Belfast Telegraph

Corrie’s Northern Ireland star Kerri returns home for role in musical about city’s dancehall of romance

By Ivan Little

Belfast's newest Coronation Street recruit is paying a flying visit home at the weekend to help revive memories of a Belfast dance hall and an era she's too young to remember.

Kerri Quinn is in the cast of a new play with music about the Floral Hall at Bellevue, which is now a shadow of its glory days.

The actress, who started filming for Corrie in Manchester several weeks ago, has a central role in Floral Nights, which is based on an idea by the daughter of a top Belfast showband singer.

Antoinette Morelli's dad Tony, who died six years ago, fronted The Witnesses, who in 1969 entertained Elvis Presley in the audience at a hotel in The Bahamas where the King was holidaying.

Antoinette had been toying with the idea of a show about the showband era for 13 years.

She eventually approached playwright Brenda Winter Palmer, who turned out to be the perfect choice for this labour of love.

Brenda's uncle Mickey Connolly spent years helping promoter Jim Aiken organise concerts and dances, while her mother was a cloakroom attendant at the old Orpheus dancehall.

Brenda, a founder member of the Charabanc Theatre Company in the 1980s, uses live music from the Fifties and Sixties to take audiences back to the glory days of the Floral Hall.

The 1930s art deco dancehall was a victim of the Troubles and closed in April 1972.

A series of campaigns for the restoration of the listed building have been unsuccessful. But earlier this year Liverpool-based Signature Living Group submitted a £5m proposal to turn it into an entertainment venue.

Brenda's play isn't misty-eyed.

She said: "As a child I was thrilled by the beehives and petticoats as I watched my young aunts getting ready for dances at places like the Orpheus or the Boom Boom Rooms.

"But my research revealed astounding stories of women left behind running homes and raising kids while their musician husbands travelled Ireland and beyond being treated like superstars."

Antoinette, who is in the cast of Floral Nights, says the play isn't just about her parents.

"But our family's experience is definitely in there, along with the experiences of all the families and women I grew up around," she explained.

"People used to think it was a very glamorous lifestyle, but the truth couldn't have been further from what my mum was having to cope with at home, rearing us children on her own."

The storyline revolves around two Belfast sisters remembering the night they first met their husbands at the Floral Hall.

Antoinette said: "Sparks fly in the way that only happens between two proper Belfast women. Brenda has done an amazing job and we can't wait to bring this all to life."

The musical gets its first public outing at noon on Sunday as a rehearsed reading with live music in the Strand Arts Centre in east Belfast. Before the reading, part of the EastSide Arts Festival, evergreen singer Muriel Day, who sang with The Dave Glover Showband and was the first woman to represent Ireland in the Eurovision song contest in 1969, will perform in the foyer.

"Muriel was a great help in preparing the play," said Brenda. "She told us what it was like for a woman performer in the showband days. Women struggled to get by."

Brenda and Antoinette are hoping that their show will be the springboard for a full-blown production in the future.

Belfast Telegraph

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