Saturday, August 01, 2015

Finding community in the strangest of places - an ecovillage, a yoga studio, a brewing cooperative & a campervan

Four people related their different experiences of intentionally creating communities across Ireland at an afternoon seminar in Corrymeela’s 50th anniversary APERTURE festival.

Davie Philip spoke about the Cloughjourdan Ecovillage in Co. Tipperary.

Elizabeth Welty introduced the audience to the community-uplifting values that underpin Flow Studio Yoga Studios in Belfast.

Matthew Dick talked about his passion for community home brewing that led to setting up the Boundary brewing cooperative (after a spell with working for Brewbot).
“If you do something interesting and beautiful and different – and you’re not an asshole – people are really drawn to that.”

Finally, Ruth Gray sped through the development of the Campervan of Dreams. (The VW relic broke down on the way up to Ballycastle, but has been busy ever since.)

Well worth a listen.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Féile an Phobail 2015 (30 July to 9 August) - theatre, talk, photography & currachs

West Belfast’s Féile an Phobail seems to be thriving in this age of austerity. The printed programme is physically larger than previous years, and there are hundreds of events – many free to attend – between Thursday 30 July and Sunday 9 August.

The money-spinning big top in Falls Park has grown again (capacity now up to 5,000) and acts such as The Human League, UB40, Hugo Duncan, The Wolfe Tones and (controversially) Frankie Boyle should subsidise much of the rest of the festival. Here are some picks from the programme.


Brenda Murphy’s one-woman show Two Sore Legs plays for two nights in Culturlann starring Maria Connolly. Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 August at 8pm. Tickets £10/£8.

The Holy, Holy Bus which has only recently departed the Lyric Theatre stops off at Roddy Mc Corley Social Club on Monday 3 – Friday 7 August at 7.30pm. Tickets £10.

Theatre critic Jane Coyle is increasingly turning her hand to writing plays, and a rehearsed reading of her new work The Lantern Man is being performed in Culturlann on Friday 7 and Saturday 8 August at 1pm. It’s Christmas 1915 and Johnny McGrath returns from action on the Western Front to Dublin, a city he barely recognises. Having inherited hundreds of glass lantern slides, he puts them on show to tell the public the real story of the war. Tickets £8 including a light lunch. (Free performance in the Lyric on Saturday 8 at 6pm.)

Pintsized Productions are offering audiences a surprise show that they’ll know nothing about before it begins. The mystery even extends to the location with punters asked to gather at the doorsteps of Conway Mill at 7.30pm on Monday 10 or Thursday 11 August. Tickets £10.


Malachi O’Doherty’s Back to Landscape exhibition of Donegal photographs opens in Ballaí Bána Gallery in Culturlann on Thursday 30 July at 7pm. Malachi’s giving a talk on What Is Photography For? the following day on Saturday 1 August at 2pm.


Vets – Hardtalk sees veteran republicans Bobby Storey and Danny Morrison in conversation about growing up in west of the city and the early days of the Troubles. Danny will also read from his book West Belfast. Andersontown Social Club on Thursday 30 July at 6.30pm. Free.

On the 12th I Proudly Wear – republican Sean (Spike) Murray will debate parading with Orangeman Mervyn Gibson. Why parade? Who parades? Why is it so hard to find tolerance and respect? St Mary’s University College on Friday 31 July at 7pm. [Not the first time they’ve shared a platform on this issue.]

Mairia Cahill will deliver the Gerry Conlon Summer Memorial Lecture in St Mary’s University College on Saturday 1 August at 5pm. Chaired by SDLP MLA Alex Attwood.

A collection of An Phoblacht articles were released under the title of Uncomfortable Conversations during the recent election campaign. Facilitated by Corrymeela’s Susan McEwen, Uncomfortable Conversations – Steps to Healing and Reconciliation will bring together deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, North Belfast minister and deputy chief Equality Commissioner Lesley Carroll, CRC chair Peter Osborne, and researcher Sophie Long. St Mary’s University College on Monday 3 August at 5pm.

