Covering up a death is not easy. Ask any murderer. Or, in the case of ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre, ask Francis and Loretta, two local community care-workers. Following the sudden demise at home of Davy Magee, their 84-year-old ward, and the realization they could benefit from his week’s pension and a winning horse racing bet, the two launch a nefarious plan.
The idea seems simple enough – a mere matter of not informing anyone of his final destination until they’ve cashed the bet and taken his pension from the ATM. But the pair run into some difficulties – morality being just one – that complicate their plan.
Actresses Tara Lynne O’Neil (playing Loretta Mackey) and Katie Tumelty (Francis Shields) are a dynamic on-stage duo at ease with each other, creating strong character credibility throughout, one minute beset by jittery anxiety about being caught and facing jail time and the next filled with exhilaration about how the ill-gotten money could be used – including a trip to Barcelona and a daughter’s new school uniform. Of the two, Francis is the ringleader who introduces the zany idea with the words “Just hear me out” when they realize Davy has breathed his last while Loretta is the more timid of the two who has to be persuaded.
Disguising a person’s time of death may seem straightforward but as Francis and Loretta soon find out, it’s anything but. Details such as getting Davy to ‘eat’ his food (smearing shepherd’s pie down his pyjamas) or covering up a bruise (peach melba make-up doesn’t quite cut it) send them into hysterics. Then there’s the nosy neighbor across the road to beware of. The unexpected obstacles that appear seem endless.
‘Fly Me To The Moon,’ is a tragi-comedy with black humor plentiful, including a scene in which one care-worker imitates someone with a stroke in a wheelchair struggling from bed to go to the bathroom. Yet playwright Marie Jones – who also wrote the West End and Broadway hit, ‘Stones in His Pockets’ – doesn’t gloss over the underlying difficulties faced by working-class people that would force them to such drastic action as stealing from a corpse.
Loretta talks about her long-term unemployed husband as even physically smaller than he used to be and describes how he is desperately trying to get chosen as a contestant on a TV quiz show, ironically entitled ‘Pointless.’ The care-workers also talk about ‘claims syndrome,’ whereby people pretend to trip over a hole in the road to sue city hall or simulate whiplash to get money from the bus company. Francis even boasts about the success of her son’s ‘career’ – pirating DVDs and selling them on the street.
‘Fly Me To The Moon’ is not Jones at her writing best, with few memorable lines and implausible twists that stretch the play a tad beyond what it should be, but her understanding of working-class Belfast is spot-on. With a simple set comprising the kitchen and living-room of a bungalow, O’Neil and Tumelty succeed in portraying two ordinary women finding themselves in a highly unusual situation.
Finally, as the two women decide to burn the house down with Davy in it and desperately search for a cigarette butt in the garbage to plant as evidence, they come across the old man’s last will and testimony. To find out what’s in it, you’ll have to book a seat.
Full credit to the Lyric for hosting plays throughout the summer, a difficult time for theatre lovers to locate shows. It hosts ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ until August 22.