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Socially distanced theatre performance brings tales of Hollywood stars to Belfast City Hospital

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Pictured outside the Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital is Maria Connolly as Judy Garland, Christina Nelson as Bette Midler, Roisin Gallagher as Marilyn Monroe and  musician Richard Clements. Picture by Brian Morrison

Pictured outside the Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital is Maria Connolly as Judy Garland, Christina Nelson as Bette Midler, Roisin Gallagher as Marilyn Monroe and musician Richard Clements. Picture by Brian Morrison

Pictured outside the Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital is Maria Connolly as Judy Garland, Christina Nelson as Bette Midler, Roisin Gallagher as Marilyn Monroe and musician Richard Clements. Picture by Brian Morrison

A live theatre performance telling the stories of Hollywood stars Marilyn Monroe, Bette Midler and Judy Garland has this week been touring care homes and hospitals bringing a live theatre performance right to their door.

On Thursday, patients and staff at Belfast City Hospital were the latest to be treated to 50-minute musical theatre piece, The Broads.

Rehearsals took place via video conferencing platform Zoom and with no conventional stage or set, hospital entrances, corridors and care homes have provided the backdrop and socially-distanced audiences for the show.

The Broads recently received funding through the Arts Council’s Artists Emergency Programme, set up to support the work of artists and performers whose income has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

It is one of over 200 projects to have been awarded funding through the emergency scheme, thanks to investment of up to £575,000 from the Department of Communities and National Lottery.

The show’s creator Maria Connolly said the idea to write a play specifically for people living in isolation originally came to her a few years ago.

“I remember watching a news programme about elderly people who are suffering desperately from isolation," she said.

"These people can go for months without any human interaction and I wanted to do something to break that loneliness. It is incredible that I have received funding to do the show during this horrific pandemic.”

This week, over 500 people will see the show, with slots booking up quickly when the project was announced.

Writer Maria also stars in the play as Judy Garland, alongside respected actresses Christina Nelson as Bette Midler, Roisin Gallagher as Marilyn Monroe with live music from Richard Clements.

Belfast-based actress and playwright Maria said it had been a "hugely uplifting" experience.

“The response this week has been incredible. We’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by how well the play has been received. Working with Belfast Trust we’ve been touring hospitals this week as well as assisted living facilities in Belfast, Bangor, Dundonald and Carrickfergus.

"It’s been hugely uplifting. This is a time when the world desperately needs artists to bring hope, colour and change into the world. I am so grateful we are getting to do this play now and my hope is that others will see the positive impact this project has had, that they’ll support artists and see the benefit that art can bring.”

Noirin McKinney, Director of Arts Development, Arts Council of Northern Ireland added: “Over the last three months I think so many of us have missed being able to get out and experience a live arts event.

"It’s been fantastic to see a brand new theatre piece today, out on the road, reaching new audiences, hopefully helping to bring some joy to their day and instilling that sense of personal wellbeing that only the arts can bring.

“Like many other sectors of society, our creative community has been badly hit by the pandemic but it is our hope that as a result of the Artists Emergency Programme communities across Northern Ireland will once again be able to able to come together to savour new performances, new writing, new experiences and once again celebrate the uplifting power of the arts supported by National Lottery Players and National Lottery funding.”

Belfast Telegraph