Marriage Equality – Getting from Here to Yes: Amnesty International brings together a panel who are campaigning for marriage equality in the north. St Mary’s University College on Monday 3 August at 7pm.

Yiannis Bournous from the political secretariat of SYRIZA will deliver a talk on A Fight for Democracy, Peace and Social Justice that addresses the wider Greek political situation and the challenges faced by the left wing party. St Mary’s University College on Tuesday 4 August at 5pm.

Conflict or Peace: What difference does it make for women? Monica McWilliams delivers the PJ Mc Grory Memorial Lecture, highlighting women’s experience in conflict and post-conflict on this island and further afield. St Mary’s University College on Tuesday 4 August at 7pm.

Five speakers will explain what the 1916 Proclamation means to them in St Mary’s University College on Wednesday 5 August at 2pm. Actor Tony Devlin will read the Proclamation followed by the thoughts of Phil Scraton, Jacqui Upton, Pádraig Ó Tuama, Marie Quierry and Des Donnelly.

Later that afternoon in The Proclamation for Prods: What the 1916 Centenary Might Say to Non-Republicans, teacher, songwriter and Presbyterian elder Dave Thompson looks at how someone from a protestant unionist background can share in the 1916 centenary. Duncairn Cultural Arts Centre on Wednesday 5 August at 4pm.

Youth Talks Back returns to Whiterock Leisure Centre. William Crawley will chair a discussion about the issues raised from the floor with PSNI community police officer Paul McGovern, journalist Lyra McKee, Sinn Féin councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile and an as yet unnamed PUL representative. Wednesday 5 August at 2pm.

West Belfast Talks Back is the annual political debate in St Louise’s Comprehensive College. This year, Noel Thompson will chair the panel which will include left-wing Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn along with Sinn Féin South Dublin councillor Eoin Ó Broin, PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr Johnston and DUP MP Gavin Robinson. Wednesday 5 August at 7pm.

Will the Questions of the Past Ever be Answered? Brian Rowan chairs a discussion with deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (who’s calling for uncomfortable conversations) and the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton (who’d like people to step outside their comfort zones). St Mary’s University College on Thursday 6 August at 7.30pm.

Britain’s Involvement in Torture in Prisons Part and Present brings together two of the ‘hooded men’ Joe Clarke and Jim Auld with Gerry Brannigan and ex-Guantanamo Bay prisoner Moazzam Begg. Conway Mill on Saturday 8 August at 7pm. Cancelled by organisers Cogús to maximise attendance at Anti-Racism World Cup

And finally ...

If all that talk is too much you could head along to the Belfast Waterworks to watch traditional Irish boating and currach racing! Basic training from 11am-2pm and racing from 2pm-3pm on Saturday 1 August.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cooking up the beginnings of a mouth-watering Belfast International Arts Festival programme (9 Oct-1 Nov) #belfest

“You can’t keep a good thing down” as my Mum would say.

Putting the withdrawal of Queen’s University’s funding and support behind them, the Belfast Festival has gone through the administrative pain of forming a new company and shaken off its south Belfast shackles. The redesigned 2015 festival will bring internationally acclaimed arts and ideas to people and locations right across the city as well as appeal to those beyond Belfast and beyond these shores.

The ever-enthusiastic Festival Director Richard Wakely promises “a world class programme of theatre, performance art, moving image, visual art, dance and music from folk, to contemporary and classical with opportunities for audiences to directly engage and participate in the creative arts”.
The newly redesigned Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival will appeal to the much more diverse and multi-cultural community which makes up modern day Northern Ireland, whilst promoting all that is good about our country to the wider world.

The Ulster Bank remains the title sponsor, and the festival has kept the support of the Arts Council, Belfast City Council, Tourism Northern Ireland, the British Council and DSD.

While the full launch won’t be until early September, the organisers are teasing audiences with the a handful of the acts that will perform from 9 October to 1 November.

