• Chris O'Rourke

Abomination: A DUP Opera


Cast of Abomination: A DUP Opera by Conor Mitchell.Image: Neil Harrison

****

Maybe it was a technical hitch that led to the ten minute delay. Longer again if you took your seat early. In which the endless ringing of the unanswered prop phone proved painfully wearing. Yet it foreshadowed what was thematically to come in Conor Mitchell's critically acclamied Abomination: A DUP Opera. Whose thematic questions repeat endlessly. Mitchell's libretto, cobbled from interviews and newspaper quotes, labouring crucial points on politics and language. Meanwhile music and singing prove to be another case entirely, being utterly extraordinary. Some of the best of recent times.

Rebecca Caine in Abomination: A DUP Opera by Conor Mitchell. Image: Neil Harrison


When finally answered, the offending phone belongs to former DUP party member, Iris Robinson. Who disgracefully claimed homosexuals were abominations in 2008, then stood her ground in an interview with Stephen Nolan. The homophobic murder of a young, gay man adding fuel to the incendiary fire, and the fear her comments might fuel more murders. In what follows, Robinson's character assassination is carried out with understandable glee, till it feels like the theatrically trolling of a bigoted troll. The two uglies never quite making for a beautiful. The born again Christian, holier than thou Robinson proving a monstrous hypocrite, and not just on account of her vile comments. There's also her adulterous affair with a nineteen year old boy and later accusations of fraud. Unsympathetic villains don't come much cleaner. Only Voldemort, perhaps.

Cast of Abomination: A DUP Opera by Conor Mitchell.Image: Neil Harrison


Should political figures be held accountable for their bigoted views and their possible consequences? Stephen Nolan presses his mantra-like question on the unapologetic Robinson, who doesn't just incite the lunatic fringe as become their martyred poster girl. This being her greater crime; lending political legitimacy and encouraging hatred to crawl out of the woodwork. Justified by a bastardised Protestant Fundamentalism built from a literalist, pick and mix Christianity. One that doesn't speak for many Protestants. Many of them gay. Or God, if you're so inclined, and read what She says about love and inclusiveness. Even so, Abomination: A DUP Opera appears to suggest a blanket equating of religion with bigotry. In fairness, religion has a lot of work to do if it's serious about building bridges. Even then, politics should still take out a restraining order.

Tony Flynn in Abomination: A DUP Opera by Conor Mitchell. Image: Neil Harrison


While it labours such points, Abomination: A DUP Opera does so with considerable style. Originally produced in 2019, it's design proves to be a technical tour de force. Conan McIvor (video), Mary Tumelty (lighting), Ian Vennard (sound), along with Mitchell being a collaborative dream team. Images roll past like a media nightmare, harmonised with projected quotes from articles and conversation. Foregrounded like thoughts whose subtext morphs and expands. Documented quotes from which Mitchell's libretto is built. Yet even allowing for the projection of texts, surtitles are badly needed in certain places.

Rebecca Caine in Abomination: A DUP Opera by Conor Mitchell. Image: Neil Harrison


Musically, Mitchell's score suggests a near perfect harmony of classical and cinematic components. Haunting, wild, dark, passionate, music surges, sweeps, swoons and seduces, marrying classic largesse and cinematic intimacy. As for singing, individually and chorally, it's just stunning. Even allowing for one off key, yet enthusiastic male voice, noticeable amongst the operatic heavyweights (no names). Rebecca Craine's Iris, and Sarah Richmond as a DUP member, could sing the phonebook, or cobbled media quotes, and make them hypnotic. Matthew Cavan, Christopher Cull and John Porter are also wonderful. Who, along with the rest of the ensemble, deliver vocal layering that is just exquisite. And yes, Mitchell directs too. And does an extraordinary job, deftly using Tony Flynn's Nolan like a recitative to comment on the action. If the opera slips into revue in a couple of places, it introduces theatrical ingenuity, colour and costuming that leaves you wishing for more. The Angel in Robinson's bedroom scene being a fusion of simplicity and beauty. One of many lighthearted, but supremely serious moments.

Cast of Abomination: A DUP Opera by Conor Mitchell.Image: Neil Harrison


Without doubt, Robinsons's loathsome comments are despicable. Yet like the Parisian women whose heads were shaved after World War II for being Nazi collaborators, there's something of both justice and horror in Abomination: A DUP Opera's public shaming. Yet the story doesn't end there. If Robinson's mental health issues are arguably telling, her other psychological issue is a clean cut affair; her advocacy for gay conversion therapy. Which twenty-one members of an "apologetic" DUP party, supposedly shamed by Robinson's quotes, opposed banning in 2021. Bringing us full circle back to the original question: should political figures be held accountable for their bigoted views and their possible consequences?


Abomination: A DUP Opera by Conor Mitchell, presented by The Belfast Ensemble, runs at The Abbey Theatre until April 2.

For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre




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