It’s 25 years since Charabanc Theatre Company burst onto the scene in Belfast, and it’s easy to underestimate the influence the company had on drama in Northern Ireland.
One of the major Irish theatre companies of the 1980s, Charabanc was created by five actresses who were frustrated at the lack of work for — or writing by — women in the theatre.
They approached young playwright Martin Lynch — who was being heralded as the North’s answer to Sean O’Casey after the success of his hard-hitting drama Dockers — and asked him to write a play about the women of the city. He persuaded them to research and gather material about their subjects, and helped them craft a play from their findings.
The result was Lay Up Your Ends, which opened at the Arts Theatre a quarter of a century ago, and launched the careers of Eleanor Methven, Carol Scanlan (Moore), Brenda Winter, Maureen McAuley and Marie Jones.
It was the first of several collaborative works for which Charabanc would become renowned, and attracted audiences which queued the length of Botanic Avenue to secure seats for this must-see show which told the story of the mill-workers of Belfast.
Lay Up Your Ends is set in a linen mill in York Street, where females workers staged a revolutionary strike in 1911. The male-dominated establishment was outraged and eventually quashed the women’s action.
The play is performed by actresses portraying a multitude of characters — and that, along with the rapid dialogue, black humour and sentimental songs, would become a trademark of Charabanc productions. The company gained a reputation for enthusiastic, entertaining plays about ‘ordinary’ women.
Fast forward 25 years, and playwright Martin Lynch continues on his quest to revive some of the most popular Ulster dramas from the recent past. We’ve seen A Night in November back on stage, alongside Lynch’s The Interrogation of Ambrose Fogarty and Marie Jones’ Women on the Verge of HRT.
Lynch once again commandeers the Grand Opera House during the summer season, and is staging shows he knows a home audience will relish seeing once again, and which provide ‘local’ entertainment for holidaymakers who are visiting Belfast
Next month, Lynch’s production company GBL, moves into the the Grand Opera House to stage a revival of Lay Up Your Ends, in which Marie Jones will reprise the role of strike-leader Belle, which she played back in 1983. She’ll be joined by Pauline Hutton, Antoinette Morelli, Tara Lynne O’Neill and Katie Tumelty.
Ian McElhinney directs the drama, which is produced by Martin Lynch —the wheel comes full circle...
Lay Up Your Ends runs at the Grand Opera House from August 5-15, before visiting Enniskillen, Armagh, Omagh and Londonderry.