Sunny Side Up

Diona Doherty
Cheesy Grin Productions
Lyric Theatre, Belfast

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Diona Doherty in Sunny Side Up Credit: Rebekah Hutchinson
Diona Doherty in Sunny Side Up Credit: Rebekah Hutchinson
Diona Doherty in Sunny Side Up Credit: Rebekah Hutchinson
Diona Doherty in Sunny Side Up Credit: Rebekah Hutchinson

Diona Doherty’s Sunny Side Up at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre is a frank, feeling and often laugh-out-loud portrait of a young couple struggling through the trauma of IVF to have a child.

Doherty has staked her claim in recent years as one of Northern Ireland’s freshest stand-up comedians since being shortlisted in the 2021 BBC New Comedy Awards. She has also shown herself adept at scripting long-form stage comedies with shows that have drawn new and conspicuously female audiences such as Bridesmaids of Northern Ireland and The Hen Do.

Here, stand-up directness fuses with autobiographical reflection in an often poignant show that draws on Doherty’s own experience of undergoing IVF treatment. If it doesn’t quite come fully into focus, relying too much on stand-up shtick for its set-piece vignettes of ripe characters and episodes along the way, what one takes away from the evening is its confessional honesty.

For all her obvious nerves (a thin house on a rain-drenched evening not helping), Doherty delivers a personable performance that tickles the funny bone as much as it touches the heart. Her reflex to rush towards assorted, winningly delivered punchlines is mitigated by achingly delivered moments of pathos and pain.

As feisty as it is vulnerable, Sunny Side Up also points to her growing ability and confidence as a promising writer of drama alongside her tried-and-tested comedy credentials. And that despite the expanse of the Lyric’s main stage and Doherty’s use of a head mic rather working against the intimacy the show aspires to.

The uncredited set—a calendar-page floor with dates crossed off before the circled ‘Test Day’, and an infant tree whose meaning is divulged late-on in a painfully moving revelation—is articulately understated. So, too, the unacknowledged lighting, although the amplified sound has a tendency to mask and blur Doherty’s voice.

Patrick J O’Reilly’s direction adds welcome physicality to a performer more accustomed to standing behind a microphone and provides telling contrast between moments of farce and heartbreak.

Reviewer: Michael Quinn

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