Fly Me To The Moon, Theatre Review, Belfast’s Grand Opera House
By Conor O’Neill
Writer and director Marie Jones’ Fly Me To The Moon has played all over, from nearly every town with a theatre in Ireland to the West End and just off Broadway. And now it’s back to its place of origin.
Set in Belfast, the plot sees two under paid and over-worked care assistants, Loretta Mackey and Frances Shields, looking after 84-year-old Davy Magee. Davy, practically bedridden, as he has the use of only side of his body, lives a quiet life; the Daily Mirror, a wee punt on the horses are his simple joys and with only care workers, the home help and meals-on-wheels for company. For a play centred around the old man, Davy never makes an appearance. Yet as the 90 minutes unfold, we learn drip-by-drip of his life and loves, and we come to feel an affinity for the man.
Set in Davy’s bungalow the plot never moves from this little space. A bed sits centre stage, an unused table and chairs to the audience’s right, a wheelchair, a few personal knick-knacks here and there, tired and dated wallpaper, a front door and another to the rear of the stage. This may all read very glum, but it is necessary to set this dark comedy in context.
And a comedy it is. From start to almost the finish, a full Grand Opera House, a thousand and couple dozen more, rarely stop laughing. Loretta’s running late and tired of waiting, Frances has started without her and helped Davy to the toilet on her own: “I’ve done my back bad.” she moans to Loretta as she finally arrives. “Bad, how bad? Like in claim bad?”
This first joke sets the working-class credentials for the following drama. The two bounce off one another like atoms colliding, with tiny asides for the next 10 or so minutes as they count out his meds, do bits of house work, shouting Davy’s name every now and again thinking the old boy is just taking longer than usual. Slowly, though the audience has worked it out long before, it sinks in that something must be wrong. “He died on a Monday, didn’t even get the good of his pension.” mourns Loretta. And with that a light bulb goes off in the more cunning Frances’ mind.
After a lot of to and froing it’s agreed that it’d be a waste to let his last 120 quid go to the government and Frances puts the idea to bed with the oft used words: “It’s what he would’ve wanted!”
The comedy lies in the difference between the two. Kate Tumelty’s Frances is the arch manipulator while Abigail McGibbon’s Loretta has more of a conscience. But with out-of-work brickie hubby Brian literally fading away watching quiz shows on the tele every day and daughter Kirsty’s trip to Alton Towers to be paid off the Machiavellian tongue of Frances soon finds a somewhat unwilling but needy accomplice. A simple plan is hatched but the appearance of a winning bookie’s docket sends the initial simple lie into orbit. Of course as the lies thicken, the two fall out, and while they may appear to be mercenary, their fall outs and different ways of operating only cements the crowd’s understanding of the pair.
This makes from great comedy, but unseen characters add depth. References of the two other care workers, Jackie and Sherry – AKA – the Grim Reapers, Frances’ son Jason and his misunderstood schoolboy entrepreneurial skills of offloading fags and booze aged 11, to his current dodgy DVD business, a Philippine nurse whose name is unpronounceable, the ever watching witch of a neighbour across the street, the uppity shits on Dragons’ Den are bound to have you in tears. Changes of tempo and mood are punctuated with little more than a change of lighting and a snippets of Ole Blue Eyes himself.
The first 50 minutes simply fly by. After the interval the New York Minute pace keeps up until the final 20. Considering the earlier understated social commentary of how little they’re paid for “Wiping up piss and shit for seven pound thirty six an hour.” To Loretta’s torment as Brian sits at home with a trade to his name watching TV, the final third is the humanisation of a man they only an hour ago looked upon as a burden. You’ll still get laughs but Jones will bring a lump to your throat as we reflect on the isolation of the ageing.
90 minutes with almost everything you’d want in a dark comedy. Brilliantly written, directed and acted with an unnerving final twist. Standing ovation well won.
Tickets are apparently flying out the door. If you want your funny bone tickled and a touch of humanity thrown in for good measure, ring the Grand Opera House Box Office on 02890 241919 or visit http://www.goh.co.uk
Fly Me To The Moon runs in the Grand Opera House until and including Saturday, January 26th with matinees on Thursday and Saturday. After a jump over the border for a couple of dates it returns to the North on February 1st and tours until February 23rd.
For the full tour itinerary visit Patrick Talbot Productions and Rathmore Productions websites.