New play East Belfast Granny brings to light stories of city's working class women

Writer Fintan Brady has worked alongside the Ballymac Friendship Centre to highlight issues faced by a generation of marginalised people

Luna Kalo plays Sarah Irwin in the play's title role

East Belfast Granny, a new play from Partisan Productions, explores the no frills story of the life of a woman 'holding a fractured family together in a tough place and times.'

Playwright Fintan Brady is the mind behind Partisan Productions, a concept that focuses on community theatre. Brady has worked closely with local groups and individuals to bring 'nearly true stories' to the stage. ‘Sarah Irwin’, played by Luna Kalo, is described by Brady as an amalgam of various women, of similar age and background, with their stories being collected in association with the Ballymac Friendship Centre in East Belfast.

What unravels is a fast paced, fascinating insight into life in that part of the city, which meanders its way through a plethora of emotions. Brady explains: 'There are particular themes that reoccur when listening to women’s accounts of life on the Belfast streets where many of them were born and still call home.

'The play touches on financial struggles, mental health issues, loneliness and the silent battles with substance misuse; not least dependency on prescription drugs which were historically overprescribed to this generation in the trauma-rich period of the Troubles. But I didn’t want the story to fix or prescribe an answer.'

Fintan Brady

Writer Fintan Brady, Partisan Productions

Kalo adopts the role of a 'one woman fiesta' as we embark on an unpredictable journey that incites tears of laughter and sadness. Brady has prematurely hinted at some storylines, describing how the character 'finds herself caring for her twin grandsons, while her daughter Annie gets on with her course at Tech, her social life and an on-off relationship with the father of her boys'

'Sarah’s most enduring relationship is with her prescription pills,' he says, 'and there is an ex-partner sliding around in the periphery of her life, making every effort to spoil Annie ‘cos that’s what absent dads do to their daughters.'

The topic of substance abuse and prescription pills are real life issues for many people. The Public Health Agency have emerged as one of the funding parties for East Belfast Granny, with Victoria Creasy, the PHA’s Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Senior Officer, voicing that the play 'highlights some of the often hidden problems' when dealing with drug abuse.

Brady describes Kalo’s character as a 'distillation of the kind of ‘get on with it’ matriarch trying to hold families together across working class Belfast, not just East Belfast.' Kalo’s dry wit makes her the perfect match for the character, adopting that ‘take no prisoners’ attitude that many of the older generation have had hardened into them, a product of the environment and time they found themselves in.

Another story centred around natives of the city's east side is East Belfast Boy, adapted by the Irish Times Theatre Award winner Prime Cut Productions, which will be showing in tandem with East Belfast Granny at the Strand Arts Centre, scored by DJ and producer Phil Kieran, as part of the Eastside Arts Festival before taking the critically acclaimed edition to Edinburgh Fringe Festival later in August.

A serious issue that Brady hopes his productions can illustrate is the human costs of the current austerity measures.

'There’s an ever increasing talk of encouraging ‘shirkers’ back into work,' he says, ' 'disincentivising' young women from the pregnancy route into social housing and general policy that treats already marginalised people as being a problem in society.

'This only serves to devalue and stigmatise a large proportion of the individuals in our society, whether they fit the stereotypes or not. I hope, in some small way, this play can show the human costs of that narrative on Sarah, and the many like her.'

Eastside Granny takes place at the Ballymac Friendship Centre from August 7 - 10. Tickets are free. To book email partisanproductions@hotmail.com.

Eastside Boy takes place at Strand Arts Centre on August 7. Tickets are £10. To book visit https://www.strandartscentre.com/movies/east-belfast-boy.