Matthew Cavan talks Mirrorball ahead of the drag musical's triumphant return to Belfast

Actor and drag performer Matthew Cavan explains how his musical Mirrorball is about the joy of "realising your full potential".

The image shows a scene from the musical Mirrorball. In the picture, a drag queen is standing with her arms outstretched. She has a long blonde wig and has two mirror balls on her breasts.
Image: Photo by Jan McCullough courtesy of Reply Theatre Company

Devised in response to real-life events, Replay Theatre Company returns to the Lyric Theatre Belfast this September 14 to 21 with the stunning drag musical Mirrorball. GCN spoke to actor Matthew Cavan to find out more.

Regular readers of GCN will probably be familiar with the name Matthew Cavan or his drag persona, Cherrie Ontop. Following a protest at a drag storytime event hosted by Cherrie in August 2022 and a resulting barrage of online attacks, he successfully sued former Belfast councillor Jolene Bunting for harassment.

Instead of letting the experience have a negative effect, he decided to turn it into a learning moment and, along with writer and friend Patrick J. O’Reilly, devised a musical stage show.

Matthew explained, “I never wanted it to be my life on stage. I didn’t want it to be ‘little boy born in Carrickfergus’, blah”.

Having previously seen Patrick’s play The Man Who Fell to Pieces, Matthew was inspired by the writer’s approach of what he describes as being “autobiographical, but so very different from his actual life”. He emphatically adds, “I was like, ‘This is amazing’ – It was phenomenal, one of the best things I think I’ve ever seen.”

Mirrorball was originally commissioned by Replay Theatre Company, which specialises in presenting work for young audiences for the Belfast Children’s Festival. It is aimed at a teenage audience.

The plot centres around Cherrie as she prepares to go on stage in the dressing room of a club. As she gets ready, The Narrow Minders – human machines with a loathing distaste for art (and especially fabulous free-spirited Drag Queens) –break in and try to remove her from the imagination.

To escape the grasp of fear and prejudice, Cherrie smashes through the dressing room mirror, suddenly finding herself in a different universe where she is faced with the ultimate choice – does she confront her fears and fight for what’s right or avoid The Narrow Minders and diminish into the ether?

Matthew explains, “What young people are really into is this multi-dimensional stuff with all the Marvel things, and they also like to be scared with Stranger Things, and so I kind of knew that this world that these young people live in and work in is this multi-dimensional kind of scary space, so that’s what I wanted to play with.

“I wanted to play with us being not just on earth or in one space, that we can kind of jump between places,” he adds. 

He also explains why they chose to set Mirrorball in a cabaret club. “Patrick came up with this idea of Matt’s world, my world, in a cabaret club because that was my wheelhouse for ten years; I was the resident queen of a cabaret supper club.”

Matthew received a positive HIV diagnosis when he was 21. Since then, he has actively worked towards creating awareness and visibility of HIV in Northern Ireland. 

As well as discussing his diagnosis publicly within the media, in 2019, he was the focus of a short film by Nicky Larkin called Becoming Cherrie, and in November of the same year, he presented Cherrie, Me & HIV, a documentary exploring HIV awareness for BBC Northern Ireland. 

He describes why the mirror is so central to the plot of Mirrorball. “We use the mirror because after my diagnosis, I couldn’t look in a mirror for about two years. 

“I found it so difficult because what was looking back at me looked like it should but I felt so dramatically different. So we now use the mirror as Cherry’s escape into this world of potential.” 

On a positive note, Matthew concludes, “It’s a piece about realising your full potential, how amazing that can be, but also fully realising and accepting and loving yourself and how important that is. 

“No matter what the world is telling you about yourself, no matter how these Narrow Minders will tell you that everything about you is inherently wrong or broken or dirty, or disgusting, or diseased, that actually, if you love yourself, none of those things matter and life can be such a joy.”

Mirrorball will run at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, from September 14 to 21, 2023.
The show is suitable for audiences 13 years plus.
Tickets for the show are priced from £15 and are available here.



View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Matthew Cavan (@cherrieontopbelfast)

© 2023 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

Support GCN

GCN has been a vital, free-of-charge information service for Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community since 1988.

During this global COVID pandemic, we like many other organisations have been impacted greatly in the way we can do business and produce. This means a temporary pause to our print publication and live events and so now more than ever we need your help to continue providing this community resource digitally.

GCN is a registered charity with a not-for-profit business model and we need your support. If you value having an independent LGBTQ+ media in Ireland, you can help from as little as €1.99 per month. Support Ireland’s free, independent LGBTQ+ media.

0 comments. Please sign in to comment.