When they were little, Maggie Muff and her friend Sally Anne used to play a game with the telephone book where they’d phone a number, leave a message and put the phone down, for instance, a plumbing firm: “Are you a plumber ? Well Mister, my Fallopian tube has bust can you help me?” or they’d ring someone called Harry: “Is that Harry? Is Tom and Dick there?” Simple pleasures of youth. But the girls grew up and their games became more physical and were with boys.
In Dirty Dancin in le Shebeen, Leesa Harker has captured the characters brilliantly and Caroline Curran acts them out in a remarkable way.
We see life through the eyes of Maggie Muff, a Belfast girl with a foul mouth and a big heart. When her friend Sally Anne is left broken hearted after her lover Egor is deported back to Russia, Maggie decides to organise a party for her in the Shebeen and the theme will be the film ‘Dirty Dancing’. But the antics and the tribulations Maggie goes through as she organises the surprise has the audience in stitches.
She’s also inventive, she plans on making strawberry daiquiris but when the Lord Mayor visits the market and buys all the strawberries, she substitutes melons and names the cocktail Buckie ár lá.
The running gag is Anthony, big and brawny, her dream of love and wonderful sex, but it’s a huge disappointment to her when Anthony turns out to be gay and she’s mortified that she’d ‘flashed ma baps at him an all’.
Although Maggie Muff is a tough cookie and you think she can cope with anything, there’s a vulnerable side to her; when everyone else seems to have a partner but her, old friend Billy Scribbins gives her a hug and she says it’s like having hot toast with real butter when your starving, and you know just what she means. Billy’s lovely but doesn’t do it for her although her friend encourages her – “After all.” she says, “if you get someone else he might turn out to be a serial killer so better the dick you know than the dick you don’t know.”
Are you getting the drift of the language and the double entendre? But, like Frank Carson, it’s the way Maggie Muff tells them!
Without doubt this is a very funny production, a big high heel shoe with a red sole and leopard spot trim, a heart and a glitter ball is the minimal set, Maggie wears a teeshirt with FAME written across it, silver hot pants and black lace leggings. She’s brash, bawdy and street wise, she knows where to buy a blue badge for a fiver on the Crumlin Road, she has amorous adventures with a bottle of Bucky and a basket of Scotch eggs in Woodvale Park and most of the time life is beezer, sometimes it’s scunderballs and often it’s Holy Beyoncé!
Leesa Harker has an ear for the Belfast gift of the gab and uses it brilliantly in her plays and Caroline Curran acts out the characters with great skill and timing but be sure, this is no gentle night out to the theatre, even the front cover of the programme carries a warning – “This production contains strong language and scenes of an adult nature” It sure has! While it’s not the usual Opera House offering, there was a standing ovation on Tuesday evening, just as there had been for Swan Lake the previous week, it shows how the Opera House has become a theatre of great variety and that has to be applauded; certainly there was applause aplenty for Leesa’s latest play.
When the dancing in le Shebeen is over and the two friends make their way home, Maggie asks: “A good night chum?” and the answer is “The best. The absolute best.” And the audience agreed.
Review by Anne Hailes
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