage caricatures are enhanced by mannerisms, knowing glances at the audience, and Curran’s ability to milk a scene for audience laughs when she knows she’s got them on a roll. The extended fart jokes and choreographed parodies of classic pop songs (with some nice harmonies thrown in) work well, but there’s nothing subtle about the humour of the performances (vulnerable children are as likely to be laughed at as Larne). Director Andrea Montgomery makes good use of the space around the simple set and characters comically disappearing over the side of the sofa add to the humour.

The audience settle down to roar with laughter once Curran delivers the first big swear about five minutes in, and while the energy dips just before the interval – the previous song would have been a stronger place to bring down the Opera House curtain – the cast of five keep the show tunnelling through its Viagra-boosted second half and towards the final crowd-pleasing reprise medley.

It’s undeniable that the majority female audience found it very entertaining on Tuesday evening. I was less convinced. Vulgarity has a place and can make for very effective theatre. But can also be tedious without a greater purpose. The plot’s ambition falls short of delivering a dynamic denouement that would build on the outbreak of girl power and allow the women to properly challenge or perhaps even turn the tables on the host who has humiliated them. These ‘real housewives of Norn Iron’ don’t seem to do revenge, even though it would have added greatly to the impact of the satire.

The adventures of The Real Housewives of Norn Iron continues in the Grand Opera House until Saturday 8 June, before touring through Lagan Valley Island, Lisburn (Tuesday 11 and Wednesday 19 June); Riverside Theatre, Coleraine (Wednesday 12); Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey (Thursday 13); Downshire (Friday 14); Market Place Theatre, Armagh (Saturday 15); Grand Opera House (Sunday 16); The Braid, Ballymena (Thursday 20); Burnavon Theatre, Cookstown (Friday 21); Millennium Forum, Derry (Saturday 22).

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