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Belfast performer keen to bring one-man musical to his home city

Gay star’s semi-autobiographical play proves big hit in Manchester


Drew Dillon has appeared in Hollyoaks and in the West End

Drew Dillon has appeared in Hollyoaks and in the West End

Drew Dillon has appeared in Hollyoaks and in the West End

A performer whose semi-autobiographical musical about a young gay man navigating life in Belfast was recently staged at an English theatre has said he would love to bring the show to a home audience.

Actor, writer and composer Drew Dillon performed the one-man production at The Lowry Theatre in Manchester in June.

The moving one-and-a-half-hour production called 34 combines a poetic narrative with pop music.

A former Hollyoaks actor, he has also appeared in the West End.

Following its staging at The Lowry, 34 streamed online for several weeks.

It is back this weekend to mark Belfast Pride on the Stream.Theatre platform until midnight on Sunday.

Drew, who moved to London when he was 18 to study drama at Mountview Academy, wrote the songs for the musical over a number of years following pivotal moments in his life.

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He intended to record and release an album of the songs, but when Covid hit he decided to pull them together for a one-man show and started to write the narrative in poetry form.

Next week he will begin to record the pop album, and is also in talks to tour the musical.

One of the first places he would love to stage it is in his native Belfast.

“I wrote some songs here and there when various things happened, then when lockdown restrictions were introduced I was stuck in my flat with my piano, so decided to pull it all together in a one-man show,” he explained.

“I managed to raise money through Kickstarter to record an album, but then Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment heard about the show and said she would try and get me a venue for it.

“I had been due to stage it in Camden, but it was cancelled there. Katy got me into The Lowry instead, which was brilliant.

“I wrote the music and words for 34 and performed it myself with 50 people in the audience watching me. I hadn’t been on a stage since the pandemic began and was pretty nervous, but it went really well. Now we’re hoping to tour it and I would really love to bring it home to Belfast.”

The story centres on a gay man on the eve of his 34th birthday as he tackles life and love in Belfast while wrestling with the politics, relationships and the pull of the place he calls home.

While much of the story is inspired by Drew’s own life, some of its aspects are fictional. But, much like the character, Drew shares a complicated relationship with the place he comes from.

“I have an ongoing battling relationship with Northern Ireland,” he said. “I left it at 18 to study drama and although I love it and have this connection to it, sometimes it makes me despair.

“I finish the show with the date that abortion rights and equal marriage were introduced. But while we celebrated those rights, things haven’t gone the way we had hoped for.

“Abortion is still not implemented, and the DUP called for the ‘conscience clause’. There’s still some way to go.”

Although the humour, language and political references pertain to this place, Drew said the audience in Manchester and his English friends who have watched it online understood and enjoyed it.

He said many had not been aware of the fight for equality within the LGBTQ community, presuming they had the same rights as across the water.

“A lot of people I know in London had no idea about the struggles of LGBTQ people in Northern Ireland and thought we had all moved forward at the same time,” he said.

“In the last few years the issue of Brexit has meant that people are looking more closely at what’s going on over here and they realise now that things are very different in Northern Ireland.

“I think they found the musical very moving and understand the situation so much better now.”

The show, which was directed by local woman Bronagh Lagan, is one of several musicals Drew has written, but it’s the first of his own he has acted in.

Other plays the 33-year-old has appeared in include War Horse, The Play That Goes Wrong and The Playboy of The Western World at The Old Vic, where he was understudy to the lead.

As well as playing Macca in Hollyoaks, Drew also popped up in Doctors, The Hollow Crown, Borgia, and most recently in Sir Kenneth Branagh’s feature film Belfast, due for release this November.

“It’s a small part in Belfast, but to be involved in a Branagh film and one that is so personal to him was very special,” he said.

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