Flesh & Blood Women

We somehow* have ended up with two reviews of the trio of plays that make up Flesh & Blood Women. Rather than choosing between them and either going to waste, we are publishing both.

Four actors, one director, and a dozen-odd production crewers making it all happen. A standard evening at the theatre? Well, yes – except that for Flesh and Blood Women, a trilogy of new plays staged by Martin Lynch’s Green Shoot company, all of those involved are women.

The writers are too, and the perspectives they provide on Northern Ireland’s recent history are fascinatingly different from more familiar, male-dominated narratives.

Brenda Murphy’s Two Sore Legs, for instance, tells the story of Bridget, a Belfast mother who had eleven children, six of them by a married man who lived around the corner. Maria Connolly’s performance is by turns sassy, brassy, humorous, and irrepressibly optimistic. On paper Bridget sounds like an exploited victim. Her own attitude is more nuanced: she genuinely loved the errant, absent father, had happiness with him, and makes you feel it.

A dominant central performance also propels Picking Up Worms, by ex-PUP leader Dawn Purvis. Kerri Quinn, as the perpetually animated Lisa, is the chatty, occasionally bratty young Belfast girl to the letter. The action, including bleaker episodes relating to the Troubles, is seen through a child’s eyes, and celebrates the indomitable spirit that kept the city’s women going through a dreadful era.

Jo Egan’s Sweeties is darker, and Quinn is again outstanding in the starkly contrasting role of a woman psychologically decimated by experiences of sexual abuse in her childhood. There’s mordant humour here too, but of a blacker variety.

Noreen Kershaw’s direction is physically inventive, and unfailingly sympathetic to the writers. These plays are by women, but emphatically not only for women: they bubble with freshness, wit and energy, and deserve the widest possible audience for the run in Belfast, then on tour in Omagh, Limavady, Downpatrick and Coalisland.

Terry Blain


Flesh and Blood Women, Martin Lynch’s most recent offering, is an all-female production about the feminine condition in Northern Ireland. With the exception of Lynch this really is women only, from crew to actors and director to writers there ain’t a bloke amongst them, even if there is one calling the shots.

It certainly sounded like an interesting idea from the offing, especially considering the playwrights that Green Shoot (Lynch’s production company) commissioned; Dawn Purvis, the ex-PUP leader who previously had never put pen to paper for dramatic purposes. Purvis’ piece is kept company by a play from ex-republican prisoner turned poet and playwright, Brenda Murphy. And finally, the experienced writer and director Jo Egan, a more obvious choice, some might say, as both a skilled dramaturg and the partner of Lynch.

The 3 plays take place in the same evening in the Grand Opera House’s Baby Grand studio. First up was Murphy’s monologue Two Sore Legs.

A coffin was marched on stage to the soundtrack of rain pelting down. One’s heart sank slightly at the sight, a natural human reaction perhaps. However, I was delighted to see the gifted comedian Maria Connolly in the role of Murphy’s mother Bridget, recounting scenes from her interesting but difficult life. Connolly played all roles, and used the detailed, compelling and humorous script, and her own generous catalogue of expressions and voices, to render the entire human experience in less than an hour.

If it didn’t seem so effortlessly natural to her, you might say it was a tour de force. I often find that talking heads are either totally gripping or incredibly uncomfortable, this was without doubt the former.

Next came Purvis’ debut Picking Up Worms, through which she has given voice to issues and subjects that interest and concern her, and it is all the better for the passionate writing.

At all times throughout the evening the stage was used with imagination and ingenuity, but the set seemed made for this piece.

Kerri Quinn took the part of the slightly mystified, desperate-to-grow-up child of the 1970s. The direction and script struck a chord; who doesn’t remember being told to go to bed before dark, sitting on the stairs listening to news theme music, gazing out of windows and wondering what on earth adults were on about.

Purvis skilfully shows us nothing except that which could be spied through a child’s lens. A mention must also be given to the brilliant use of puppets and the nifty stage business that created a burning house.

Lastly came Jo Egan’s Sweeties which was, without wishing to ruin the play for anyone, a study on abuse, memory and working-class childhood. Kerri Quinn, excellent for a second time in one evening, was at the helm as a damaged young woman battling with her demons. What I liked most about the piece was the language; it switched from the colloquial idiosyncrasies of a sibling relationship to harsh and undeniable truth.

The audience were lulled into childhood recollections and then dragged from the sweet to sour with just a few gruesomely juxtaposed words.

If I had one criticism of Flesh and Blood Women it would be the running order; I would have preferred to have the somewhat grim Sweeties cushioned in-between the two lighter pieces and gone out in to the fresh evening air on a high rather than with the harrowing words, “one in four of us are abused”, ringing in my ears.

However, my advice would be to make time for this production; it’s an extensive, entertaining and challenging evening of theatre. Moreover, the quality and professionalism on display – the writing, acting, direction, lighting and sound – is second to none; it shows just what a bunch of flesh and blood women can manage when they’re left to it.

Eve Rosato

Flesh & Blood Women is playing now at the Grand Opera House and runs until 24 May.

*It's the editors fault

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