Weddins, Weeins and Funerals at the Lyric Theatre – A Review
I was totally taken aback by Weddins, Weeins and Wakes written by Marie Jones.
For some reason I thought this play would have been in the mould of our traditional Ulster kitchen comedies and I was looking forward to an evening of superb theatrical craic, but when I listened to Molly and Mona discussing the death notices in paper in the opening scene I suddenly realised this musical comedy was a cut above the rest.
In the opening lines as Mona and Molly were scanning to see what wake they could gatecrash. Molly muses over the list of deceased and says, “Naw, too far.” They literally had East Belfast stitched.
Marie Jones penned the original version around the two biddies Molly and Mona in 1989 – the first was the local midwife, the second washed down the corpses for burial. But over ten years later a full musical version was written for six characters and it is a brilliantly hilarious analysis of life in an East Belfast family.
Weddins, Weeins and Wakes was directed by Marie Jones’ husband Ian McElhinney who himself is an actor and has a long list of stage, television and film productions under his belt.
Once my ear had tuned into the masterly rhyming couplets, razor sharp vernacular, colloquialisms and Belfast wit, I was well into this riotously funny, double act musical comedy.
Baring in mind that this play was written initially in the late eighties, and there is little reference to the dominant Protestant political culture of the day, it represents a brave effort by Marie Jones to step out of the cultural determinism that was gripping the Province back then and show us the often troubled and tender moments of ordinary family life in its cycles through life and death.
This is a play about life in communities where people live on top of each other. There is plenty of venetian blind twitching, and the close proximity of neighbours seems to give Mona and Molly the right to intrude into the Watson family affairs.
On the eve of Wendy’s wedding, her husband-to-be Derek (Matthew McEllhinney) seems distrought as he can’t live up to the expectations of his future wife and her family. Da flirts with one of Marty Maguire’s character creations, a lusting old maid reminiscent in voice and demeanour of a late Jimmy Young character. It seems a typical wedding where drunkenness, anxieties, flirting, fighting and arguing are the order of the day.
There is no doubt that Marie Jones’ mastery of the linguistic idiom and understanding of the way of life of ordinary people in East Belfast is excellent, and the spontaneous wry humour as the characters muddle their way through life kept the audience chuckling on the edge of their seats.
There is a certain hardness about how the characters relate to each other too as in real life, but the ‘wee man’ songs later in the play are revealingly touching, about the new arrival, and serve to remind us that even the Watson family has a heart below its leathery exterior.
Marty Maguire who played several roles through the play was Granda (Watson) who’s characterisation of the ailing figure was perfect – how many of us know someone who keeps pigeons and has a bad chest? In the end he dies during his walk in the Twelfth parade, and in a rather hilariously erotic scene Molly, while washing his mortal remains, straddles him fussing over him such is her dedication to her work. And the wake itself is interesting as Granda’s body is dumped in the wheelie bin and carted around on the stage – a great comic statement about the worth of our mortal remains.
But as one person leaves the world another enters, and Wendy has her baby in a memorable musical scene where she accepts the help of Molly who delivers the child on the living room sofa.
The play ends on an optimistic high as Molly and Mona are enlisted into the business brainwave of Da played by Sean Kearns to run an economy service for births and deaths and he did mention there was a vacant premises he had his eye on. It seems that despite what people have been and are, they can extend themselves more in a new era of hope and prosperity. This is a play about optimism, and about personal and even social change. Marie Jones may just have been looking over the shoulder of a number of senior politicians and paramilitaries as the Troubles moved on and peace was eventually breaking out.
The raw working class humour is second to none. This family affair just has to be seen – Weddins, Weeins and Wakes runs until the 7th July – don’t miss it!
Marie Jones’ plays such as ‘A Night in November‘ and ‘Dancing Shoes – the Story of George Best‘, have travelled the world. She also acted in ‘In the Name of the Father‘ as Sarah Conlon and in Terry George’s ‘Whole Lotta Sole‘ as Ma Flynn.
For tickets: www.lyrictheatre.co.uk : 028 90 381081