Saturday, January 21, 2017

I’ll Tell My Ma – four generations tell it like it is in witty one woman comedy show (The MAC until Sat 4 Feb)

There were two big talents on display at I’ll Tell My Ma on The MAC’s downstairs stage last night. The first was the comic flair of Christina Nelson who morphed between four generations of hilarious women in a West Belfast family in this ambitious one woman show.

Niall Rea’s ingenious costume design and its one foundational dress expedited Nelson’s metamorphosis from a mouthy school girl to a lusting airline attendant and from a creative writing granny to a uncompromising great grandmother.

But it’s wasn’t just the dress or even the accents that varied. Nelson’s entire demeanour changed as she slips between characters: mannerisms, breathing and stance. She’s a joy to watch. Nelson’s sense of comic timing left space for the laughter to rise and wane, while her sense of pace kept the show moving without becoming rushed.

First and last on stage is Granny Geraldine who is being mentored by a post-epiphanic tutor Danny Morrison – yes, that Danny Morrison – at a local creative writing group. Suffering from empty nest syndrome, this divorced mother is one of eleven siblings.

Throw in some impressions of nuns, references to West Belfast schools, era-specific tracks between scenes, not to mention the other female members of the family, and you’ve got an hour and a bit of Belfast comedy gold that had the Friday evening MAC audience in stitches. The loud chatter in the stalls during changes of scene signposted the recognition of social and geographic landmarks in the script.

The other talent exhibited was that of Patricia Gormley who wrote the play and until now performed it herself during Féile an Phobail. While the language is earthy in places, the humour is rarely cheap and alongside a couple of jokes that are as old as Great Granny Eileen, there was a lot of original material and local colour.

Amongst the witty dialogue and family-wide trait of mixing up words, the whoops of audience laughter are silenced when Nelson recounts the circumstances of a tragedy in her family. With autobiographical elements woven into the story, Gormley’s play resonates deeper than a simple West Belfast comedy. (You can read Gail Bell’s interview with Patrician Gormley in the Irish News.)

Having previously toured small community venues with only an ironing board as a prop, Joseph Rea Productions’ attention to detail and Alan McKee’s direction along with a mostly static set and some lighting tricks to elevate I’ll Tell My Ma into a strong piece of comedy theatre.

I’ll Tell My Ma runs in The MAC until Saturday 4 February. A tour is planned. With the deft wit running through Patricia Gormley’s imaginative characters, it would be great to hear their further adventures turn up on the Radio Ulster airwaves as a short series - though the characterisation of working class life might be too nauseating for some.

Photos: Joseph Rea Productions.

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