‘Laughter, tears and applause since 1895’ reads the proud sign high above the cosy lobby of Belfast’s Grand Opera House and this week’s performance certainly lives up to that billing.
In a hilarious domestic romp, actresses Abigail McGibbon and Katie Tumelty, with terrific comic timing, play the role of two low-paid community care-workers in Belfast who find the sudden death of a patient could land them a much-needed windfall – if they can keep his demise a secret.
But in ‘Fly Me To The Moon,’ a Patrick Talbot Productions and Rathmore Productions presentation, cunning doesn’t come naturally to the likable twosome.
When Francis Shields and Loretta MacKay, a hard-working duo trying to scrape together a living, discover Davy Magee, their 84-year-old ward, has died in the bathroom and that they could benefit from his week’s pension and a winning horse-racing bet he made, they launch a nefarious plan.
On first glance, the idea seems simple enough – a mere matter of not informing anyone of Davey’s passing until they’ve cashed the bet and taken his pension from the ATM. But the pair run into difficulties – a question of morals being just one.
Frazzled and fidgety, the two actresses swing from utter despair that their dastardly deed will be discovered and they’ll be arrested, jailed and never work again to absolute delight that they’ll have enough money to go on a girls-away trip to Barcelona and support their hard-pressed families. Francis, the ring leader, introduces the zany idea with her catchphrase “Just hear me out,” while Loretta is the timid one requiring a little persuading and plenty of reassurance.
Disguising a person’s time of death may seem straightforward but as Francis and Loretta soon find out, it’s not easy. Details such as pretending Davy ate his lunch (smearing shepherd’s pie down his pyjamas) or covering up a bruise (peach melba make-up doesn’t quite cut it) are some of the innovative ideas they concoct. Then there’s the matter of a nosy neighbor across the road to be wary of. Not to mention their own bickering.
‘Fly Me To The Moon,’ is filled with black humor, including a hilarious scene in which one care-worker imitates someone with a paralyzed arm and leg and only one eye in a wheelchair struggling from bed to bathroom.
Yet playwright Marie Jones – who wrote the West End and Broadway hit, ‘Stones in His Pockets’ – doesn’t gloss over the underlying difficulties faced by working-class people that force them to such drastic action as stealing from a corpse to make ends meet. Loretta talks about her long-term unemployed husband saying he even looks physically smaller than he used to be and is overjoyed the ill-gotten money can be used for him to travel as a contestant on a ridiculous TV quiz show, entitled ‘Pointless.’
The care-workers also talk about ‘claims syndrome,’ whereby people pretend to trip over a hole in the road to sue City Hall or pretend whiplash to get money from the bus company. Francis even boasts about the success of her son’s promising ‘film career’ – pirating DVDs and selling them on the street.
With a simple set comprising the kitchen and living-room of a bungalow, McGibbon and Tumelty succeed in portraying two ordinary women finding themselves in an extraordinary situation.
Then, after finding out more about Davey’s life including his idolization of Frank Sinatra (thus the play’s title) and even a picture of him with the legendary singing star, and finally deciding on their plan of action, they find Davy’s will in an envelope.
And what a surprise it turns out to be. To find out what it is, you’ll have to book a seat.