The Kitchen is a mouth-watering show about the healing power of cooking from South India that’s coming to the Grand Opera House. Tickets £12-£24.
On stage a couple enact a drama without words, stirring huge steamy vats of payasam, a traditional Indian dessert. Behind them, under coppery light, 12 drummers beat out a surging rhythm on their sacred mizhavu drums while the fragrance of aromatic rice wafts through the theatre. This mesmerising mix delights all the senses – especially taste – as the payasam is passed around for sharing afterwards.

If that doesn’t whet your appetite then try the absurd humour of Swiss acrobat and clown Martin Zimmermann who is bringing the UK and Ireland première of his show Hallo to The MAC. Tickets £14/£12.
Somewhere between Beckett and Buster Keaton, Hallo pits shape-shifting human against treacherous animate architecture, teetering on the threshold between collapse and order. Changing between trench coat, helmet, bowler and shroud, (while periodically stopping to vacuum), Zimmermann breaks walls and breaches skylights as his surroundings ceaselessly remodel themselves in sculptural echoes of his own creative mind.

More details on the emerging Belfast International Arts Festival programme on their website, Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Eden - a film in which the garage music speaks louder & longer than the characters (QFT 24-30 July)

Eden is a French tribute to the Paris garage music scene. Spread over a narrative arc of nearly 20 years, Mia Hansen-Løve’s film follows wannabe DJ Paul Vallée (played by Félix de Givry) as he trips his way through underground club nights with his French Touch.

Paul and the less-committed cartoonist Cyril (Roman Kolinka) form Cheers, “the garage duo that everyone’s talking about”, while friends Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (Arnaud Azoulay) and Thomas Bangalter (Vincent Lacoste) establish Daft Punk.

Every fifteen minutes or so Eden jumps forward another two or three years. Duos don’t last forever, and not everyone in the tight-knit posse survives the pace. The music allows Paul to climb the steps up to DJ booths in New York before descending back to Paris as he snorts his way in and out of love with Louise (Pauline Etienne) and eventually lands back in his mother’s apartment with debts, drugs and the knowledge that his dream is dying, if not dead.

The minimal script and unhurried plot let the music speak louder and longer than any of the characters. At least half of Eden’s scenes are based in clubs, and for a film whose soundtrack turned into a rights licensing nightmare that delayed production for years, the sound level in the cinema is pleasant and not at all overpowering. While surround sound is used effectively during an airport scene, the music is kept front and centre, and your heart beat won’t rise along with the beats per minute on-screen.

For some, the sounds and story of Eden will bring back strong memories. I should confess that I’m firmly in the category where ‘garage’ is the home of step ladders and old paint pots, so the significance of the French music scene was lost on me. In fact, the film brought back awful memories of spending a night, some 20 years ago, leaning against the wall in the Hollywood nightclub in Ipswich.

Over two hours, the clipboards holding club guest lists turn into iPads, record decks become more modern and are eventually joined by Mac laptops and female DJs, Francs are replaced with Euros, and the crowds queuing up to hear Cheers dwindle while austerity ratchets up the banks’ discomfort with debt and the cost of a cocaine-fuelled lifestyle. There’s a very human story behind the electronic music.

Eden rolls from exhilaration to depression as Paul faces up to tough choices about his passions and creativity. If you know your techno from your electro and your modern disco, then head down to the Queens Film Theatre to catch a screening of Eden between Friday 24 and Thursday 30 July.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Aperture festival at Corrymeela (31 July-2 August) - music, debate, talk, film, food & fire

The Corrymeela Community is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and is throwing its Ballycastle centre’s doors open for a mid-summer festival – Aperture.

From Friday 31 July through to Sunday 2 August, the family-friendly festival of alternatives will combine poets, musicians, politicians, circus acts, theologians, debates, games, food and fire in order to explore how far we’ve come on the Northern Ireland’s peace and reconciliation journey and to celebrate common ground and difference.

