Tuesday, 16 December 2014

My Arts Journey #13pForTheArts

When I was a young single mum living in a small house, struggling to hold down a job and make ends meet, the Arts believed in me and gave me a chance.  A job, a life, non-judgmental colleagues and a new view on what NI is about.  Now I believe in myself, my ability, that my opinion is valid, that I am valued, important, creative and trustworthy. Is this worth 13p?  

Starting out as a shy person with no confidence in my ability, I have managed an Arts Centre, worked on nine Festivals in various guises, managed three theatre companies, produced 2 theatre shows, rehearsed readings and a musical.  I am a Chairperson of a company, Director of a charity, have a Full Time job and 2 Part Time jobs.  The belief the Arts had in me made me able to do this. Is this worth 13p?

My kids are open minded, confident, integrated and able to hold their own in adult conversations. They are liberal without being judgmental of traditional viewpoints. They are understanding, balanced and will defend those who are deemed different, weak, alone or difficult.  They do not see colour, gender, ability, sex or difference. They see people.  If they had grown up without the impact of the Arts on their characters, they would not be like this. Is this worth 13p?

Suffering from Post Natal depression and suicidal, I saw a show which made me rethink my journey, my past, my importance, my reasons to live.  I did not take an overdose. Is this worth 13p?

The Arts is not just about jobs, events, tourism, entertainment and education. It's about what makes us people - our well-being, creativity and ability to innovate; our mental health, opinions and ability to understand others; our enthusiasm, our want to learn and our sense of pride.  Please don't be short sighted.

Sign the petition here to support the #13pForTheArts campaign.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Sleeping Beauty at Lyric Belfast

Sleeping Beauty runs on the Danske Bank Stage from 5 December 2014 to 4 January
2015. Tickets are £12.50 for children and £18 for adults or buy a Family Ticket for
just £54 (1 adult and 3 children or 2 adults and 2 children). 
To book contact the Lyric box office on 028 9038 1081 or online at

Sam T McKee as ‘Prince Antoine’
Kathryn Aiken – as the magical fairy ‘Firefly’

 Jo Donnelly as the evil fairy ‘Roselyn’ 

The cast of Sleeping Beauty
Beccy Henderson as ‘Princess Rose’
Tommy Wallace as ‘Fang’ and Richard Ashton as ‘The King’ 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

A Mid-Summer Night's Dream by C21

After the success of Romeo and Juliet in 2013, c21 brings Shakespeare’s clever comedy to the stage in the autumn.

This new adaptation, directed by Arthur Webb, and specially edited for schools and lovers of the Bard’s language, captures all the essence of love, intrigue and humour and is performed by a cast of six talented actors: Adrian Cooke, Ruth Jennings, Richard Priestly, Thomas Martin, Megan Armitage and Gerard McCabe

The play contains some strong, courtly, confused lovers, a band of good- hearted thespian workmen and some vengeful punk fairies but with the help of some love juice, an ass’s head, a wall and a lion, the domestic squabbles in the forest of Athens, are magically resolved and the play ends with celebration and marriage.

Don’t miss c21’s new and exciting ‘Dream’ production.

Touring to:

Braid Arts Centre on Monday 13th October - To book tickets click here
Antrim Grammar School on Tuesday 14th October
Riverside Theatre on Wednesday 15th October - To book tickets click here
Down Arts Centre on Friday 17th October - To book tickets click here
Methodist College on Tuesday 21st October
Baby Grand from Wednesday 22nd - Saturday 25th October - To book tickets click here

Monday, 6 October 2014

Tom Doughty at the Black Box 30 October at 8pm

Fresh from gigs at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank and the Liverpool Music Festival, Tom Doughty is performing a one off gig in Belfast to raise money for Arts Care, before playing the International Guitar Festival of Great Britain. 

In a world where music and musicians are rigorously categorised for marketing purposes, Tom Doughty presents a challenge... 

How do you pigeonhole someone who has played, studied and shared stages with US blues guitar master Woody Mann; Australian classical guitar maestro Craig Ogden; Indian slide guitar genius Debashish Bhattacharya; and UK pedal steel King BJ Cole?

A solo artist, half a duo, with a band or indeed as 2014 saw in Qatar Opera House, a soloist in a unique orchestra, Tom ignores boundaries.

A performance by Tom Doughty seamlessly blends all these influences with his own improvisational style to create a unique experience for the listener. A 1920s blues classic might be followed by a new take on a Marvin Gaye number; a hauntingly evocative original instrumental gives way to Cole Porter, the Beatles, or Randy Newman. An instantly recognisable slide guitar style, passionate vocals and a relaxed, wryly humorous line in stage patter take the audience on a unique musical journey, echoing the diversity of the family record collection that made such an impression on the young Doughty.

“Just the right amount of laidbackness” – John Renbourn

A self taught guitarist from the age of seven, Tom Doughty had literally to reinvent a way to play guitar after a serious injury in 1974 left him with limited use of his hands. Frustrated at hearing music in his mind which he could not physically produce on his instrument, Tom’s tenacity and creativity helped him discover a route back to being a musician. His sensitivity of touch allows him to pull every ounce of emotion from the instrument, as if he has somehow become one with the guitar.

