Review: Abomination: a DUP Opera – The Irish News

CONOR Mitchell cannot have anticipated that his brilliant new work, Abomination: a DUP Opera, would premiere at the Lyric Theatre during a general election campaign, but the timing is delicious.

Not, naturally, from the dominant unionist party’s point of view. Mr Mitchell has taken as his starting point Iris Robinson’s infamous Nolan Show interview, in which she described homosexuality as a curable abomination, and extended it to a 70-minute dissection of the bible-based bigotry.

Musically, it is very clever. Rebecca Caine’s soprano line as Mrs Robinson sounds confident as she starts mouthing her homophobic comments, but the score exposes her unreliability.

In rising intervals she declares these practices should be banned. But after hearing about the homophobic attack on a young man left for dead, sings an apologetic aria. However her repeated line about being “very sorry” is undermined by the melismatic, decorative setting. It demolishes her as totally as Stephen Nolan’s forensic questioning. The orchestra’s unease echoes that of the audience.

It still seems incredible the DUP were talking about sodomy in 2008 and 2009 but there’s a clear lineage going back to the Rev Ian Paisley, whose portrait we see projected like some biblical dictator. In fact, in one scene the besuited chorus – looking professional, Blairite and cloned – seem quite excited by the misdemeanours they are endlessly denouncing. This reaches its denouement later in an uber-camp party.

It is also amazing that Iris Robinson, an elected MLA representing the whole community, was chatting on Radio Ulster a decade ago about her pet psychiatrist who could sort these misguided men out. There was a laugh as we read her assurances that many had got married and started families. Interestingly, one of the entourage ends up in theatrical boots and OTT orange wig.

The non-sequential narrative delivered by the Belfast Ensemble at the launch of the Outburst Queer Arts Festival 2019 manages to be both humorous and shocking. We see the DUP front bench of the time laughing at something while we hear about the repercussions of their scandalous views.

Stephen Nolan, a persistent and impressive Tony Flynn, does the non-musical questioning well. He returns time and again to Mrs Robinson’s statement about understanding how homosexuals feel.

Her story continues with a prayerful falling to a knees, then the hypocritical episode. Most of the DUP segment of Ulster went on saying No while Iris Robinson enjoyed an affair with twenty-something Kirk McCambley and was presumably saying Yes, yes, yes. This was subtly done with a piece of amorous choreography by angelic dancer Richard Chappell who shares her bed.

The party that recently came to prominence in Westminster as the Conservative Party’s prop might now well relate to operas about betrayal, say Don Carlos. This one won’t please them, but gives a context to some of their core beliefs. And as Conor Mitchell says, opera can tackle hard subjects.

:: Abomination runs until Sunday, November 10, www.lyrictheatre.co.uk

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