Fly Me to the Moon

A 'world-class Northern Irish production' sees Marie Jones at the top of her game

Fly Me to the Moon is a black farce set in the hitherto untapped-for-comedy world of community care visitors. Escorting OAPs to the toilet, serving up Meals on Wheels and the physical effects of a stroke have never seemed so ripe for laughs.

Written and directed by Marie Jones, the clever, witty romp has been wowing them at the Baby Grand, so much so they’ve had to add extra dates.

So, what is all the fuss about? Well, it’s that old adage: a simple story, well told. In effect, Fly Me to the Moon is not that different to an average episode of Frasier, if Frasier and Niles had been cash-strapped Belfast mums and Martin a Sinatra-loving stroke victim with a few hundred quid in his bedside drawer.

Katie Tumelty and Tara Lynne O’Neill play Francis and Loretta, a pair of straight-talking, low-level social workers. Francis’s jobless husband sits glued to game shows all day. Loretta’s kid needs money to pay for a school trip.

The answer seems to present itself when their elderly patient Davy snuffs it on their watch, and all of a sudden his ATM card and winning horse-racing ticket start to look very attractive. ‘He never won any more than a couple of quid, but that was his life, all he had – his paper, the horses, memories of singing along with Frank and a life of misery,’ says Francis. ‘He’s better off dead in my opinion.’

As the plot thickens, any emphasis on social realism goes out the window. Somewhere in Jones’s script there is commentary on poverty, unemployment, motherhood, peer pressure, greed, paranoia, remorse, guilt and blame… But you’ll be too busy chuckling at Francis’s slapstick efforts to get into a wheelchair, or Loretta retching as she contends with Davy’s dead body, to notice.

Brilliantly, refreshingly, despite the broad Belfast accents and gritty subject matter, Fly Me to the Moon never mentions the Troubles. In fact, the play could be set anywhere they have old fellas, Frank Sinatra records and desperation.

The 90 minutes – ahem – fly in, thanks in no small part to Jones’s wonderful writing. Francis and Loretta talk about the stars of Dragons’ Den, with ‘all that money piled up round them like cups of tea’, and the twosome worry that their antics might put them ‘up there with Myra Hindley and Fred West’.

Jones has said Fly Me to the Moon was devised partly in response to the lack of good roles available for women in Northern Ireland. In Francis and Loretta, the playwright has created a comic duo that stands up with the best.

The actresses never put a foot wrong, complementing each other physically, verbally and in the characters’ absurd reactions to the madness they have created. Often, it’s a challenge to hear the dialogue over the audience’s laughter.

There’s a satisfying emotional kicker towards the end, even if the final few minutes themselves seem a bit too eager to wrap everything up. By then, though, your sides will be aching and your head spinning from a world-class Northern Irish production.

Fly Me to the Moon runs in the Waterfront Hall until June 30, 2012.