Rarely is a political party both the subject of an opera and the author of its own libretto.
With apposite timing, in the middle of an election campaign and with same-sex marriage recently legalised in Northern Ireland, the DUP comes centre stage in this bold new work by Conor Mitchell, who takes responsibility for concept, music and design but leaves it to the DUP to supply the words. The entire libretto comprises verbatim statements spoken by members of the party.
In the spotlight is former MP Iris Robinson, wife of then first minister Peter Robinson. In 2008, during a BBC radio conversation with Stephen Nolan, she described homosexuality as “an abomination”. Shortly afterwards, a young Belfast man suffered a horrifying homophobic attack.
Robinson’s follow-up interview with Nolan provides the framework for a dramatically executed torrent of hate speech, also lifted from Hansard, news reports and televised Westminster speeches. The vitriolic language is peppered with scriptural quotations, Christian morality and cavalier references to equality.
The Lyric Theatre space is stripped back to its full dimensions. Rebecca Caine soars as the power-suited, unapologetic Iris, a woman living a double life. In a stark, Robert Wilson-inspired staging, backed by pixelated close-up projections, sharply suited special advisers scurry obediently at her command.
Tony Flynn’s Nolan relentlessly probes the potential implications of her every utterance, while Matthew Cavan adds a wittily camp coda to proceedings. Against the crisp live orchestration, Christopher Cull, Dawn Burns and John Porter’s rich voices ring out with the vicious jibes that Northern Ireland’s gay community has long endured.