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'Sinnead tends to provoke a sense of fan mania ... girls want to be her and fellas want to be with her'

Belfast-based choreographer and director Paula O’Reilly will bring her comic creation Sinnead: One night only to the MAC in Belfast tomorrow and Saturday. She tells Una Brankin why being funny is easy and how she chose dance classes over welly-throwing.

Imagine a Dublin version of Maggie Muff from 50 Shades of Red, White and Blue - one who can sing and dance a bit and who imagines herself a pop sensation - and you have a fair idea what to expect from Sinnead: One night only at the MAC this week.

Sinnead is every bit as rough and raucous as Maggie, the comic creation of Belfast writer Leesa Harker. She has an equally potty mouth, a brash back-street humour, a Love/Hate brogue and dreadful dress sense. And, like Maggie, she's instantly likeable and hilarious.

The brainchild of Belfast-based choreographer and director Paula O'Reilly, the deluded Sinnead's name is spelled with two 'n's, lest anyone confuse her with another Irish singing star.

"She has the ego of Bono, and she thinks she has the body of Britney, the soul of Bob and the voice of Beyonce," explains Paula.

"The MAC show is the last leg of her 'world tour' - it's really stand-up comedy with a six-piece band and a bit of karaoke.

"We have a brass section, and I do covers of songs and change the lyrics. I pick songs that are upbeat because we're here for a good time, not a long time.

"They are all ones that I like listening to myself. I have a knack for squeezing a bit more from them."

Gangsta's Paradise, by Coolio, becomes Hallion's Paradise, when performed by Sinnead, while Macklemore's Downtown becomes an ode to Andytown.

Sinnead also does a rousing version of Turn Back Time by Cher, but she won't be tampering with it because "Cher is untouchable". You get the drift.

"My pop idols growing up were Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, the Spice Girls and Boyzone," says Paula, (31).

"I won my first disco-dancing competition to Kylie's hit, Locomotion.

"I was three then, but the dance lives on and everyone in the village where I grew up does the moves for me every time I come home. And I loved the Spice Girls because of two words: 'girl' and 'power'.

"Sinnead loves late-Nineties and early Noughties pop culture - Adidas tracksuits and HD brows. Samantha Mumba is her main influence - you might have heard of her. She played Maid Marion in a panto I saw when I was 12. I haven't seen anything as impressive since. Except me."

Well-known in theatrical circles as a founding member of award-winning comedy dance theatre company Ponydance, Paula has toured the world performing at some of the most prestigious festivals, including Edinburgh and Melbourne.

She also works regularly with Belfast's innovative new dance theatre company, OfftheRails.

Paula, who is originally from Kildare, has lived in Belfast for five years and loves the city.

"I live right beside the lovely Ormeau Park, which is where I go to look at all the lovely dogs that I can't have because my back garden is an oil tank," she dead-pans. "I've taken to Belfast like a duck to water. I very much consider it home.

"I've even penned a love song to Belfast in the show. It's smaller, quieter and friendlier than Dublin, but don't tell Dublin I said that."

Like most people in showbiz, Paula credits her parents for nurturing the creativity she displayed at a young age and driving her to endless dance classes.

"They are always fighting over who they reckon was responsible for my dancing gene," she says.

"I would say it was my mam - she tore the floor up at my 30th birthday - but in fairness to my dad, he does a mean two-step.

"I attended dance classes in my local town hall from the age of three, and joined the local drama society at seven.

"I kind of had to, as the only other thing that went on in my town was welly-throwing and I didn't have any wellies."

But it's not all laugh-a-minute low-brow satire for the witty Miss O'Reilly. When she's not doing her own shows, Paula works for opera companies as a choreographer and for theatre companies as a movement director and actor.

For the past four seasons, she has been the choreographer and movement director for the prestigious Wexford Festival Opera, through which she worked with renowned English director Stephen Medcalf. Their 2013 production of Cristina, regina di Svezia received the accolades of Best Opera at the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards, and Best Rediscovered Work at the International Opera Awards.

In Belfast, she choreographed and performed in the finale of The BEAT Carnival's Culture Night parade and worked on its St Patrick's Day parade event.

Paula went on to venture into directing and opened a one-woman show, That Moment, as associate director for Pintsized Productions, at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast.

She also works on the Creative Child Programme run by Young At Art. "All of these are funded in some way by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland - their funding is invaluable," Paula stresses.

"I speak from experience, as I have been the lucky recipient of their artist grants previously, which have helped me develop my skills in all areas of my career and to make shows. The Earth without art is just meh!"

The naughty Sinnead character arose from the popular Ponypanto, the annual adult Christmas show at the MAC by the Ponydance theatre company.

Paula, who finds it impossible not to lapse into her alter-ego, explains: "Sinnead has guested at Pony Panto and has built up quite an intense following.

"She seems to provoke a sense of fan mania. Reactions can range from shock to love, disgust to adoration. Girls want to be her. Fellas want to be with her.

"She doesn't have a record deal or a manager, so she has not been able to make the outrageous demands you hear of the jumped-up pups that are calling themselves pop stars making these days.

"Although, it would be nice to have a Winnebago. In fact, I should definitely have a Winnebago, whatever that is. I am Ireland's hottest pop sensation and always will be.

"The likes of Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Little Mix and Selena Gomez, they're good role models as they don't disgrace themselves too often. Some of their lyrics can be a bit choice, but that would be rich coming from me when I play Sinnead. A Sinnead gig is definitely 16-plus."

While her alter-ego is a fan of internet dating, Paula found romance at work, at the MAC, when she ran into Dublin actor Keith Singleton, a dark six-footer who recently appeared in the comedy Madame Geneva at the Lyric Theatre, drawing "the biggest laughs", according to Culture Hub.

"He's in his 30s but likes to think he'd still in his 20s," says Paula. "We met in the green room of the MAC three years ago. He made me a cup of tea that day and he's been making me tea ever since."

Paula's comedy heroines include actress Kathy Burke and stand-up comedienne Sara Pascoe, daughter of Derek Pascoe, vocalist with Seventies pop group Flintlock. Most recently, she's been "blown away" by Luisa Omielan's show, What Would Beyonce Do?, which played at The MAC and is now available on the BBC iPlayer.

"You should totally give it a watch," she recommends.

"I like comedy best when it is ridiculous and very physical. I don't think there are any secrets - you are either funny or you're not. Although everyone is funny when they fall over."

  • Catch Sinnead, Ireland's self-proclaimed hottest pop sensation, at the MAC, tomorrow and Saturday, June 16-17. Tickets from £12.50. To book visit themaclive.com

Here are a few of her favourite things ...

  • Role Model: RuPaul. Her eyebrows are a good size and she’s the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.
  • Song: S Club 7, Never Had a Dream Come True. It is so deep and meaningful.
  • Live performance: Electricity Picnic 2018.
  • Drink: Malibu and milk.
  • Motto: Eyebrows can never be big enough.

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