“Tom Doughty is possessed of a deep musical soul” – Bob Brozman

With numerous radio and TV appearances and four critically acclaimed CDs to his name, Tom’s reputation as a musician, singer, songwriter, teacher, writer and workshop leader is international. He performs regularly in the UK and Europe at clubs, concert halls and festivals, and has toured the USA and Canada and the middle East.

“Possesses a level of communication with his audience that is by no means limited to his guitar playing... it feels like a large collection of friends have called round to Tom’s place for a chat and some songs” – Review, Acoustic magazine

So forget preconceptions and put labels and marketing hype aside; Tom Doughty plays and sings real, organic music that comes from the soul.

30th October at 8pm, Black Box Belfast
Tickets for the event can be purchased online by clicking HERE.

All proceeds to Arts Care. Please consider making a small contribution to this worthwhile charity.
To make a donation and for more information, please see:

Monday, 7 July 2014

At times like these men were wishing they were all kinds of insects - The MAC Belfast

The starting point for Graham Gingles WW1 commemorative project was the simple act of the MAC gifting a decorative brass box to the artist, the same brass box sent by Princess Mary to members of the British, Colonial and Indian Armed Forces at Christmas in 1914.

Graham has dramatically scaled up his intimate and enigmatic wall-hanging sculptures, usually enclosed in meticulously crafted wood and glass boxes, in order to occupy the entirety of the Sunken Gallery at the MAC, where the walls of the gallery become the form of enclosure. The work deals with themes of memory and loss and is both theatrical and sculptural, presenting the viewer with a totally immersive experience. Dark and compelling, this piece invites the viewer to come close and examine the intricacies of the various compartments and corridors within this room.

The title of the work is taken from the War Diaries of Robert McGookin from Larne, Northern Ireland who spoke of the men’s wish whilst under shell fire to become like insects like a worm burrowing into the trenches.

For more information on this commission, and other related projects in the UK, please see 14-18 NOW.

The exhibition runs at the MAC Belfast until 17 August 2014

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Competition: Win £1000 for your artistic skills at #BelFest

The Project

Love treasure hunts?  Like surprises? We’re leaving lots of artworks around Belfast City Centre and other areas for you to find.  Follow our clues on social media and see if you can spot a prize. Don’t forget to let us know that you’ve found it via Facebook or Twitter. Be creative with your thank you for a chance to win a bigger prize.We will also be leaving a piano for you to play at various locations including Culture Night, so bring your best music, your fancy fingers and your toe tapping rhythms. Why? Because we believe in the power of art and we want to embrace you with music and give back some love.Follow #BelFest for clues

What we need

We are sending out 200,000 postcards to advertise the Free Festival Friday campaign. In addition we will need labels, transfers and a design to brand the piano.

Artist brief

Can you come up with an artistic design to encourage people to engage with the project? We’re thinking fun, quirky, energetic, musical and embracing.We want everyone to get involved in the art treasure hunt - adults, kids, young people, parents and older people. Can you create a design that will encourage all of them to take part?   We want the piano to be engaging – can you make your design so enticing that members of the public will be compelled to sit down and play?Your design will also be applied to the overall branding online and on social media channels.


You can supply your artwork in any visual medium preferably A3 size. Our designers will work with the winning artist reproduce the image as best they can for different formats.    
Brief Terms and Conditions

To enter the competition, your design must meet the following brief criteria - The design must be family friendly e.g. no nudity, swearing or adult themes.The design must be submitted in an appropriate format.Prize will be £1000. The winning design will be used as part of the Free Festival Friday campaign across the print, online and social media channels.Artist must be available to take part in a photo call on Friday 5th September and to accept their prize.Any submissions made by artists for the Free Festival Friday Prize, must be open to their work being accessible and promoted as part of the #FFF14 campaign and for Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s in the future, and utilised for social media and further promotions.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Culture Babies launched

Young at Art is have announced the launch of CULTURE BABIES, a new creative playgroup for under 4's this Summer.

Based in CastleCourt shopping centre this event is FREE for parents of children and groups from 0-4 years to attend. It will be jam-packed with fun activities changing every week, and led by experienced artists to specially cater to very young children.

Sessions include; baby yoga, dance, drama, messy play, music and much, much more. The range of interactive and creative experiences of Culture Babies supports young children’s creative expression, enabling them to try new things, and giving them the freedom to get as messy and as creative as they want, in a safe, fun and welcoming environment.

The activities behind Culture Babies will help to build very young children’s self-confidence, interpersonal and technical skills as well as offering and a wonderful way to bond with your child.

The group are planning to meet every Thursday morning between 10am - 12 noon from 10th July until provisionally September.


10th July: Make Your Own Fort

17th July: Make an Aquarium

24th July: Playing with Plasticine

31st July: Baby Yoga

7th August: Make Your Own Musical Instrument

14th August: Messy Painting

21st August: Wall Collage

28th August: Baby Dance Session

11th September: Baby Drama Session

This is a FREE, drop-in group with no booking necessary.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Giro d'Italia Fever from East Belfast

The company behind 'The Boat Factory' and 'Not About Heroes', Happenstance Theatre Company have brought us another fine piece of drama especially for the Giro d'Italia, Pink Lycra starring Michael Condron.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

How Many Miles to Babylon? at the Lyric Theatre: REVIEW

*Being married to a technician may have affected my opinion when writing this review.

