The Blues of the title refer not just to Geraldine Hughes' childhood memories of Catholic Belfast in the 1970s and 1980s, but also the bright blue eyes that helped win her a role in a 1984 TV movie inspired by 'The Troubles'. Curiously, though, this once-in-a-lifetime experience takes up only a small portion of a one-woman show more interested in the everyday tribulations of growing up in an occupied war zone.
Hughes was introduced to the sectarian divide at a very early age: her mother Sheila was carrying her in her womb when she was asked to smuggle an IRA bomb under the nose of a young British squaddie. It's one of many darkly humorous anecdotes the author re-enacts in a spirited, hour-long performance that sees her play over 20 different characters.
Other stories involve her mother's solo dash to the hospital to give birth, Geraldine's first Holy Communion ("It's official - I'm married to Christ!") and the appalling squalor she and her five siblings suffered in the notorious Divis Flats. Later her delight at moving into a new home is tempered by its location next to the so-called 'Peace Line' and the daily barrage of stones from her Protestant neighbours.
Ask anyone who grew up in that time and place and you will hear many such stories, and Hughes' comedic vigour and chameleon abilities don't dispel the feeling we've heard a lot of this before. Fortunately our host has an ace up her sleeve: being chosen to appear in the US "filim" Children in the Crossfire. Hughes vividly recalls turning up at the audition and her first meeting with its avuncular director George Schaefer. Later, after the film is made and she returns home, she relives the taunting "movie star" abuse she received at the hands of her classmates.
What's missing - and it's a conspicuous omission - is the shooting of the film itself. What was it like making a movie in America? How long was she out there? And was she ever tempted to stay? Tantalising snippets projected on the back wall are an unsatisfying substitute for answers. After all, how many Catholic kids get plucked from obscurity and whisked off to Tinseltown? Hughes' decision to downplay the most interesting part of her history is at best baffling, at worst perverse.
Still, Belfast Blues remains an accomplished, witty and moving piece from a compelling and vivacious talent.
- Neil Smith