50 Shades of Red, White and Blue
GBL Productions' adaptation of Leesa Harker’s mommy-porn pastiche is an x-rated antidote to good taste
On the night I sees 50 Shades of Red, White and Blue, Belfast is in the throes of 'Operation Standstill'. Yet a full house has defied the protests to attend The MAC for GBL Productions’ X-rated spoof of Fifty Shades of Grey.
It’s only early evening, but the atmosphere is like a hen party at full tilt. It’s noisy, chaotic and generally far livelier than theatre has any right to be. The one-woman play, starring Caroline Curran, has been adapted from Belfast writer Leesa Harker’s joke Facebook page – which at the last count had 28,889 'likes' – and consequent books, Fifty Shades of Red, White and Blue and Dirty Dancin' in le Shebeen.
So, in place of college graduates and mum-friendly eroticism we have the unemployed Maggie Muff guldering about ‘bucking gypsies in Funderland’. This is a world in which the height of sophistication is a Topman suit and two weeks in Benidorm.
Not that we ever get that far. 50 Shades of Red, White and Blue takes place around the shebeens, the 'bonies' and the dole offices of north and west Belfast. The production uses a single pink-and-black bed with Paris Hilton-branded pillows, from where the unshrinking Maggie regales us in a broad Belfast brogue about her quest to find a man who will love her even if she’s ‘blocked and being sick on my baps’.
Indeed, behind the hard drinking, the ‘late-night shoplifting’ and the outfits she reckons make her look like a ‘Get-‘Er-Bucked Barbie’, Maggie is a relatively sensitive type. ‘You can’t be born, bred and buck on the same road all your life,’ she explains. And she doesn’t mind if her new partner is a Protestant or a Catholic. ‘I’m not racist,’ Maggie insists. ‘A buck’s a buck.’
Plot-wise, it’s like Fifty Shades of Grey held up to a cracked mirror retrieved from a Shankill Road skip. Maggie falls for a Christian Grey type, known only as Mr Red, White and Blue, who wants her to sign a contract that keeps their S&M-heavy relationship purely sexual.
In direct lifts from EL James’s book, there’s a Red Room of Pain and a meeting with Mr Red, White and Blue’s disapproving parents. But really, it’s all just somewhere to hang Maggie’s hilarious monologue, delivered with passion by the tireless Curran.
The script is filthier than Roy 'Chubby' Brown’s underwear drawer. If there are more slang terms for a woman’s breasts or vagina, Harker clearly hasn’t heard them. The writer has a lot of fun with similes, too. Maggie wants to be ‘used like a Sky remote’ until she is ‘wringing like Quasimodo’s bell’, for instance. But it’s not just smut.
Throughout, the largely female audience are enjoying themselves so much that Curran often has to wait until the howls of laughter have died down before she can deliver the next line. On occasion, she’s even laughing herself. Just pity the handful of husbands and boyfriends present, who have to endure dialogue like ‘All men are b*st*rds’, and the ensuing roar of agreement from an increasingly refreshed crowd.
The more cynical might wonder if 50 Shades of Red, White and Blue is laughing with the communities it parodies rather than at them, and towards the end of the second half, the script does take a disappointing slide into repetition. By the time Maggie announces for a third time that her you-know-what is 'dripping like a tap’, the shark has been well and truly jumped.
But for the most part, Harker’s mommy-porn pastiche is a welcome antidote to good taste, and has left this audience pumped-up and proud. Certainly, you get the feeling that if any flag protesters try to stop these ladies getting home, they’ll be beaten fifty shades of black and blue.