When the Director Philip Wilson came out on stage before the show to say that the mechanics were playing up, my heart sank.  Pointing out possible issues and highlighting the technical hitches unfairly distracts the audience away from the story.  From the onset all I could concentrate on was watching the Revolve, counting the number of times the Stage Manager had to push it manually, and feel sorry for the actors.  At times they were out of the light, distracted by the set and having to insert pauses while waiting for the Revolve to put them in the correct place.

While technical problems happen, and reliance on equipment is certainly a difficulty in theatre production, I felt that it was all a little selfish on the part of the Creative Team. The Revolve of the stage, even if it had worked seamlessly, added nothing to the overall atmosphere of the production and seemed to me to be an unfair burden to have placed on both the actors and crew.

Despite being distracted however, How Many Miles to Babylon? is a wise tale, one of friendship, bravery and strength of character.  Alec Moore (Anthony Delaney), a boy of the Big House in Wicklow is brought up by parents who have lots of money and not much love.  The first half of the play concentrates on the home life of Alec, his overbearing mother played by a convincing Catherine Cusack and indifferent father (Michael James Ford).  The lighting is cold and ghostly, accenting the formality of Alec's life in the Big House.

His illicit forays out to meet his only friend, the village boy Jerry Crowe, played by the ever watchable Ryan McParland, are filled with simplicity and laughter. They have in common their love of horses and the swans of the Big House. Their differences are noted; Jerry does not ride like a gentleman, he hasn't read the classics, he has difficulty with his homework. But none of these matter. Jerry is warm and funny, and despite not knowing the 'proper' way to do things, he is surrounded by a loving family and friends, and a knowledge of politics and current affairs.

Alec is pushed to enlist by his mother because it is his duty. When he says he doesn't want to and doesn't understand what the war is about she calls him a coward.  Jerry enlists in order to get some cash, another pay-check will make his family life much easier. It is when the boys decide to enlist that their differences are acknowledged. Jerry knows that Alec will become an Officer and will be expected to lead men like Jerry.

The second half of the play takes place in the trenches.  While the use of the Revolve makes more sense in this half, it still does not add enough to the play to merit reliance on it.  I was disappointed by the set which looked cheap and thought that smoke and lighting could have been used to much better effect. The fact that the boys were at the Front, while obvious in the script, was not mirrored by the atmosphere created.
We see Alec struggle with his Officer rank and with his inability to publicly continue his friendship with Jerry. Whether talking to Major Glendinning or fellow Officer Bennett, Jerry is always at the forefront of his mind. Their meetings are punctuated with laughter and whiskey, horse riding and genuine affection for each other.

The differences in their upbringing are clear from the letters each of them receive from home and their reactions to them. While Jerry sets off on a labour of love for his mother, Alec sets off on a labour of love for Jerry and as the story plays out, we are reminded that this is not a complex story of war, but a simple one of courage and friendship.

How Many Miles to Babylon? at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast runs until 24 May.  For more information and tickets click here

Image credits: Steffan Hill

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Coming Up: The Far Side of Revenge - Theatre of Witness documentary screening

This May Banbridge District Council has invited The Playhouse Theatre of Witness to deliver a screening of its work in Banbridge and invites audiences to bear witness to a powerful humanizing documentary about its work.

The Council's Good Relations Programme will offer a free screening of THE FAR SIDE OF REVENGE, a documentary that explores artistic director Teya Sepinuck’s engagement among a group of Northern Irish women from extraordinary backgrounds and histories. The film will be screened at The Old Town Hall, Banbridge on Tuesday May 6 at 7.30pm followed by a facilitated discussion with cast members.

Theatre of Witness is a form of performance that gives voice to those who have been marginalised, forgotten or are invisible in society.  Their true, life stories, performed by the people themselves, are shared onstage so that audiences can collectively bear witness to issues of suffering, redemption and social justice.

The film, by local filmmaker Margo Harkin, brings insight into a process of creation of this ground-breaking type of theatre, where the pain of individual stories are counterbalanced by the joyful bond that deepens between the women over a nine-month period.

Kathleen, whose husband and 5 British soldiers were blown up by the IRA in 1990, now performs on stage with Anne, a former quartermaster in the IRA whose uncle was killed by the British paratroopers on Bloody Sunday in 1972.  Under Teya’s guidance six cast members allow themselves to reveal the deep emotions that can only now be explored in post-conflict Northern Ireland.

“Under Teya’s direction this project is an adventure in human relations that surprises even the performers of this most unusual form of public expression”  Dolores Donnelly, Banbridge District Council's Good Relations Officer said.

“These are women from backgrounds and histories so diverse that it would be difficult to envision them sharing a space, let alone creating a public, cultural event together thus resulting in a very powerful and emotional piece of work”.

The film has already been screened in Belfast, Dublin, the Chicago Film Festival and received the Light In Motion Best Documentary Award at the 2012 Foyle Film Festival.

