Opera review: Abomination hits the right notes on DUP's attitude to gay people

The production at the Abbey was inspired by Iris Robinson's infamous remarks after an attack on a gay man in the North
Opera review: Abomination hits the right notes on DUP's attitude to gay people

A scene from Abomination: A DUP Opera, by Conor Mitchell, at the Abbey. Picture: Neil Harrison

Abbey Theatre, Dublin 

★★★★☆

Premiered in 2019 at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast amid election fever and the passing of same-sex marriage legislation in Northern Ireland, Abomination: a DUP Opera, fortuitously caught the zeitgeist of the moment and garnered rave reviews.

Three years later, Belfast Ensemble - directed by the composer Conor Mitchell - are in the midst of a short run of the piece at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin last night.

The framework for the opera is the homophobia expressed by prominent members of the Democratic Unionist Party. Most of the libretto is drawn from an infamous radio interview in 2008 by DUP MP Iris Robinson.

 Abomination: A DUP Opera. Picture: Neil Harrison
 Abomination: A DUP Opera. Picture: Neil Harrison

Following an attack on a young gay man, host Stephen Nolan, played here by Tony Flynn in the sole speaking role, challenges Robinson on her provocative remarks in which she described homosexuality as an ‘abomination’.

The libretto weaves text of the interview sung by soprano Rebecca Caine, together with statements by other colourful DUP figures, most memorably, Sammy Wilson who declares, "They are poofs. I don't care if they are ratepayers. As far as I am concerned, they are perverts.”

The slim plotline employs relatively large-scale forces, with 11 stage performers and a 16-piece orchestra. Conan McIvor’s video projection is a major aspect of the design. Facsimiles of press articles help to set the context of the time and pixelated images of DUP politicians appear behind performers singing their words. 

Robinson’s notorious affair with a younger man is referenced when a dancer clad in Y-fronts and angel wings appears for a brief pas-de-deux. The inclusion of a drag queen in kinky boots and an enormous orange wig hints at the roots of the work as a cabaret-style revue.

Rebecca Caine in Abomination: A DUP Opera. Picture: Neil Harrison
Rebecca Caine in Abomination: A DUP Opera. Picture: Neil Harrison

Even though the sound balance in the auditorium is good and the singing excellent across the ensemble, I don’t catch every word, particularly in the soprano range. The ensemble move nimby about behind the main characters and the silhouetting of the ensemble in sharp grey suits was particularly effective. 

Overall, while I would have liked more of the burlesque, cabaret elements, this was a skilful, well-crafted operatic piece that brings recent political events into sharper focus over a tight 70-minute running time.

  • Abomination: a DUP Opera continues at the Abbey Theatre until April 2


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