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THEATRE REVIEW: FTN Reviews The Holy Holy Bus at The Lyric Theatre, Belfast

July 3rd, 2015 by Conor ONeill Comments

theatre newsHOLY HOLY BUS (WEB)-33

The Holy Holy Bus
The Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Until July 10th, 2015

“There’s no atheists in a fox-hole!” First time I’ve started a review with a direct quote deep within a play’s performance. But that line alone is the critical mass at the heart of writer Pearse Elliot’s beezer play, The Holy Holy Bus. Winner of the Belfast Telegraph Audience Award, an audience of mostly women fill the Lyric theatre’s 370 seats, each and every one hoping for the hype.  And yes, it delivered.

The set is comprised of huge screens hung upon a warm red backdrop. These are, at first, pretty obscure and minimal but as the geography and imagery desires change, the screens move from religious iconography to homely stagnation onward to karaoke bar, mountain top and finally back to the same old home with a different outlook. Four chairs, a small table and some crafty direction by Tony Devlin, who must be surely suffering repetitive strain injuries from patting himself on the back, make so much out of so little clutter. Brassneck Theatre Company must also be proud of itself, as again it brings cracking theatre to our doorstep.

So what happens? Four women, two connected by blood as mother and daughter, the next one pious enough to be Pope, and the last ‘trying to find Ireland’ all head off on an annual tour of Ireland’s religious sites. Their expectations all different, their motivations scurry about as the plot, happenings and revelations of character bring polar opposites together in Life’s Lost-&-Found-Property-Box.

Central is Lily, the wonderful and full of wonder no-holds-barred matriarch of the group. Played by Stella McCusker (The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Uncle Vanya) Lily shakes priests with fake confessions of murder and feigns Alzheimer’s to test the doctors. This ‘old person’ as she likes to state, whisks around the stage with little fear and even less fear of a hip replacement. Next, her daughter Sally, barren and dejected, writing her own birthday card and in need of a damn good shake. Actor Roisin Gallagher (Lanciatore the Juggler, Dockers) takes the ball of Sally and runs, ever so slowly. We see her, as we do the other characters, shape-shift her outlook as she, with sublime confidence, steps the boards. Her ac paella of My Bonnie Irish Lad is worth the ticket price alone.

The prior being the sentimental heart of the play is juxtaposed by the differing ideologies of Rita and Perpetua. Comic, touching and brick-beating-brick mutually stubborn, the real stomach crunching laughs come from their developing relationship. Claire Connor (Almost Human, Give My Head Peace) plays Perpetua – AKA: Nurse Ratched, according to Rita. She talks different, prays a lot and not only drives the Bus but tries to drive her faith down everyone’s throat, quietly. The pious must be pious for a reason, right? If Perpetua ever looked in a mirror and saw Rita laughing back at her she’d crumble, and everyone crumbles at some stage at the heart of this introspective black-comedy. If you’ve watched Fifty Shades of Red, White and Blue, or last month’s hit Crazy, you’ll know the brilliance of Caroline Curran. Playing Rita she exudes the mannerisms of someone we all identify with. Bouncing with enthusiasm, up for a laugh and seemingly strong and adventurous, she stands out not only for her forthright delivery but the fact that her character is the only Protestant on the Holy Holy Bus.

Shop-lifting; hallucinations; ‘helamacopters’; black bamboo; a lot of vodka; One Direction references, the UVF as the IVF and more leads to a double standing ovation and a lot of smiles.
The Holy Holy Bus runs at The Lyric Theatre till July 10. From there it heads to Newcastle Centre July 30 – August 1 and then to Belfast’s Roddy McCorely Club August 3 – August 7

For booking details visit

5 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.