Belfast Blues, part of Irish Repertory Theatre’s 2020 Digital Fall Season of Performances on Screen, is a one-woman show written and performed by Geraldine Hughes, directed by Carol Kane, and was filmed at Lyric Theatre, Belfast, in 2019.
To call Hughes’s childhood tumultuous is more than an understatement. Raised with her five brothers and sisters during “The Troubles,” her earliest Belfast memories were of shootings and British soldiers. But she also fills her play with warm, larger than life characters, like her father, Eamon, who was a drinker, a gambler, foul-mouthed and funny; and her mother, Sheila, who once while heavily pregnant (with Geraldine) carried a bomb across a street hidden in a cream buns box.
Hughes’s physical dexterity and vocal prowess brings them to life, and she inhabits each persona with ease. There are hilarious set pieces, like her Holy Communion, culminating not in a “Come to Jesus” moment, but a furious “Fuck you Jesus” moment. The family moves from the slums of Divis Flats to a new house, with indoor plumbing and modern conveniences. This initially sounds grand, except the house is right next to the “peace line” where molotov cocktails and other such projectiles are hurled over the wall into their new yard or in front of their windows. Death of all kinds surround Geraldine, who never feels safe, not with British soldiers bursting into homes and shooting people in the head, or aiming a rifle at a three year-old little boy on the street.
But she has a bit of luck, does Geraldine, and when she is in secondary school an American film company comes to town looking for three Irish girls to be in their movie. Geraldine auditions, and is chosen. She goes to America for a summer, and George, the kind director, is fascinated by her story but not enough to cast her in anything else. However, what she does not know yet is that being cast in that film will prove to be a turning point in her life.
Hughes and Kane do a wonderful job selecting details to add nuance to a scene, for an example, on the day of her father’s funeral, her mother runs around tidying the house while singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” We root for Geraldine, even while knowing she did survive the dreadful era of “The Troubles” in Belfast and this is a testament to Hughes as a writer as well as an actor. I feel fortunate to have shared her journey.