For more information or to reserve your seat please contact Marion Mitchell on (028) 4066 0605 or email marion.mitchell@banbridge.gov.uk

Monday, 28 April 2014

Coming Up: Flesh & Blood Women at the Grand Opera House

In what is believed to be the first-ever all-female, home-produced theatre production in the history of Northern Irish theatre, Flesh & Blood Women is about to set the Grand Opera House alight in early May, running from Wednesday 7th – Saturday 24th May.
Green Shoot promise an exhilarating night at the theatre with the production consisting of three hard hitting short plays written by Dawn Purvis, Brenda Murphy and Jo Egan.

Writing for the theatre for the first time, in her play Picking Up Worms, former Progressive Unionist Party leader Dawn Purvis tells a story from the 1970s about a child’s reflection of events on a street in Belfast during the Ulster Worker’s Strike in 1974.

Ballymurphy playwright and writer of the award-winning A Night With George, Brenda Murphy, tells the extraordinary true story of her mother having 11 children, six to a married man who lived around the corner with his own family.  In Two Sore Legs the former Republican prisoner uses her trademark Belfast humour to tell this very personal story, told from her mother’s perspective.

After last year's success as the writer/ director of Crimea Square, voted winner of the Audience Awards at the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen'sJo Egan’s play Sweeties will tell the stunning story of two sisters with conflicting memories about a life-changing incident from their childhood. Sweeties is based on Jo’s original oral research with Belfast women.

Flesh & Blood Women is unique in that it is the first production in the history of Northern Irish theatre where everyone involved is a woman. From writers to designers, from producer to director and stage management to marketers – believe it or not – it’s never happened before. In total, nineteen women will be involved at all levels of production.

The company are especially thrilled to have acquired the services of Coronation Street actress and director, Noreen Kershaw. Noreen won a BAFTA for directing the controversial Coronation Street storyline about the rape of Carla Connor. She has also directed episodes of Shameless and Emmerdale.

The all female cast includes Kerri Quinn, Maria Connolly, Rosie McClelland and Kat Regan.

For more information and to book tickets please click here.


Friday, 18 April 2014

Coming Up: How Many Miles to Babylon? at the Lyric Belfast

The First World War Centenary is commemorated in dramatic fashion at the Lyric Theatre with a stirring adaptation of Jennifer Johnston’s novel How Many Miles to Babylon? this Spring.

Rehearsals are well underway with an impressive line-up of Irish and English actors bringing the Londonderry author’s “brilliant masterpiece” to the stage for the first time in Northern Ireland.

Anthony Delaney (Alec) and Ryan McParland (Jerry) in rehearsals
How Many Miles to Babylon? tells the heart-rending story of two young Irish boys from very different backgrounds who end up fighting in Flanders. Alec and Jerry are divided by class but united in friendship. One is the only child of Anglo-Irish landowners; the other is from a large family of Irish workers. Brought together by a shared love of horses, the pair enjoy an idyllic childhood on the same estate in County Wicklow.

As war breaks out at the end of 1914, both enlist in the army - and find themselves standing together, yet divided once more by rank. In the fields of Flanders, they must not only endure the horrors of the battlefield, but also face an ordeal that will test their friendship and their loyalty to breaking point.  The dramatic tale has been adapted by Irish actor and current Artistic Director of the PICT theatre in Pittsburgh, Alan Stanford.

How Many Miles to  Babylon full cast
Philip Wilson directs an impressive cast with Good Vibrations star Ryan McParland taking on the role of the charismatic Jerry and Anthony Delaney (Liola, The Kingdom) as Alec. Lyric audiences may also remember Ryan from Tim Loane’s The Civilisation Game in 2012 as well as the BBC series, 6 Degrees set in Belfast.

Catherine Cusack, part of the Irish acting dynasty of Cusacks, plays the cold mother, Alicia Moore opposite Michael James Ford (Becoming Jane; Michael Collins) as her husband. The rest of the cast are Richard Teverson (Brideshead Revisited; Downton Abbey) as Major Glendinning, Jeremy Lloyd (The Iron Lady) as Bennett and Charlie De Bromhead (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People).

Director Philip Wilson
“I came across Jennifer Johnston’s novel some years back, when I was researching another First World War story, and her delicate yet heartbreaking account of how young Irish men faced the unimaginable in the trenches has stayed with me ever since,” said the director, Philip Wilson.

“So I leapt at the chance to stage Alan Stanford’s poignant and richly evocative adaptation of this classic novel. Alec and Jerry’s friendship – which transcends education, class and religion – is a wonderfully compelling one, and the journey they go on together is truly remarkable.”

How Many Miles to Babylon? runs on the Danske Bank Stage, Lyric Theatre from Wed 30 April to Sat 24 May (Previews Sun 27 April 2.30pm; Tues 29 April 1pm & 7.45pm)

For more information and booking, please click here.

Image credits: Brian Morrison

Friday, 7 March 2014

Guest Review: Nivelli's War by Cahoots NI at the MAC Belfast

By Dylan O'Rawe, aged 10
Tonight my mum and I went to see Nivelli's War.  It was the story of how a little boy called Ernst was evacuated to his aunt's house in the country when his city was bombed in World War 2.  He loved his mum very much and did not want to leave her, but it was too dangerous for him to stay and so he had to go so he would be safe.

