The History of the Peace (accordin’ to my Ma) | Review
Grand Opera House, Belfast • 27 August ’18
By Conor O’Neill
After its phenomenal 2016 success, The History of the Peace (accordin’ to my Ma) returns to the Grand Opera House and to say there have been a few changes is somewhat of an understatement. Yes, again we have Maria Connolly as our protagonist, Karen, your stereotypical proud East Belfast wife and soon to be mum, with her best buddy Stacey never far from the action. And, as co-writers, along with Martin Lynch, Conor Grimes and Alan McKee play a vast selection of characters in this neatly woven tales of Northern Ireland’s history from the IRA’s initial ceasefire in 1994.
Dan Gordon again fills the director’s chair and the only change, apart from bringing the history up to date – a lot has happened since April 2016 – there’s only one change: that being Julie Maxwell replacing Tara Lynne O’Neill as Stacey.
The set is a jumble of five, huge, box letters: namely P, E, A, C and another E. From initial viewing they appear to be the adorned by sections of the Union Flag, or should that be ‘Fleg’? But as they are on their sides it’s hard to make out. All the issues covered in the initial run are covered and stalwart viewers from 2016 could be forgiven that this year’s play is just another run to satisfy the punters with tight-fitting one-liners, some fab slapstick and a few quid in the makers’ pockets. The naysayers couldn’t be further from the truth.
As peace becomes an unbelievable possibility, so too does the possibility of American money. The list of what to do with the yet to arrive dosh is endless. From Big Denise’s desire for a bowling club to Firebell’s boxing club, the much-feared Pineapple’s desire for better equipment for the local Orange Band, someone has to lead this motley crew. And who better than the daughter of a Shipyard shop steward, wife of a Shorts’ worker than our Karen. Ryan is born there’s another on the way, she nearly finished her course and now this.
The action and gags are broken every now and again by BBC news announcements, delivered by Grimes and McKee, bringing the audience on a 20-plus-year journey that simply makes fun of the facts and veers wildly away from any kind of sincere posturing. The Iris and Kirk scene is still here, Drumcree is viewed through binoculars and the ‘fleg protests’ all get an airing. But Arlene and Michelle are now in the firing line, maybe a wrong use of phrasing on a play focused on our messy peace, our lack of action in Stormont gets a thrashing, all washed down by brief selections of Van the Man’s melodies.
The blurb said it was going to be updated, I expected an Ian Paisley Junior joke, Cash for Ash etc. and of course I, nor the rest of the nine hundred and 50 odd paying customers were left wanting, but to fit a gag in about the Primark fire, the smoke was still billowing on my way to the theatre, shows how attentive the writing team and cast really are.
Just a quick note on the latter; Grimes, McKee and Connolly need little introduction, but a special mention is deserved for Julie Maxwell. I’ve had the pleasure of watching her a couple of times, and she was good then, but in front of such a big crowd playing such big characters proves her talent. Her switches from Stacey to Big Denise, the conniving career politician that is Councillor Stephanie McMasters to name a few, are flawless.
This is not a rerun. The History of the Peace (accordin’ to my Ma) plays at the Grand Opera House until Saturday 01 September with 5.30 and 7.30 show on the Saturday. To book tickets ring the box office on 02890 241919 or visit www.goh.co.uk
The play then tours to Coleraine Riverside Theatre, Ballymena’s The Braid, Enniskillen’s Ardhowen, Cookstown’s The Burnavon and finishing Derry’s Millennium Forum on 08 September. For details visit those theatre websites.