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THEATRE REVIEW: FTN Reviews Handbag Positive at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast

October 19th, 2015 by Conor ONeill Comments

theatre newsHandbag Positive Alexandra Ford, Alan McKee and Christina Nelson (Use)

Handbag Positive 
Waterfront, Belfast
Until October 30th
Tickets and more details here or Box Office on 02890 334400

From the pen of multi-talented writer/actor Donna O’Connor comes the Waterfront’s newest play, Handbag Positive. O’Connor, probably best known for co-writing the hit A Night With George, turns a long wait in A & E into nearly 90 minutes of a joke per minute absurdity.

The 380-seater theatre is nearly at capacity. A quick look around reveals the crowd to be largely made up of women, and most of them seem to be in their mid-40s to early 50s. This is in keeping with the Bay City Rollers theme. Our two female protagonists grew up loving and bonding over the tartan army with the Troubles a mere background, one which O’Connor tackles with irreverence. The main action comes from the relationship between Nora and Attracta.

Nora played by Alexandra Ford (Dympna in Give My Head Peace, Fifty Dead Men Walking) has everything to live for. She Married well after the two lost contact on leaving school. Her friend Attracta played by Christina Nelson (Mistletoe and Crime not to mention a seemingly endless CV of directing, writing and near enough every other job in theatre) has been dealt a totally different hand of cards. Mostly due to her terrible choice of men, most of whom have unfortunate surnames…

Mrs Attracta Cocks and Burke to name just two gets plenty of belly laughs. Attracta with her mother see-sawing between life and death is ever present though never seen as she’s in a side room getting treatment. “The only pain my mummy doesn’t have is period pain!” is just one of the jagged little one-liners guaranteed to make you chuckle.

As the two reunited buddies tell of their woes and triumphs many bit characters give the play the three dimensional side so often lacking in two actor shows. Expect to see both Ford and Nelson slip from their main characters to school mistresses to shopkeeper, a soldier, a Philippine nurse and debt collector. Ford must be over six feet tall in heels, Nelson, a foot below. The physical difference is played on and though Ford’s characters get plenty of laughs and commands the stage, writer O’Connor seems to have blessed Nelson characters, especially the long suffering Attracta with the snappiest lines.

Handbag Positive also sees two debuts. For the first time GBL’s Joe Rae produces a show without the clout of the GBL name, and has made the move seamlessly. Expect to see more of his shows in the near future. Alan McKee of McKee and Grimes fame, moves from front of stage to try his hand at directing. The set may be minimal, we are after all in a sterile hospital A & E, but with quality acting, production and McKee’s knowledge of theatre you’ll be hard pushed to find a more fluid show. There’s no mass movement of props or location changes, no lighting trickery, just good honest and funny theatre; probably even better if you’re a fan of the Rollers. Unfortunately they were just before my time so some of the song choices and references where lost on me.

The ending is touching but not over-sentimental. As the curtain falls a standing ovation is well deserved for all involved in this show.

4 out of 5 Nerds


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Conor O'Neill is at times a playwright and a qualified journalist. He has worked for the Belfast Telegraph, Portadown Times and South Belfast Advertiser. He also contributes to various online e-zines, specialising in theatre, gig reviews and other cultural events. If you were to ask him what he does, he will say 'I'm functioning'... that's a lie. Best suited to pressure and deadlines, O'Neill thrives on the moment, the passion and the thrill of now, he's only happy when he's watching or reviewing a play.