When the war was over, a nice man helped him to find his way home even though when they first met each other they hated each other.  He showed Ernst magic tricks and then Ernst learned to do them himself.  When he grew up he became the great Nivelli, a magician.

I thought the story was really nice and I thought it was happy and sad.  I loved the magic tricks and the smoke which made it really spooky sometimes.  The music was cool and sometimes made me feel like something bad was going to happen.

My mum knows some people in the show and I knew Michael and Kerri because I've met them before with my mum.  All the actors were great but I thought that the great Nivelli was the best because he was really old and remembering back a long time and that was hard to act.  I loved Michael's smoke too and wanted there to be more, but I'm glad I wasn't sitting at the front.

I think all children should go to see the show because stories about the war are important for children to know about and history is really interesting.  If you like magic then you will love the trick at the end but my mum said not to write it here or I would spoil the surprise!


Nivelli's War is at the MAC Belfast until Tuesday 11 March. Click here for tickets 
For tour dates check the Cahoots NI website by clicking here     

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Coming Up: Brassneck's Man In The Moon at the Belfast Waterfront

Man in the Moon brings captivating local theatre to Belfast Waterfront’s Studio from Wednesday 19 to Saturday 29 March.  (No performance on Sunday 23 March).

“A brave and stirring piece of theatre… marvellously engaging.”
(Irish Theatre Magazine)

Written by acclaimed playwright Pearse Elliott and starring Ciaran Nolan - one of Ireland’s most gifted young actors - this one man show is brought to you by Belfast's Brassneck Theatre Company, the producers of smash-hit shows The Sweety Bottle and A Night With George.

“Funny, fast-paced and unexpectedly poignant.”  
(Culture NI)

Powerful, poignant and funny, this darkly comedic roller-coaster is the tender story of one man’s resolve to overcome the worst that life has to throw at him.  Sean Doran has recently been fired from his dead-end job. To make matters worse, his girlfriend has left him, taking their child, and the bank has just repossessed his house.

And so, we find Sean alone by the Half Moon Lake, a natural lagoon in the middle of Lenadoon Housing Estate in West Belfast, which although beautiful is known as a place of tragedy.

“Belly laughs, scene after scene.”  
(Irish News)

Over the course of one moonlit evening he takes us on a soul-searching journey through life, love and death, via his past, present and future.  He takes us on a ghost hunt of some of the funny people he has known and hilarious situations he has experienced in his life, whilst trying to fashion sense of his recent run of bad luck.

“Brassneck have pushed their creative boundaries with this play, which although comedic in many senses, deals with deeply serious and relevant subject matters.”
Writer, Pearse Elliott

“I have drawn parallels with the classic movie, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Sean is our George Bailey and throughout Man In The Moon he talks and tries to make sense of his life and all the bad events that have come his way.  Reflecting on the people he has lost to suicide, Sean looks for a way to deal with everything and troop on. This is a story of survival, choices and how we can make a difference in this world.”
Director Tony Devlin

Man in the Moon is recommended for ages 15+ and contains strong language.

Tickets for Man in the Moon are available at www.waterfront.co.uk

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Verdi's Macbeth by NI Opera

Given how much I loved The Flying Dutchman I was expecting great things from NI Opera's Macbeth.
It had many virtues which I absolutely loved.

The American Horror Story style witches straight out of a Victorian lunatic asylum were excellent and their movement was suitably creepy to ensure some audience members visibly recoiled when they first came on stage.

A stunning backdrop with a striking image by Alan McMahon which nodded to the iconic visual of Cosette from Les Miserables and which I would quite like on my bedroom wall.

The set was beautiful and though stark and cold for the scenes with the witches, was soon warmed up with banqueting tables, banners and flaming torches for the scenes in Macbeth's castle.  The raked stage worked well to ensure a feeling of claustrophobia, though I felt that this effect was lost a little by the performances.

Lady Macbeth's shelves of shoes made lots of the female audience members jealous but was a well placed reference to her determination to rise to the top and look good doing it. A press photographer taking photos at important moments in the Macbeth's lives pointed to the modern day cult of celebrity and I thought this was a nice touch.

A large curtain with images of the village people who had gone missing was poignant and sad and very much reminded me of the notice boards of missing people which spring up during a natural disaster or civil war.

I loved the gang of hoods with their covered faces and hard man stances. They very much reminded me of Belfast's own spides or indeed Tartans.  

While all these elements by themselves worked well and were striking, I felt that perhaps there were too many styles for the audience to take in.  The darkness of the story and the sense of foreboding which should have been present was not visible as the audience tried to keep up with the varying themes.

I felt that the performers lacked any real belief in the story they were telling and I made little connection with most of the characters with the exception of MacDuff. Andrew Rees has an engaging personal acting style and I really felt his words as he sang about his children being killed by the tyrant Macbeth.  It seemed that Lady Macbeth was played for laughs rather than being the conniving and reckless bitch I wanted her to be.
If I'm being honest a few simple things really annoyed me about the production which should have been easily fixed.  A screen provided on the stage to show the horrors that Macbeth had committed was much too small for anyone to see and given the amount of room on the stage, could have been better used.  Having a stage crew member carry said screen off mid-scene in full light completely broke my sense of disbelief and it seemed like this had been thrown in at the last minute.  While having crew on stage is acceptable for small theatre shows, I feel for a production which is so focussed on slick scenes and expensive sets, this was an oversight which should not have happened.  

