Meet the drag star lighting up the stage of Abomination: a DUP Opera

Ahead of the Dublin premiere of the riotous show, ‘Abomination: a DUP Opera’, we caught up with one of the show’s stars, Matthew Cavan aka Belfast drag sensation, Cherrie Ontop.

Split screen image of Matthew Cavan aka Cherrie Ontop who will take to the Abbey Theatre stage to star in Abomination: a DUP Opera. On the left is the drag alter ego Cherrie Ontop a red knee high dress and a fur jacket and hat. She is standing in front of a red curtain in a cabaret stage setting. On the left is Matthew wearing a tshirt of cherrie. He is standing in front of a brick wall smiling.
Image: @cherrieontopbelfast

The smash-hit show Abomination: a DUP Opera takes to the stage of the Abbey Theatre this Thursday, March 24 for its highly anticipated Dublin premiere. Composed by Conor Mitchell, and developed in collaboration with the Belfast Ensemble, the show garnered rave reviews and accolades in the wake of its sensational debut at the 2019 Outburst Arts Festival. We caught up with cast member, Matthew Cavan to find out what it is like working on such a unique opera.

Although Matthew doesn’t come from an opera background, he’s no stranger to treading the boards, especially in a pair of heels and a wig as his drag alter ego Cherrie Ontop. Coming from a musical theatre, he explains how working on an opera was a very different experience. “Opera people are very different. We go into a room, we don’t know any of the material and we learn on our feet, whereas opera people normally go into a room and they know the whole show note for note.”


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A post shared by Matthew Cavan (@cherrieontopbelfast)

Despite this Matthew found the process really enjoyable. “Within the score of this show, there’s a soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and then cab, like cabaret voice. Because I don’t have an operatic voice, I am known as ‘cabaret’ in the piece. And it’s really lovely being able to work with the composer and writer who knows my voice and knows all these people’s voices, he has written specifically for us, which is gorgeous. So it has been a real joy to take my knowledge of cabaret and that style of performance and put it into an operatic setting.”

Matthew believes that this works because as he describes, “this isn’t just an opera, we delve into so many different forms, pastiche and parody, and cabaret and opera.”

The show was inspired by a 2008 radio interview with Iris Robinson, the former DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) MP. During the interview, she shockingly referred to homosexuality as “an abomination”, prompting Conor to develop the show. 


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A post shared by Matthew Cavan (@cherrieontopbelfast)

Matthew describes how it was evolved from there, “So we, as core members of the ensemble got together and just started researching everything that the DUP has said publicly over a 30-year span, and that’s a lot of material to try and get through. And obviously, we were trying to keep it within the realms of LGBTQ+ language… Because it’s verbatim there has been no words added into this. We have put none of our own words into this, it is literally word for word what DUP has said, which has been really interesting.”

Although Matthew found dealing with the difficult content stressful, there was some solace. “It was a really good time in Northern Ireland because it was just as marriage equality was about to happen and the abortion act was about to go through. So we were rehearsing at exactly the same time as all that was happening. So when we were getting together in 2019, it felt like real activism. And so there’s a real, magic about that. But going in every day, and having things like “AIDS is the curse of God” or “they’re poofs” or “I don’t care if they’re ratepayers, they’re perverts”, all of these things are really quite mentally damaging. Whenever we first rehearse this, I think we all you know, the members of the community or the heterosexual people within the company, all found it incredibly depressing and infuriating”.

Like most of the world, the show was forced to take a two-year hiatus after its first run and of course, the political landscape has changed massively since then. We asked Matthew if he thought this would change the way the work is received. 

“I think hate speech is hate speech, whether it was three years ago, whether it was in 1982, whether it was said now, or whether it said in 10 years, hate speech will always be hate speech. And whether it’s said in a Northern Irish context or an Irish context or an American context it is still hate speech. And I think that’s what this piece does is holding up the hate speech and going ‘how is this allowed to be said in public by leadership’? So I think that is one thing that wherever this goes that that’s what people will attach to it.”

To be in with a chance to win one of five pairs of tickets to see Abomination: a DUP Opera, check out our competition here.

Abomination: a DUP Opera runs at the Abbey Theatre Dublin from March 24 to April 2. To book tickets click here.

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