Friday 31 July

The first panel of the weekend will respond to the question Are we all done with the Good Friday Agreement? Alan McBride, Steven Agnew and Alan Meban.

Later at 7pm another panel with Dr Helen Beckett, Peter Doran, Matthew Baxendale and Kevin Hanratty will ask Who needs a Human Rights Act Anyway?

Amongst that there will be talks from Presbyterian minister Rev Mark Gray and a Zen Buddhist Daigan Gather, three films and music from Rory Nellis, Master & Dog, R51, No Oil Paintings and Jun Tzu.

Saturday 1 August

Writers Glenn Patterson and Sarah Perry speak during the early afternoon, and playwright Paul McVeigh takes to the stage at 7pm. Paul’s first novel The Good Son gives a glimpse of life in the turbulent Ardoyne during the early 1980s, as seen through the eyes of a young boy. The Forgiveness Project’s Marian Partington will tell her own story of brutality, traumatic loss and the restoration of the human spirit in the aftermath of her sister disappearing from a Gloucester bus stop and dying at the hands of serial killers Fred and Rosemary West.

An early morning discussion panel with Kevin Traynor, Nick Garbutt and Stephen McCaffery will look at Bad News – Are the media reflecting society or picking at our scars? At noon, Corrmeela community leader Pádraig Ó Tuama will be joined by Adam Turkington and Tracey Marshall-Elliot to discuss Why the Arts Matters?

Other afternoon panels will look at Finding Community in the Strangest Places and Stories from the Edge – Are some people not cut out for community?

Dave Magee will share his Perspectives on Loyalism in 2015. He’s currently a programme officer with the International Committee of the Red Cross, and has worked with socially disadvantaged and excluded groups including ex-prisoner groups and migrant workers and has a particular interest in non-violence, peacemaking, community relations and personal development.

If that’s not enough, there’s Dr Seuss-themed yoga, a creative writing workshop and instruction on and bodhran. And throughout the day there’ll be music from Ballymoney Rock School, Upstairs in the Attic, Sing for Life choir, Steve Macartney (Farriers), Voices Together, Goldie Fawn (aka Katie Richardson), Katharine Philippa, Luke Conannon and the Sands Family.

Sunday 2 August

While there’s time for a lie in on Sunday morning, the pace doesn’t slow down.

Speakers include writer and management consultant Tony McCauley, transformative story activist Mary Alice Arthur, and founding member of the Cloughjordan eco-village Davie Philip.

Writer solicitor, law lecturer and NI’s first Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan will address conference delegates at 3pm.

Afternoon panels will explore Faith and Aid in Action, look Beyond Cross Community, and a discussion about Playing at the Edges – Insights from the LGBT Community about contemporary Northern Ireland.

In-between there’s time for workshops on puppet-making, song-writing, dance, sketching, Mark Cousins’ A Story of Children and Film, and music from Jimmy Davis, William Dundon, Salt Flats, Hannah McPhillimy, Kiruu, Edelle McMahon and the Bad Hearts, Mo and the Tiger, and Duke Special.

Tickets for Aperture Festival are keenly priced at £25 per person, and £50 for a family. Under-5s go free and single day tickets are also available. The ticket price does not include camping or accommodation but there’s plenty available in the local area. There will be a shuttle bus running between Ballycastle town centre, the campsite at Watertop Farm and Corrymeela’s six acre site on Drumaroan Road.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Tall Ships Races 2015 - Parade of Sail

Tens of thousands of people took a chance on the weather - a good bet in the end - and flooded Titanic Quarter and the Belfast Harbour this morning to see the Red Arrows fly past and the Tall Ships depart to the north coast start line of their race.

Crowds lined the shoreline as the event seemed certain to hit its target of half a million visitors to Tall Ships events in and around the LIDL Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival.

Soon the ships were motoring out into the lough to get into position for the Sail Training International race start off Portrush at 10am on Monday and heading to Ålesund.

Ships like the Guayas started to unfurl and set their sails - wouldn't fancy being the sailor at the top of each mast!