Overall, I did enjoy the show.  The Ulster Orchestra as always, were amazing and I always enjoy the visual spectacle of opera but I wanted to be shocked and angry at the Macbeth's behaviour, instead I was amused.

That's not so bad, is it?


Image credit: Patrick Redmond

Friday, 21 February 2014

On the Brink 1914-16: Politics of Conflict

On the Brink - Lecture by Prof. Richard Grayson at the Braid
In recent weeks, an interim programme for On the Brink 1914-16: Politics of Conflict was delivered in venues in Larne, Ballymena and Coleraine. Mid-Antrim Museum Service with Causeway Museum Service delivered this programme using feedback obtained from twenty five local community groups residing across the eight participating local authorities of Ballymena, Ballymoney, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Larne, Limavady, Moyle and Newtownabbey.  The core programme for the On the Brink 1914-16 project will commence in April with anticipated funding from Heritage Lottery Fund.  

Drawing on community feedback, the Interim programme was aimed at building contextual knowledge of this 1914-16 period in the community as well as offering research skill development opportunities. 

On February 6th in Drumalis, Larne, speakers including Dr. Fearghal McGarry and Philip Orr gave talks on inclusive remembrance of this period. Dr. Chris Manson gave an illustrated talk on the post-war contexts in which War Memorials were planned, erected and unveiled across the island of Ireland. Exploration of the latter is an important focus for the core On the Brink 1914-16 project because it aims to deliver a Volunteer Tour Guide Initiative known as ‘Remembering 1914-16’ which will reveal local histories of WWI using sites such as War Memorials. Event speakers at Drumalis then participated in a panel discussion chaired by Johnston McMaster, former Director of the Education for Reconciliation programme at the Irish School of Ecumenics.

On February 12th and 13th, Professor Richard Grayson, Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, London delivered sessions at both Mid-Antrim Museum at The Braid, Ballymena and Flowerfield Arts Centre, Portstewart. These were practical sessions which introduced participants to a five step WWI military history research methodology which Grayson has also shared with the Community Relations Council.To demonstrate these steps, Grayson drew case studies from his book Belfast Boys: How Unionists and Nationalists Fought and Died Together in the First World War as well as from his own family’s service in WWI.

On the back of Grayson’s sessions, six workshops funded by the Community Relations Council will now be rolled out enabling participants to implement this five step research methodology. These sessions will provide guidance and hands on experience in using research sources including the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, local newspapers and on-line War Diaries. 

Many people from all backgrounds had ancestors who fought in the First World World, some of whom unfortunately never made it back home. The Community Relations Council is delighted that people will be able to explore the meaning of the First World War in their own areas. By understanding further how the War affected their families and their areas we hope it might help people think about what future they want for themselves and their children to make sure conflict like this or more locally does not happen again." 
Peter Osborne, Chair of the Community Relations Council

These CRC funded WWI research skills workshops are limited to 10 places and will run on the following dates from 7pm to 9pm:

Cullybackey Community Development House, March 3th
Flowerfield Arts Centre, Portstewart March 4th
Dunanney Centre, Rathcoole (Newtownabbey) March 5th
Flowerfield Arts Centre, Portstewart March 11th
Ceres House, Ballykelly (Limavady) March 12th
Willowbank Business Park, Larne March 13th

For further information on securing a workshop place, please contact Mid-Antrim Museum Service on maria.cagney@ballymena.gov.uk or Causeway Museum Service on john.hamilton@colerainebc.gov.uk

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Coming Up at Belfast Children's Festival

Young at Art presents the BELFAST CHILDREN’S FESTIVAL 7th – 14th March 2014

8 days, 18 venues, 107 events, 12 exhibitions

Belfast Children’s Festival has a jam-packed programme for the 16th annual Festival.

For eight days in March, Belfast will be home to one of the largest programmes of arts and creativity for children in the UK and Ireland.

Artists will be visiting from countries all over Europe, including France, Spain, Sweden and Germany, to perform for NI audiences.

Highlights of the international programme include:

Sienta La Cabeza, a group from Barcelona who combine fantasy hair and make-up with a funky musical groove.

Winners of the Prix D’Assistej 2013, the Carrasco Dance Company with the powerful Bartolomeo.

Winner of the Best Small Show at Feten 2013, A Mano.

Once again the association of Theatre for Young Audiences NI (TYA NI) will present a vibrant programme of theatre for all ages. Audiences will be inspired by all that is happening right here in Northern Ireland with contributions from Cahoots NI, Replay Theatre Company, Maiden Voyage Dance, Banyan Theatre Company and Barnstorm Theatre Company.

There will also be the opportunity to catch previews of new performances in development, including work by Jude Quinn and Pop Art Productions.

There will be musical performances in association with Moving on Music from from Petunia and the Vipers and Nico and Martin, and a strong programme of events encouraging interactive participation, including Baby Chill, set within an out of this world inflatable and super soft atmospheric space for parents and babies aged 0-18 months, and Big Ears, a unique exploration of music , sound and technology with the Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queens University.

