Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill hit the road in new play

By David Young

Move over Thelma and Louise - and get ready for Michelle O'Neill and Arlene Foster as you've never seen them before.

The DUP and Sinn Fein leaders are set to be the stars in a new play by Northern Ireland writer Rosemary Jenkinson, which opens in Belfast in three weeks' time.

Inspired by the hit Hollywood movie featuring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, the new play, called Rapid Response: Michelle and Arlene, explores Northern Ireland's fast-moving political landscape though the contrasting characters of its two most powerful women.

"Isn't it a great metaphor for Northern Ireland politics - Michelle and Arlene together in a car that's heading for the edge of a cliff?" writer Rosemary told the Belfast Telegraph last night.

"They're two incredibly strong-willed and strong-minded women - almost like an immovable object meeting an irresistible force - on both sides. And I wanted to explore that."

Setting the scene, Rosemary said: "Michelle and Arlene are going on holiday and they bump into each other - and a connection happens.

"Two very different people from opposite sides - and yet they find out they've something in common..."

Teasingly, Rosemary noted that in real life, Michelle and Arlene promised to keep in touch over the summer.

"In the play, they end up having closer contact than they ever expected," she added.

The play was written quickly to keep it fresh and topical, according to author Rosemary. "Usually, plays take ages to reach the stage - and if they are about contemporary politics, much of their freshness and topicality has drained away by the time the curtain goes up for the first time," she said.

"This play is about reflecting everything that's happening right now. It's going to be quite rough and raw, dark and funny, thought-provoking and provocative."

Rosemary has just completed the second draft of Rapid Response: Michelle and Arlene, but she's ready to update the script in response to news up to the very last minute.

"If something astonishing happens, I'll rewrite and add it in," she vowed.

But time is getting tight as the August 24 opening date looms.

Next up is the casting of the two star roles - and then a short period for rehearsals

"Casting is going to be crucial," Rosemary said. "We're going to need two very strong actresses to play those roles."

The award-winning playwright is hoping both Arlene and Michelle will come to see her new production.

"I'd love them to be at the first night," she explained. "They've both been invited, but I doubt if they will come. I'd love to them to be there."

Rapid Response: Michelle and Arlene is directed by Richard Lavery and will premiere on August 24 at the Accidental Theatre at 12-13 Shaftesbury Square, Belfast. Tickets start at £8 and can be booked via the website at: https://accidentaltheatre.co.uk/box-office/rapid-response

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