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Belfast writer wanted to make sure gay uncle wasn't forgotten

Louise Mathews pens play in tribute to her uncle Anthony.

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Louise Mathews uncle Anthony

Louise Mathews uncle Anthony

Cast members Louise Mathews & Roma Tomelty

Cast members Louise Mathews & Roma Tomelty

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Louise Mathews uncle Anthony

A Northern Irish actress and writer will lay bare the story of her uncle's life as a gay man living in London during the 1980s through an online production to be shown this week.

Described as "explosive and powerful", Immaculate, by Louise Mathews, is based on the true story of her uncle Anthony, who died in tragic circumstances in London in the early 1990s, aged just 49.

The play, which has been four years in the making, is to be premiered this week by the Tinderbox Theatre Company as part of the Feile an Earraigh Festival, which runs from March 12 to 14.

Originally scheduled for the Lyric Theatre last March, it was cancelled because of the pandemic.

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Cast members Louise Mathews & Roma Tomelty

Cast members Louise Mathews & Roma Tomelty

Cast members Louise Mathews & Roma Tomelty

Plans to take it on tour with outdoor productions across Northern Ireland also had to be called off because of lockdown.

Tinderbox and Louise went back to the drawing board to create a new musical digital production of the play, which stars Louise as herself and Rhodri Lewis as her uncle Anthony.

Louise (42), from Belfast, is well-known as an actress, musician and the owner of Time to Shine Drama, an award-winning youth drama group.

She has starred in numerous theatre and TV roles, including playing Maeve in Stacey Gregg's new film Ballywalter, which also stars comedian Patrick Kielty, and the soon-to-be released movie Nowhere Special, which she appeared in with James Norton.

Louise spent four years researching her uncle's life, which she described as "an immense journey of joy, elation and sorrow".

"The production basically looks at one man's life and how he lived on the periphery of society all throughout his life because he was gay," she explained.

"He was born in the 1940s out of wedlock and there was shame in that in those days, so even from birth he had to live with shame.

"When he died after being hit by a bus, I felt that he was going to be lost in time because he had no one to carry on his name. I didn't want that to happen.

"He was an amazing person, so full of life and so funny. When he walked into a room, the whole place lit up.

"He was always dressed immaculately, which is where the name for the production came from. In my child's eyes, he always looked like a movie star."

After Anthony was bullied as a child growing up in Belfast, he decided to move to London.

Louise was horrified to discover how difficult life was for the gay community at the height of the Aids crisis - a period captured in the recent television drama series It's A Sin.

"The more I researched, the more it led me further into misery and shame," she said.

"So many gay men were forced to live in complete isolation or, in many cases, vanish into the periphery of society.

"My uncle worked in bars in London and is believed to have been friends with Peter O'Toole and the gangster Ronnie Knight.

"But that whole side of his life was not shared with his family. It was a secret.

"The last years of his life were during the Aids epidemic. The more I looked into it, the more furious I became because of the way gay people were treated and how little was done about Aids.

"People would have crossed the street to avoid a gay person and it was thought that if they were near one (a gay person), they would catch Aids.

"It was absolutely horrific... the fear that they must all have been living through.

"So many people were beaten up and hundreds of thousands died from Aids."

While there is pathos in the production, it's also an uplifting piece that Louise hopes will have a lasting impact.

"It is heartbreaking too and I hope the music and pay testimony to all those people who went through that in the 1980s and the 1990s and were abandoned by the nation," she said.

"I hope it holds these people up and says, 'It wasn't right. Don't let it happen again'."

Anthony's story is told through Louise's lyrics and music composed by Stuart Robinson.

Patrick J O'Reilly, the director of the Tinderbox Theatre Company, added: "Immaculate is a powerful analysis of our history of inequality and shame.

"It's a celebration of where we are today and a call to action for a future that needs to recognise everyone as equal in our society'.


n Tickets for Immaculate are £9 per device, available from www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/141997001855

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