Young at Art are also pleased to launch The Office of Important Art, an open space based in CastleCourt Shopping Centre. It will be a free, drop-in space every day during the festival where families of all ages can come, relax and try out different activities. No booking is necessary.

This year’s festival contains a stronger-than-ever visual arts programme, highlighting suitable exhibitions all over the city. Young at Art is currently working with many of Belfast’s galleries and studio groups to increase the number of families visiting the wealth of exhibitions and studio tours the city has to offer. Free visual arts tours will be available as part of this year’s programme.

Book now at: www.belfastchildrensfestival.com or call the Box Office on 028 9024 3042.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Coming Up: About A Goth by Staged Assault

'It's a very sunny day, the worst kind of weather for a goth, so I lurk in the shadows contemplating the great tragedies of my life. The burden of my intelligence, for example. Loneliness.
I am an only child.
Unless you count Lizzie, my sister, but I don't, since she is so clearly a moron.'

Meet Nick, a 17 year old cloak clothed gay goth, cursed with an annoying sister, the world's most cheerful parents and a part-time voluntary job at the local care home. He spends his time listening to Marilyn Manson, yearning for oblivion and designing coffins to present to Ikea's managing director. That is until tragedy strikes, changing Nick's views on life, and death, forever.


Starring Robert Killalay and directed by Helen Donnelly, this tender solo comedy from award winning playwright Tom Wells is guaranteed to warm even the blackest of hearts.

AboutA Goth is a 70 minute comedy written by Tom Wells (Critics Circle’s Most Promising Playwright, Evening Standard nominee), performed by Robert Killalay and directed by Helen Donnelly.

After a sell out performance in October, it is returning for one night only on Sunday 2nd March at 8.30pm at the Black Box Theatre, Belfast.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Coming up: NI Opera's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy, retold by one of the world’s greatest opera composers, comes to Belfast this week at the Grand Opera House.

Following a critically-acclaimed production of The Flying Dutchman in early 2013, NI Opera makes a welcome return with a new production of Verdi’s masterpiece, Macbeth.

Shakespeare’s tale of murder, madness and all-consuming lust for power inspired Verdi to write some of his finest, most gloriously gripping music, and Macbeth is as popular today as it was when it premiered in 1847.

In this spectacular new production, Director Oliver Mears and Designer Annemarie Woods take a fresh approach to this famous story. With the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Chalmers, a superb Irish and international cast and a chorus drawn from across Ireland, this will be an unmissable event for fans of Shakespeare and Verdi alike.

Sung in English.

Macbeth: Bruno Caproni / Paul Carey Jones (February 22)
Lady Macbeth: Rachel Nicholls / Miriam Murphy (February 22)
Macduff: Andrew Rees
Banco: John Molloy
Lady in Waiting: Doreen Curran
Malcolm: Aaron Cawley
Doctor: Nathan Morrison
Assassin: Christopher Cull

Read my reviews of previous NI Opera productions:  The Flying Dutchman and Noye's Fludde
Read other Opera reviews: Elephant AngelThe Magic Flute and Otello
Read my review of Macbeth at the Lyric Theatre in 2012: Macbeth

Macbeth runs from Friday 21st - Sunday 23rd February at the Grand Opera House.  Click here to book tickets.

New to Opera? It's ok to attend in jeans! Read here.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Noel Coward's Brief Encounter - Wireless Mystery Theatre: Review

One doesn't really know what to expect when attending a Wireless Mystery Theatre performance. From War of the Worlds during Belfast Children's Festival, Scream Tea in White's Tavern or A Christmas Carol in the Ulster Hall, their work is always varied and sometimes unexpected.

Last night I went to the preview of Noel Coward's Brief Encounter.  A classic of cinema, Brief Encounter is repeatedly voted the most-loved romance on screen, a tale of two lovers whose love can never be expressed.  An innocent meeting of a married man (Stephen Beggs) and a married woman (Mary Lindsay) turns into a love affair which threatens to destroy their marriages, friendships and lives.  The story starts at the end, so to speak, as Laura feels faint in the bustling train station and wishes her friend is dead because she won't stop talking.  As the jigsaw is put back together, we find out why Laura feels the way she does, just who the mystery Doctor is she was saying goodbye to and why it was all so overwhelming.

Wireless Mystery Theatre use sound to great effect in this show.   Using surround sound technology, trains rattle through the theatre, making the audience feel very much like they're right in the middle of the action. The effect of this is that we have to listen all the more intently to what is happening between the characters. For me, this just enhanced the secretive nature of the affair, feeling like I was eavesdropping on a couple and hearing their deepest desires.

Mary Lindsay is particularly suited to playing Laura Jesson.  Her face spoke a thousand words as the guilt tore her apart and she fought with her inner, barely acknowledged desires. Stephen Beggs' Dr Harvey is dashing and handsome in his suit and hat and at times a little insistent.  We never see Dr Harvey's wife and so all our thoughts are with Laura and her turmoil.

Despite some first night technical hitches, the performances induced a few tears from a couple of unnamed audience members, overwrought by the emotional difficulty of the unplanned romantic interlude and it's final goodbye. Indeed it was heard to be said how easy it would be for something like this to happen, a testament to Coward's writing engaging even the most restrained audience members with Laura's predicament.

