Saturday, May 12, 2018

Michelle & Arlene: Love in Las Vegas … yet deadlock at Stormont (Accidental Theatre until 12 May)

Michelle & Arlene: Love in Las Vegas is the third instalment of Rosemary Jenkinson’s satirical adventures of the former First and deputy First Ministers as they seek to find political agreement. The fine foemance have previously spent time in Ibiza and travelling through Europe, but you don’t need to have seen the previous episodes to pick up the story.

Passing through Belfast recently, former President Bill Clinton has invited Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster to leave behind their party colleagues and advisers and travel alone to the US to have intensive talks. But as usual, one need to make a decision leads to another, and the political duo end up in Las Vegas with hilarious consequences.

There is the sense that nine months and three rapid reaction plays later, these episodes may be coming to a natural end. It is tantamount to bullying to keep lampooning something that shows no sign of changing.

Maria Connolly and Mary-Frances Doherty are very comfortable stepping back into the shoes of their monstrous creations. Connolly’s grimaces hit new shapes and her union flag suitcase is a veritable mini-bar of Scottish whiskies while Doherty sports an Irish Rebel Alliance t-shirt, an enormous green bow in her blond wig and an infectious free-spirit.

Both political leaders are exhausted by endless non-agreements who are not motivated by the “negotiating salon” in New York. Connolly portrays a DUP leader that is trapped by her role, her party and her politics. So her escape to Las Vegas and entry into a Dolly Parton singing contest is not as surprising as the competition result. And for a minute I wondered if her rendition of Jolene would somehow refer to a Belfast councillor with the same name.

Stuffed full of songs and amusing video interstitials between scenes, there’s a rawness to aspects of the production that remind the audience that the play was rehearsed and staged in a week. But there are plenty of laughs throughout, never more so than about ten minutes from the end when the local political tit for tat rhetoric is exposed for its absurdity in an extended scene when the two protagonists face up to their ability to agree a deal about a personal crisis while still overshadowed by their political stalemate.

Interviewed a couple of weeks ago for a preview piece, Jenkinson explained:
“A lot of that stuff stems from truthful words. I don’t put things in that really don’t have a basis in reality. Something sparks it off [and] it’s not just me deciding to have a little stereotypical joke here.”

This factual foundation is what gives this type of satire its bite, moving it beyond mockery into sharp political commentary that questions the status quo and the public’s acceptance of recalcitrant behaviour.

Michelle & Arlene: Love in Las Vegas continues at Accidental Theatre (12-13 Shaftesbury Square, right under the big screen) until Saturday 12 May.

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