Other vessels kept an eye on the ships ...

Heading back into Belfast Harbour just before 5pm, the crowds had gone, the blue t-shirted volunteers and liaison officers volunteers all but two tall ships had departed, stalls were being disassembled, the Belfast Telegraph souvenir programme sellers had given up flogging the good-but-overpriced brochure [£6 on Thursday, dropped to £5 on Friday and £3 after the Red Arrows had flown over this morning] and Belfast was returning to normal.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Tall Ships Belfast (2-5 July)

I’ve a single memory of the Tall Ships being in Belfast the first time. I thought I was younger, but I’ll have to believe everyone who says it was 1991. I remember walking along a quay, in the middle of waste ground in a Belfast harbour I’d never seen before, and there were boats with tall masts tied up. I’ve absolutely no memory of getting on board any of the ships.

That’s what I wrote in a blog post in 2009 when the Tall Ships returned to Belfast. The land around Belfast harbour was mid-way through its transformation for the second visit of the vessels whose masts reach up to the clouds. Chip vans had been replaced with a Continental market. It was my turn to drag my daughter around the Tenacious.

They're back! Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival – otherwise known as “the Tall Ships” – runs from noon on Thursday 2 July until 4pm on Sunday 5 July. The best tip from 2009:

The people that I’ve met with the most vivid experiences of the Tall Ships seemed to be the ones who wandered or cycled down to the Odyssey late on Wednesday or Thursday night. No crowds blocked their view of the assembled fleet.

This year 50 vessels of different sizes and classes are expected to berth in the various docks. The Guayas is already over in Pollock Dock beside the BBC Experience and will host The One Show on Friday evening. (You can also catch Hugo Duncan broadcasting his afternoon radio show from the Odyssey car park on Thursday and Friday.)

There are markets and fairgrounds on both sides of the river. Hot air balloon displays, kite workshops, Victorian games and … tall ships too. And the Dock Cafe is sure to be open. The Brazilian Cisne Branco is moored right beside the Odyssey and boasts the largest flag in Northern Ireland!

There’ll be fireworks at 10.20pm on Saturday evening. But perhaps the most spectacular part of the whole event will be the Tall Ships Parade on Sunday, when the whole fleet set sail from Belfast at 11am (preceded by a flypast by the Red Arrows who’ll go on to do a full display over Carrickfergus) and head around the coast as they head up to the Causeway Coast and the start line of the race for Monday morning.

Two Park and Ride sites are operating, one in Boucher Road playing fields, the other Airport Road West (Ikea exit).

A free shuttle bus can take you from Wellington Place (near Belfast Visitors Centre) down to Pollock Dock. Lots more details on the Tall Ships Belfast website.

Out on the water on Wednesday afternoon, the sheer scale of the event was obvious as we manoeuvred in and out of docks and followed a couple of smaller vessels up the lough and into their berths.

The four masted 100m long barque Statsraad Lehmkuhl [that must be close to the length of the City Hall?] will dwarf everything else when it arrives since the Royal Princess cruise ship will have long gone!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Yer Granny ... eating up audiences in the Lyric Theatre until 27 June

The Very Hungry Caterpillar in human form is the easiest way to describe the stockinged centenarian grandmother that Gregor Fisher plays in Yer Granny. “S’at yev goat? [What’s that you’ve got?]” is the constant refrain as she eats continuously while on stage.
  • sweets
  • meat from a pot
  • a cake
  • crisps
  • biscuits
  • chips
  • someone else’s sausage
  • potatoes
  • mayonnaise
  • and more.
It’s rare for actors to receive a hearty cheer and applause when they walk onto a theatre’s stage. Last night’s Lyric audience was full of Rab C Nesbitt and Naked Video fans, and a majority of Yer Granny’s cast were familiar to these connoisseurs of those Scottish comedy shows.
[Charlie:] “The only living thing older than Nana is a Giant Redwood.”

