Michelle & Arlene: Ulster Says Snow … making political satire out of stasis (Accidental Theatre, 6/7/13 December)

The fourth in the series of Michelle and Arlene satirical plays – Ulster Says Snow! – is due to hit the stage of Accidental Theatre in Belfast’s Shaftesbury Square next week. Running alongside the Human Rights Festival, Rosemary Jenkinson hopes that this new show can explore many different rights, rather than just being a narrow snapshot of local politics. The setup for this episode is …

“With Brexit negotiations hotting up and fundamental rights on the chopping block, Arlene’s left in the cold by Michelle’s brand new womance with Mary Lou, but could a man from Brazil provide them with a wild, unforgettable getaway and an answer to all their problems?

“The premise is that while we know that MLA pay has been cut, there’s another cut out of the blue just before Christmas and Michelle and Arlene have no money. So they have to think what sort of alternative careers they could adopt. How could they make money, because – particularly with the corruption we’ve had – we feel that our politicians are really grasping for money right now.”

Rosemary admits that it’s harder to fit a story around current events because politics is fast-moving at the moment and more internationally focused.

“I tried not to make it too Brexit-oriented in case I would get hamstrung by something changing in the real world as events are going mad and impossible to predict at the moment!”

Mary-Frances Doherty and Maria Connolly are reprising their roles as Michelle and Arlene, with Richard Lavery back at the helm directing. Does it feel good to be back with those same characters and actors?

“Two women in charge of our politics is really interesting and never in our past has that ever happened. It’s amazing and I want to celebrate that.

“I love it because I can anticipate exactly what the actors are going to say, every movement they’ll make in the show. As a playwright it gives you all the more pleasure when you see it all come to light. You’ve imagined it beforehand and it’s beautiful because they really deliver the lines so well. There’s such a quick chemistry between Mary-Frances and Maria and so much fun.”

As long as you know who Michelle and Arlene are – and even then, you’ll catch up quickly – there’s no need to have seen any of the previous three episodes of their adventures.

The Michelle & Arlene series of plays serve are ‘rapid response’, written with a finger on the pulse of the news and political events. Rosemary has claimed she’ll keep making these plays as long as the deadlock remains and the plays get all the more ludicrous as Stormont remains empty.

What drives her to keep writing this kind of material?

“For me, the impetus is born out of frustration with the theatre scene and how it doesn’t react quickly to politics and things that matter to people, like Stormont not being up and running and Brexit. So while it may just be Michelle and Arlene on stage, they’re just the vehicle for looking at the state of wider politics.”

Can art and, in this case, a play change society? Is its message for politicians or the public who vote for politicians?

“Both equally. The whole idea is to raise consciousness and put politics at the forefront, to avoid sweeping it under the carpet as we are very prone to do in this country, and just confront the fact again that they’re not going in [to the Assembly and the Executive] and remind people what we’re missing out on and what our politicians should be doing.”

Tickets are available for Michelle & Arlene: Ulster Says Snow at Accidental Theatre on Thursday 6, Friday 7, Thursday 13 December. The venue’s book bar opens half an hour before the show starts at 8pm sharp.

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