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.