A crackling Belfast comedy to cure the winter blues

Christina Nelson talks about the hilarity of hair salons and sharing the spotlight while still playing half the cast in the follow-up to I'll Tell My Ma. Leave your seasonal worries and woes at the door...

If you’re suffering from the January blues then what better way to lighten the mood and brighten up the month than a trip to Belfast for a dose of homegrown comedy.

Following the success of the hilarious hit play, I'll Tell My Ma, by Patricia Gormley, the sequel – Is That Too Hot? - is rolling into the MAC on January 23 (running until February 10). Poised to be just as funny as the first instalment, audiences can catch up with all their favourite characters from I'll Tell My Ma, as well as meeting a few new names.

Having recently played the famous White Rabbit in the Lyric Theatre’s Alice the Musical, Christina Nelson is reprising the multiple roles from what was previously a one-woman performance. This time around, however, she’s joined by Roisin Gallagher, who plays Olive, the owner of the hairdressing salon where all the action takes place.

'You don’t have to have seen the first play to enjoy this one at all,' says Nelson. 'It’s quite a standalone piece but there are, of course, some characters from I'll Tell My Ma in this one too.

'I play everybody’s favourite, Granny Eileen. She’s a wee woman who lives in the fold and is just like everybody’s granny. She has no filter and says exactly what she thinks. She’s very funny and has a bit of a rude mouth – but it’s not too bad… She has lots of heart.

'Her granddaughter is Chelsea Marie, who works on the airlines as a ‘trolly dolly’ and is delighted with herself because she had a child when she was young and now the world is her oyster. She’s getting married in this one so there might just be a fabulous dress!'

Nelson will also bring to life a new character called Mrs Hughes, another resident from the fold who looks set to liven things up even further. A feisty character who thinks herself better than everyone else, she might nevertheless surprise audiences, says Nelson.

'She has her own dark secrets, which unfold throughout the play, and she just might not be as bad as you think,' she says. 'People’s favourite character is Granny Eileen, but I think they’re going to quite like Mrs Hughes in the end. You won’t want to like her, but you can’t help but like her!'

Nelson also plays Jolene, the salon trainee, and admits that it’s a bit of a challenge to play so many different characters, with each requiring a very quick costume change during the performance. There are also rather a lot of lines to learn, and Nelson has to remember the quirks and foibles which make each character different as she switches from one to the next.

'It’s not easy at all playing so many different characters,' she says. 'Physically, you have to make yourself appear different – vocally too – and everybody has different hair too, so I’ve lots of wigs to wear. That’s a challenge. And you have to change very quickly, so I’m on and off the stage a lot. I’m normally lucky enough to have my daughter along with me, as she helps make sure I have the right costumes to hand.

'It’s great fun, though. Last time it was amazing. Even though it was a one-woman show, audiences were coming out afterwards and asking when the rest of the cast was coming out! It’s completely different for me this time around, with another actor involved. The last time I got my reaction from the audience whereas now, most of it is being played to Roisin. So it will be interesting to see how it works. I think it adds to the overall performance.'

Is That Too Hot? will see salon-owner Olive struggle with her own problems, as she continues to act almost like a mentor to everyone else. Her West Belfast-based salon, ‘Buns R Us’, really could be any salon anywhere, says Nelson, as it reflects the everyday realities of life in a hairdressers’.

'It’s really like a community centre,' she says. 'Hairdressers get to hear everything that’s going on and it’s very very funny. The script’s brilliant. Patricia Gormley is the same writer from I'll Tell My Ma and her observation and dialogue are wonderful.

'If you’ve never been to the theatre before this is the play to go to. There’s music too – like ABBA… It’s got a lot of heart and is basically about people helping each other out and how we’re able to laugh at the tragedies and the madness that living in Northern Ireland brings – as only we can.'

Directed by Alan McKee and produced by Joe Rea, Is That Too Hot? is very much a collaborative performance, adds Nelson. Indeed, she says McKee is more than happy to give her and Gallagher free rein when it comes to portraying the characters onstage.

With many more projects in the pipeline this year, she adds that Northern Ireland is currently producing lots of fantastic work, with a real variety of meaty characters to play. Indeed, Nelson will be involved with productions of Belfast Girls and Good Vibrations in 2019, both of which she says are returning to the stage. She’s also looking forward to a stint in Peter Pan at the Lyric at Christmas.

As for, Is That Too Hot?, she says: 'It’s just such a good, uplifting story and a really good thing to go and see with friends or family. The men will love it too!'

Is That Too Hot? will be performed at the MAC, Belfast from January 23 until February 10. For more information and to purchase tickets visit www.themaclive.com.