The Northern Irish Theatre community never ceases to amaze me in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, the community has taken steps to reassess, think outside the box, pull together and achieve.

Over the past five months I have experienced some fabulous virtual theatre, theatre via YouTube, theatre for those in need, social distanced theatre and outdoor theatre. Firmly establishing that although the hallowed grounds of a theatre venue is a wonderful experience, a theatre space can be anywhere, it doesn’t need to be in a venue. Luckily we have a lot of creatives who can think outside the box and will continue to do so even when our venues rise from the ashes, get back on their feet and reopen.

At the weekend I met up with a whole bunch of talented creatives in the Landsdowne Hotel Belfast. This included Antoinette Morelli, Gerard McCabe, Siobhan Kelly, Kerri Quinn and Salford actor Christopher Eccleston. They have all joined forces to create a new piece of promenade theatre The Post-Corona Theatre Menu.

The theatre menu contains five scenes taken from the work of Northern Irish playwright Owen McCafferty including an All female production of Shoot the Crow!

The Soda Bread Theatre Company production takes place in the Belfast home of actress Antoinette Morelli,where scenes will be performed in separate rooms as the audience moves between them. Different sets of characters will act in every room, giving the audience an insight into their lives and relationships.

So this being a very Northern Irish production how has actor Christopher Eccleston been roped into this project? The actor known for his performances on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company, in TV dramas including Hillsborough, The A Word and not forgetting being the ninth doctor in the 2005 revival of Doctor Who, answered the question with ease saying Kerri Quinn had asked him. Having formed a friendship working on BBC drama Come Home together.

Kerri Quinn and Christopher Eccleston

It turns out this project was the brainchild of actress Kerri best known for her role as Vicki in Coronation Street and her numerous stage roles in Northern Ireland. Kerri explained she had been on a call to Antionette Morrelli and they had been discussing previous charity performances, they wanted to give back something to the arts community and they came up with this idea, pulling together there contacts including Terence Keeley, Jo Donnelly, Marty Maguire and bringing Gerard McCabe in as producer and from there it has been a quick turn around.

I asked Christopher why he wanted to get involved with this project?

He stated “Owen McCafferty! I bulit my career on writers, in drama school we were always trying to work out what the writer meant. Writers are everything to me and Owen is one of the greatest writers I have ever come across, so when the opportunity finally came up to do something of his and to work with Kerri again and to come to my beloved Belfast!”. He smiled.

Kerri noted that Chris would also be directing a piece alongside Gerard and Antionette and confirmed the production will be ready for October depending on government restrictions.

I asked Christopher which he preferred Film, TV or Theatre? Any Favourite roles?

Christopher: “In TV my role as Trevor Higgs in Hillsborough was very meaningful for me. Trevor lost his two daughters Vicky and Sarah. When I made Hillsborough I had achieved what I wanted to do as a young man. Make TV which caused questions in the house. I was brought up on social realist drama on Television. The other one would be Hearts and Minds a Channel 4 drama where I played a man trying to teach in an inner city environment based on Jimmy McGoverns own experiences. I built my reputation on Jimmy’s writing. And a little known drama written by Pete Bowker (who wrote The A Word) Flesh and Blood were my parents were played by actors with disability, Dorothy Cockin and Peter Kirby.”

“On stage it was playing Macbeth, it was that role that made me want to be an actor. I was in an amateur version of it with Ayub Khan Din, writer of East is East, both of us Salford lads. I played Macduff. I draw an equation between the lead character and my father- an “ordinary man”. I was always drawn to characters of working class masculinity, if I didn’t turn out an actor I would be a solider, in this play the lead character is asking what masculinity is. People just think he’s a monster like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment he steps outside himself by killing but destroys himself with his own imagination.”

I asked Kerri which field she was concentrating on at the moment, Film, Theatre or TV?

Kerri: “At this moment in time TV and film. As I feel that I have so much to learn in terms of of TV and film right now.”

And have they any upcoming new work we should keep an eye out for after The Post-Corona Theatre Menu?

Christopher: “Yes I start rehearsals for a new Channel 4 drama this week called Close to Me starring Connie Nielsen, best known for her role as Lucilla (Maximus’ wife) in Gladiator.”

Kerri: “I’m doing a BBC drama called The Awakening, due to start filming mid-September.”

I asked both Kerri, Christopher and the collective group if they had any words of encouragement for those working in the arts at the moment?

Kerri: “Be ready, read a play, research. I love re-reading things I’ve already done and ask myself how would I do things differently. Remind people that you are there and ready to work!”

Gerard/Antionette/Siobhan: Keeping studying, read, keep educating yourself. Get out and see as much as you can!

(Side Note: Gerard has just completed his Masters in Directing from the Lir, Congratulations Gerard)

Christopher: “Come and see us peform!”

I will be there with bells on!

Emer D xx

Tickets for the production are limited and cost £15+ a booking fee.

They can be purchased through Sodabread Facebook/ Eventbrite and go on sale in early October when social distancing theatre guidelines are updated.