For me, by far the most poignant part of the play is when Laura's husband Fred (Mark Claney) says 'You've been a long way away... Thank you for coming back to me'. Despite his blandness and apparent disinterest, he has noticed the whole time that Laura's mind was on something else.

Brief Encounter runs until Saturday 15th February in the Baby Grand.
Click here to book tickets.


Sunday, 9 February 2014

Philadelphia, Here I Come! at the Lyric Theatre: Review

Eleven years ago I saw Adrian Dunbar's Philadelphia, Here I Come! at the Millennium Forum in Derry.  At the time I had been working in the arts for about a year and had seen a handful of small shows at the Old Museum Arts Centre.
As a child we didn't go to the theatre, I didn't read plays and I certainly hadn't heard of Brian Friel. I went off for a night in Derry and my first Friel experience.  The show may have been amazing but I couldn't see it, I didn't understand it, I couldn't find a context in which it was relevant to me.  In fact I'd forgotten I'd even seen it until very recently.  I wracked my brain trying to remember the story, the characters, anything about the show that I could talk about if I was asked.  But all I can remember is my first time in Derry, the bar in the Everglades and how long it took to get home.

To all my thespian friends out there, I know this shocks you. Over the past few days I've been told 'It's the most amazing play ever written' and 'he's the best playwright who ever lived'.  In the back of my head I was wondering what I'd missed.

Last night I went to see Philadelphia, Here I Come!, the Lyric's 50th Anniversary production, directed by Andrew Flynn.  It started quietly, Stella McCusker's voice barely audible from the back of the theatre. On a beautiful set, the actors drew me in to Friels' relatively simple story of a young man with no reason to stay in the small village of Ballybeg.  His father barely speaks to him, the girl he loves has married someone else and the monotony is killing him.

Small moments of melancholy are brought alive by the lighting design, Kate appearing ghostly under blue light as he remembers their moments together and his silly mistake in losing her.  Throughout the production, tiny areas of script are highlighted through the physical design. Subtle changes in lighting density darken the mood, the lamp in the bedroom highlights Gar's private space and soft lights pick out the table as a symbol of home. These are sometimes barely noticeable but just enough to draw the audience in to the overall feeling of melancholy and loneliness.  The clock ticks time down on the wall as Gar's time to depart comes closer, the audience drawn in to the countdown until his new life in Philadelphia.

But for me it is the words which jumped out from the stage, the poetic pain of a broken heart, the hopeless sadness of having nothing to look forward to, the inability to feign happiness in a world to which you don't belong.

The discord between Gar's two personalities, Gar Private and Gar Public is pronounced.  Gar Private is excitable, forward thinking and dismissive of Gar Public's sadness. He should look to the future, not to the past. He needs to move forward and stop thinking about home. Gavin Drea gave an outstanding performance as Gar Private, at times humorous and irreverent, his timing was impeccable and he trailed my emotions through the wringer a number of times throughout the performance. I especially thought the pacing between the two Gars worked really well.
When Gar Public was perked up by Gar Private, he never quite got just as excited, as is the norm in real life. Reality never quite matches the fantasy. When Gar Private was pulled down to earth by Gar Public, he matched his sadness. The equilibrium between the two sides of his personality pronounced the melancholy and loneliness and it was at these moments when I could feel my heart breaking.

The relevance of the Gar character/s to my own personality is pronounced. As part of me pushes myself forward, another part of me pulls back.  I fought to leave my background, my closed minded views and my birth culture. But as with Gar Public, I am always drawn to home, to responsibility and to a sense of safeness.  Taking a risk is difficult and scary.  Everyone needs their Gar Private to get them through the fight of leaving something safe behind. This applies to all of us, whether it's leaving the parental home, breaking up with a partner, applying for a new job or changing religion.  

I've spent some time thinking about whether Gar actually leaves home for Philadelphia or stays in Ballybeg and I'm guessing it's subjective.  I don't think he does, but then I tend not to take risks, I like to play it safe, my need for security and concern for those left behind would win over. Other people would say he does go.  Those people are willing to take risks, to go along with the adventurous part of their personality which propels them forward to try new things.    

Mark Phelan's programme note points out the impact of emigration from Ireland and now also immigration to Ireland.  He suggests that "plays like this are classics because their continuing relevance transcends both time and space".  An audience anywhere is "easily able to identify their own Ballybeg".  I would take this programme note further and suggest that Friel's play is not just about physical location or emigration from it. It's about mental emigration from one view to another, it's about growing older and forming your own opinion, it's about breaking away from your family's customs and culture and finding your own. I would suggest that this is why Friel's masterpiece is such a relevant play in this time and space in Northern Ireland today. It's also why I simply didn't get it when I saw it all those years ago.  I hadn't broken away from my culture or background, I hadn't gone to university, I hadn't gone on the journey of self discovery which I've been on for the past 11 years.

The poetic, dark humour of Friels' story, his deep understanding of human nature and the direct relevance of his writing to me and my journey has hit me in the heart and I don't think it will ever let go.

Philadelphia, Here I Come! runs until 8th March on the Danske Bank stage of the Lyric Theatre. Click here to read more.

Don't forget Friels' lesser performed play Molly Sweeney opens this week in the Naughton Studio and also runs until 8th March. Click here for more info.