Time to move over Mr Grey - you’ll find there’s a new man in town

Caroline Curran as Maggie Muff in 50 Shades of Red White and Blue
Caroline Curran as Maggie Muff in 50 Shades of Red White and Blue

It was the most talked about book of last year. Indeed it quickly became the fastest selling paperback of all time - as millions of readers the world over became enthralled in the lives of Anastasia Steele and the new man in her life Christian Grey.

But the’50 Shades of Grey’ trilogy was not without its detractors - an indeed some argued it was anti-woman, sexist and even dangerous.

Belfast writer Leesa Harker - who admits she didn’t even make it past three chapters of the first in the trilogy of bonkbusters - was so offended by the text she decided to give the story a very different slant.

And, on her Facebook page one day last summer her parody ‘50 Shades of Red, White and Blue’ was born. At first glance it may have read simply like 50 Shades taken from the uber glamorous surroundings of Belfast and slapped down in East Belfast - but Leesa says it goes a little deeper.

“I was studying with the Open University and one of my modules was creative writing,” Leesa said. “There was a lot of talk - most of it negative - on our private forums about ‘50 Shades of Grey’ and how it was written.

“And at the same time I saw a lot of my friends - clever, educated women, posting on Facebook on how they were reading the book. There seemed to be a competition almost to see who could read them the fastest - and my friends would be joking about how they were off to have an early night with Mr Grey.

“At the same time I was reading ‘How To Be A Woman’ by journalist Caitlin Moran - which is a wonderful, funny book about what it is like to be a woman. But I decided to pick up ‘50 Shades’ and give it a go.

“I think it was a great idea, but I was shocked. In the book this woman is such a wet lettuce. She agrees to everything Christian Grey asks of her, from getting waxed, to eating no junk food, to allowing him to whip her until he hurts and bruises her.

“There is a fine line between having a bit of rumpy pumpy and abuse - and I think this book puts us on dangerous ground. There are a generation of young women growing up reading this book and thinking that is acceptable behaviour in a relationship.

“I couldn’t see how all my clever educated friends just couldn’t see that? So I decided to writer ‘50 Shades of Red, White and Blue’ and hoped my friends would see then how controlling he was - and how a strong woman could sort him out.”

And while Leesa admits she is very much a feminist - her book, and the play which has followed and is now on its way Millennium Forum next month - is no heavy tome.

In fact, the reviews describe it as hilarious. Audiences have staggered out grabbing their sides from laughing so hard and what started out as a Facebook blog among friends has become a huge success story in itself.

‘50 Shades of Red White and Blue’ features the main character of Maggie Muff, her best friend Big Sally Ann - and of course Mr Red White and Blue himself - who is a man Maggie meets down at the local dole office.

It’s unashamed in its Belfast humour - and Leesa said she is delighted to portray a side of Northern Ireland not often seen - our incredible sense of humour.

“There is nothing about the Troubles. I think people are bored of that. We are funny people and it is time we showed that off.”

The play is a full on comedy - with Maggie at the helm - and it’s not for the faint hearted. It’s a case of everything that can go wrong, will go wrong as Maggie searches for the man for her.

“It’s not sleazy,” Leesa is keen to emphasize. “It is funny, and it is close to the bone in places but it’s real and let’s put it this way, if anyone is coming to see this show to see if it turns them on, they will be sorely disappointed.”

In the play the roles of all the characters are played by Belfast actress Caroline Curran who admits the role is “very challenging”.

She also admits that the rehearsal process caused her a few blushes. “It is quite explicit in places - in a comical way - but it was still difficult to go through the scripts at times in rehearsals.”

The positive audience reaction helped once the show hit the stage though. “Seeing people laughing so hard is amazing. Everybody who comes along should have a great night’s craic.”

‘50 Shades of Red White and Blue’ will be performed at the Millennium Forum on Friday, August 30. For tickets call 71264455 or visit www,milleniumforum.co.uk