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Play inspired by the Peru Two winning rave reviews

By Chris McCullough

Published 13/08/2016

Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid after being detained at the airport in Lima, Peru
Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid after being detained at the airport in Lima, Peru

The exploits of Co Tyrone drug smuggler Michaella McCollum have hit the stage at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Writer and director Kat Woods, originally from Enniskillen, based her latest work on the story of McCollum and her friend Melissa Reid, who were caught with drugs worth £1.5m at an airport in Peru in 2013.

The play explores the murky, hedonistic world of drug smuggling and its apparent female-isation.

While the show is scheduled to run until August 29, it is already generating rave reviews.

The dodgy duo were caught red-handed in August 2013 with the haul hidden in food packages in their luggage just as they were about to jump on a flight from Lima to Spain.

McCollum and Reid initially claimed they were forced at gunpoint into carrying the drugs for a drugs cartel. However, they later admitted their crimes and pleaded guilty.

Upon their arrest, their families were warned that their daughters could face up to 15 years in prison.

But after a plea bargain, they were convicted in December 2013 and sentenced to six years and eight months in prison.

Both women were then moved from Lima's Virgen de Fatima jail to Santa Monica prison in Chorrillo to begin their sentence.

The prison, which is notorious for its crowded and unsanitary conditions, has been used to house foreign female criminals in the past.

In April, Michaella was released from jail in Peru, but must remain in the South American city for another four years.

The 23-year-old was freed from the Ancon 2 prison under new legislation on early release introduced in the South American country last year.

McCollum later revealed that she wanted to become an anti-narcotics campaigner to prevent people from going through the hell she had seen.

In her first interview since being released from prison, the glamorous 23-year-old appeared on television to claim that she had repented and realised that her attempt to smuggle £1.5m worth of drugs into Europe was wrong.

The Dungannon woman said she had to complete the rest of her sentence on parole in Peru - which is four years - but there was an opportunity to apply for expulsion, which would mean she would be deported back to Northern Ireland.

The play portrays what happened historically while staying fresh for the audience.

Performances from Aoife Lennon and Edith Poor have been said to match the excellence of Woods' script.

One review reported the play was a "fizzing, highly provocative piece that captures the pair in all their human complexity".

It added: "It addresses the credulity of young women brought up on a diet of romantic love, their quest for autonomy and the unforeseen chain of events triggered by just one ill-considered move."

Another said: "Working with very little, Kat Woods has managed to create a very compelling show - one that certainly deserves more attention than it has received at this year's Fringe so far."

The Peru Two will not benefit from the production.

The story features different characters and an altered plot, but the idea and themes for Woods' play were inspired by McCollum and Reid.

Woods recently explained: "I was inspired by their story. I read quite a bit about them because they were engulfed in this media frenzy whenever it broke.

"I had been reading a lot of hate towards the two girls and that really affected me as a person and made me question my own humanity. They were young girls who made a huge mistake - it's not a mistake I would ever make, but it was still a mistake.

"The play looks at drug smuggling, the consequences, the fallout and the time in prison, but it's not a play of their story. I do want to make people think about why they rush in and judge people straight away. We don't know the actual story behind what happened."

Mule has been chosen as the Pick of the Fringe by the Guardian, was the Stage Critics' Choice, and Woods received the prestigious Peggy Ramsey Award for her work this year.

In 2014, her play Belfast Boy won two awards and was named one of the must-see shows out of 3,200 at the festival. Based on the true story of a friend who fled Belfast during the Troubles, it recounts his story as he spoke to a psychologist.

Her last play, Wasted, which looked at the theme of consent, was transferred to New York.

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