GERALDINE HUGHES: ‘BELFAST BLUES’ COMES HOME.
Having starred alongside Slyvester Stallone in the 2006 hit movie ‘Rocky Balboa’, Belfast-born actress Geraldine Hughes is returning home next month with as her latest show ‘Belfast Blues’ will be performed at the Lyric theatre between August 6th-11th. And earlier this week, she took a call from her home in New York City to tell us at the Leader about it all.
By Jonathan Foley
Without giving away too many spoilers, the play is centered around Hughes’s experiences of growing up in the city during The Troubles era. Geraldine plays no less than 24 characters as she tells the story of what life was like growing up in a place of such conflict during one of the most heartbreaking periods of Irish, and indeed, British history.
On the posters advertising the show, the tag-line reads: “one wee girl’s story about family, war, Jesus and Hollywood.” A one-woman play telling the story from a child’s perspective in a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of life in war-torn Belfast during the 1980s. In recent times, the production has received rave reviews from its showings Chicago, New York, London, Belfast and Los Angeles. And now, it’s coming home once again.
“The tag-line is fairly self-explanatory. A lot of the storyline is based on my own experiences of growing up in a difficult time before I made the move across to the States when I was 18 years old. The setting is not necessarily a happy time but, as we sometimes do in Ireland, we tend to laugh even in dark times, so there are elements of real humour throughout too” Geraldine told.
In keeping with the cultural context, Hughes’s work does reference some vital moments of Northern Irish history. The Hunger Strike campaign and the debacle over the death of Bobby Sands in 1981 are strongly featured; similarly such controversial topics like the Twelfth of July celebrations are referred to.
“I grew up in the Divas Flats and, looking back, that certainly was no place for young children to be raised. On the very same day they opened, an official committee also started proceedings to have them closed down. Not long after that, we found out that shortcuts were taken by the Scottish company manufacturing the buildings and this led to asbestos and illness for many” Geraldine informed.
“As kids, we basically had to treat everyday as if we were soldiers ourselves. There was a complex security system getting in and out of the flats and, for something as normal as walking to school in the morning, that became tough because you had to be aware of where the snipers were and what you needed to do to survive each and everyday” she added.
‘Belfast Blues’ bring to light the horrors faced by everyday people, even children, living in such dangerous conditions. In a way, it parallels what we see in more contemproary times of children suffering in places like Palestine, Syrian, Yemen and many other warzone places throughout the world. And yet for Geraldine Hughes, it became all too ‘normal’ to be raised in such an environment.
“I wouldn’t like to say we were able to adapt to our surroundings, because there was a lot of tragedies and moments of hurt that gripped us all, but it could be said that we did become a bit too accustomed to what was going, but it was something that children should never have to become accustomed to,” she said.
Geraldine may have been living in America for 30 years, yet her interest in the social and political ongoings of Northern Ireland have never diminished. If anything, they’ve grown and she continues to promote the North’s good name through her writing and her resolve. She is strongly involved with the NI Connections global-network and regularly visits schools in her native city.
“I came from a working class background myself and what I grew up seeing around me has strongly shaped my acting career and what I tend to use as material now that I’m a writer, but I’m a huge believer that you should never forget where you came from. Working class areas like the Divas still exist in Belfast and I’d love to show those young people that they have the right to aspire to any opportunity; just as much as any other so-called higher classes in society” she told.
Geraldine is certainly a very well-driven writer and performer and she told us about the differences when you perform a play just off Broadway, compared to when you take to the stage in front of your home city.
“I will admit, I’m a bit nervous but that’s natural when you perform at home. I’m very humbled that people in New York come along to hear my story, but despite the nerves, I’m really looking forward to Belfast. Mainly because, at home, I don’t have to explain the references as much and, as I said earlier, we do like to laugh in tough situations and I feel I can do that more in the Belfast shows than I can in America. There is no place like home after all” she happily added.
Geraldine concluded by stating that she also keeps a watchful eye on today’s popular-culture from Northern Ireland.
She’s enjoyed sitting back to watch shows like ‘The Fall’, she’s proudly spread the news that ‘Game of Thrones’ is filmed in Antrim and also she’s also enjoyed taking time out to chuckle over episodes of ‘Derry Girls’ and, with regard to her own writing, she feels that she herself will have more stories to tell after this one.
Geraldine also advised that her show is not politically-biased in any way and that it can be viewed as both educational and historical to a variety of faiths, ages, backgrounds etc although it’s perhaps not suitable for children under the age of 12. We wish her all the best with what’s to come.