Belfast Telegraph

Brace yourself... Belfast's 'tart with a heart' Maggie returns in new play full of fruity humour

BY AMANDA FERGUSON

She shot to fame with a typically Norn Iron outlook on life – and now Maggie Muff is back.

But not only has Maggie brought the amusing thoughts of a Belfast woman to an international audience, she's also getting women out to the theatre who wouldn't normally go.

Leesa Harker (below), the north Belfast writer behind a series of hit comedy books which spawned the character of 'tart with a heart' Maggie, is embarking on a campaign to make the theatre accessible to everyone.

The 36-year-old author and playwright told the Belfast Telegraph when 50 Shades Of Red, White And Blue – her 'Norn Iron' parody of the Fifty Shades Of Grey erotic novel – hit stages across the province, she soon established that many of the people in the audience were what she calls "theatre virgins".

Leesa said: "I realised quite quickly after 50 Shades Of Red, White And Blue that a high percentage of the audience had never been to the theatre before seeing my play.

"I asked people why they were 'theatre virgins' and got responses such as 'theatre is not for the working-class' and 'it's all one-sided political plays' and 'there's nothing for young people'.

"I realised I had the potential to make theatre more accessible to those people who felt excluded and so I decided to set up my own production company."

The inspiring single mother-of-two has had huge success since she became an internet sensation in 2012 when her saucy and very funny Fifty Shades Of Red, White And Blue online musings about character Maggie Muff went viral.

The Facebook posts were quickly turned into a book, and then a play, which has since been performed across the UK, Ireland and Australia, with discussions under way for further productions in Spain, Israel and The Netherlands.

Leesa says she decided to set up Red Brick Road Productions as she spotted a gap in the market for a "young dynamic company to produce plays for a mixed audience".

Now with the help of director Andrea Montgomery its first production, Dirty Dancin' In Le Shebeen – the sequel to 50 Shades Of Red, White And Blue, will be touring Northern Ireland in April.

The tour kicks off at the Grand Opera House on April 7 for a two-week run – an honour usually preserved for panto or West End shows. It then takes in venues in Londonderry, Armagh, Lisburn and Limavady, before finishing at Theatre At The Mill in Newtownabbey.

Leesa said: "Now that Maggie Muff has been all over the world with my first play, I'm so excited to be bringing her back home to Belfast where it all began."

East Belfast actress Caroline Curran is back in action as Maggie. She played her in the original stage production.

The storyline sees Maggie help her best friend, Big Sally-Ann, re-enact the famous last dance from the movie Dirty Dancing in her friend's local shebeen.

Leesa warned the production is for "adults only".

She said: "Dirty Dancin' In Le Shebeen is for adults only – young, old and all those in between: males, females and those not quite sure, Prods, Greeners, Buddhists and Hare Krishnas.

"Sense of humour and a love for all things Norn Iron are a must," she added.

BACKGROUND

Maggie Muff began life as a parody character described as a 'Belfast tart with a heart'. She was the main character in Leesa Harker's 50 Shades Of Red, White And Blue, a comedy 'Norn Iron' version of the Fifty Shades Of Grey erotic novel. Maggie won the hearts of thousands of fans with her distinct Belfast approach to life and interesting vocabulary. The book later became a stage show with Caroline Curran breathing life into Maggie. Now Maggie is back on stage in Harker's sequel, Dirty Dancin' In Le Shebeen.

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