Belfast Telegraph

My daunting challenge, by 'Michelle & Arlene' star Antoinette Morelli

Pregnant Antoinette to portray DUP leader Foster

By David Young

A Belfast actress is poised to step into Arlene Foster's shoes as she plays the DUP leader in a new play - despite being seven months pregnant.

Antoinette Morelli admitted it will be "nerve-racking" when she takes to the stage as the DUP leader and former First Minister, while Templepatrick's Sarah Lyle will play Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill.

The plotline of Michelle & Arlene remains hush-hush, but it's no secret that it is inspired by Hollywood cult movie Thelma & Louise, according to playwright Rosemary Jenkinson.

With the opening night looming on August 24, rehearsals get under way this week.

Ms Morelli said she was looking forward to getting her teeth into the role of the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA.

"Jeepers! It's a big challenge, I have to say," she told the Belfast Telegraph. "It's exciting - but also a wee bit nerve-racking! She's such a well-known figure and I have to do the role justice."

Born and bred in Belfast, Antoinette (42) lived in New York for three years before returning to Northern Ireland, where she studied drama at Queen's University. She's just finished performing in a show at the Lyric Theatre called Here We Lie.

Asked how she planned to approach the role, Antoinette said: "I'm going to have to do a lot of research. We all know a little about Arlene from the TV, but I think I will need to go a little bit more into her private life, do a bit of digging.

"The way I would normally approach this is by watching her, watching how she behaves when she's interviewed, her physicality, that sort of thing. Her tone of voice.

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A promotional image for the play

"It's incredibly brave, I think, for Accidental Theatre company to put the play on. There's been nothing like it. I'm really looking forward to the role - it's going to be great fun."

Antoinette is seven months pregnant with her second child, but she's convinced that this won't stop her doing justice to Mrs Foster, even though there will be dancing.

"While it's very serious in parts, it's also very funny in others," she revealed. "The audience is in for a treat."

It's not the first time actresses Antoinette and Sarah have appeared on stage together.

"Believe it or not, many years ago I played Sarah's mother in a play in Belfast Opera House called A Happy Medium, in which John Lenihan (May McFettridge) also starred," said Antoinette.

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Sarah Lyle

"That was quite a few years ago, so I'm really looking forward to working with Sarah again - she's lovely."

The pace of preparation for the play is deliberately frantic to keep the production as fresh and topical as possible, writer Rosemary Jenkinson said. Rehearsals start at the end of this week, so Antoinette and her co-star have only a few days to do their research, and begin to inhabit the characters of Northern Ireland's two most influential political women.

Michelle & Arlene 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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