New Play Cuts Through Welfare Reforms

Entitled by MACHA Productions challenges politicians to face the realities of those propelled into poverty and gives audiences a nightly vote

A new play premiering in Belfast this month is inviting politicians to face issues surrounding Northern Ireland’s welfare reform policies and mitigations, before audiences in attendance are given the chance to have their say.

Entitled by Fionnuala Kennedy and MACHA Productions is set to shine a light on the uncertainty many are experiencing around changes to benefits and the bleak ways in which their lives might and are being affected.

'We’ve created a new piece of theatre to try to show the desperation facing people who are impacted by these cuts that are designed to propel people into extreme poverty and difficulty,' said Kennedy, who is no stranger to using the stage to tackle social injustice. The former Kabosh writer's previous works have encompassed homelessness, racism and homophobia.

'We’ve interviewed people whose benefits will be affected and the terrifying thing is that they aren’t aware how or when or how. People are lost. This causes not only hardship but distress at an already difficult time.'

Running at the MAC from February 14-18 before a short tour through Bangor, Newry and Derry~Londonderry, ticket prices for Entitled are amongst the lowest in Belfast, with a special £5 concession deal is in place to encourage community groups to attend.

'We want to use this piece of theatre to challenge our politicians about what they plan to do,' she added. 'It is our argument that the so-called welfare reform mitigations are not enough, that it is not acceptable for us to pat ourselves on the back because less people will suffer than in the UK. We want to encourage everyone to hold their politicians to account by using their voices and their votes.'

Performances will allow politiicans to express their views and talk about plans for combatting the impacts of cuts, while a nightly referendum will gauge where those in attendance stand.

MACHA Productions began in 2015 as a new outlet for writer Kennedy and co-founder/producer Jo Egan. 'We wanted a name that represented the women of the North of Ireland,' Egan told Culture NI. 'I feel weighed down, as a woman, by decisions that are being made on my behalf,' added Kennedy. 'We were interested in exploring what the stories are about women, about communities and how we can perhaps create new narratives.'

Advice NI will be present at Entitled, offering independent advice before and after the performances. Kevin Higgins is head of policy at Advice NI and was part of the Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group.

'Welfare reform continues to create a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety for many across Northern Ireland,' he said 'We need to understand more about the realities of life for people struggling on social security and we need to understand the profound impact of the welfare changes including harsher benefit sanctions, the reassessment of disability benefits and the freeze in benefit rates on households across Northern Ireland.'

'It is hoped that the free Independent Welfare Changes Helpline (0808 802 0020) will go some way to making the changes to the system less frightening and more manageable for those affected.'

Cast members Bernadette Brown (The People of Gallagher Street), Caroline Curran (50 Shades of Red, White and Blue) and Louise Mathews (Hostel) will be joined on stage by 12 members of MACHA Community Cast, who have received a year and a half of free drama training and come from the Falls Road, Whiterock Road, Shankill Road, North Down, Derry, Dublin, New Zealand and Argentina.

Community cast member Alexander Cambridge said: 'Building a better future starts with seeing to everyone’s need. I’m originally from New Zealand and am delighted to be part of the cultural life of Northern Ireland. Welfare reform affects everyone and the concerns are universal. If we all address the needs of our communities it helps us to all stay together.'

Entitled is at the MAC, Belfast from February 14-18 followed by SPACE, Bangor, February 21, Sean Hollywood Arts Centre, Newry on February 23 and in Derry~Londonderry on February 25 (venue TBC). For more information visit www.machaproductions.com.