Inspired by remarks made by a unionist MP, an incendiary opera is about to unleash gay cake and drag on Belfast. Will Arlene Foster be in the front row? We meet its creator
The Newtownards Road in the heart of Protestant, unionist east Belfast is the unlikely setting for rehearsals of Abomination: A DUP Opera, the incendiary work that will open the Outburst Queer arts festival in the city next month.
The building is surrounded by murals recording the unionist struggle; there is a memorial to Ulster Defence Association volunteers nearby, and union jacks adorn many houses and lamp-posts. Yet here, in the heartland of the Democratic Unionist party, composer Conor Mitchell is hatching an opera that dramatises an incident that showed the socially conservative, Christian evangelical party at its most bigoted.
That incident was a phone interview in June 2008 in which Radio Ulster presenter Stephen Nolan talked to Iris Robinson, then a DUP MP and wife of Northern Ireland’s first minister, Peter Robinson. In the interview, which came soon after a homophobic assault on a gay man in Newtownabbey, north of Belfast, Robinson branded homosexuality an “abomination”.
A few years after I heard those remarks on the radio, I was drinking myself to death