In the National Theatre of Scotland’s touring production, Jonathan Watson plays Cammy Russo. His Minerva chip shop’s profit margin was negatively affected by his mother’s ability to eat her way through the stock and new plans to resurrect the business are wobbling. His wife Marie (Maureen Beattie) is running out of patience with Cammy’s inability to lead the family out of poverty.

Brother Charlie (Paul Riley) is a ‘creative’ and makes up for his lack of musical talent with a finely tuned ability to avoid labour. Their Aunt Angela (Barbara Rafferty) looks after her mother 'Nana' and surprises everyone with her entrepreneurial flair when she starts to dispense “happy tablets” to high rise flat dwellers when Cammy’s naive daughter Marissa (Louise McCarthy) encounters the police on her late night “pharmaceutical” rounds.

And for good measure there’s a chip shop war with miserly Donnie (Brian Pettifer) across the road in the San Francisco Fish Bar. Donnie only enters the action after the interval and quickly drops the tone so far down it can be found lurking in the dirt under the wobbly fridge in the corner of the kitchen.

Happy-go-lucky Nana typically loiters around the kitchen, quietly consuming spuds from a pot she’s lifted off the cooker ... distracting at least half the audience from the dialogue and action on the other side of the stage. With few lines, Nana gurns and chews, and steals the show with her grotesque-yet-innocent behaviour.
[Cammy:] “Oh I’ve pictured the scene many a time. Her Royal Britannic Majesty will saunter in, quite the thing. She and I will exchange a few pleasantries … a natural chemistry between us … And after a bit of chit-chat I’ll turn it all round to business: And what may I get for you Ma’am?”

Graham McLaren’s direction is somewhat unusual, with some monologues – particularly Cammy’s imagined encounters with the Queen who is due to visit the town during her Jubilee tour of Scotland – delivered looking forward at the audience and away from the rest of the cast. Everyone is mic’ed up: necessary for some of the larger venues Yer Granny is playing in this run, but unusual for plays in the Lyric. Together with the recreated late 70s radio broadcasts that blast out and punctuate the scenes, it’s more post-watershed TV sitcom than theatre.

The two hour twenty minute, three act play takes place in an open plan kitchen/living room. The heavily patterned carpets in Colin Richmond’s beige set beautifully clash with the flowery curtains. A window on the right hand wall gives a sense of time of day, allowing warm sunlight to stream in and cast shadows across the stage.

The comic timing is really sharp and most of the audience roared with laughter at wave after wave of masturbation jokes. However when the script requires the youngest character Marissa to repeatedly bend over and suggestively wiggle her bottom, sadly you know that you’ve entered the greasy land of Benny Hill with no remote control to change channel.

La Nona was written by Argentinian playwright Roberto Cossa and first performed in 1977. In the original play, the never replete Granny represented the state, swallowing up the nation’s resources (with foreign debt interest repayments) and driving citizens into poverty. Regrettably much of that subtlety and satire is lost in Douglas Maxwell’s old-fashioned adaptation and any sense of allegory is replaced with a less than farcical sitcom set in Glasgow at the time of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.

Yer Granny runs at the Lyric Theatre until the food runs out Saturday 27 June and then transfers to Dundee Rep Theatre. Many shows are nearly sold out, though the Thursday and Saturday matinees have seats available. How Gregor Fisher will manage to eat double on those days is beyond my understanding!

Photography by Eoin Carey.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Open House Belfast Architecture Festival (17-19 July 2015)

Ever wanted to see inside Belfast Central Fire Station? Or to be one of the first inside the new Ulster University building? Or to don a hard hat and walk around the new Exhibition and Conference extension on the side of the Waterfront Hall?

Open House Belfast Architecture Festival is offering guided tours of these facilities and fifty more across the city between 17 and 19 July.

You should find the full list of buildings and sites on the PLACENI website. Booking is required for a few of the free tours. Printed programmes will also be available in arts venues, libraries and tourist sites.

Some highlights from the programme:
  • The MAC: 45 minute tours led by architect Mark Hackett at 2pm on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 July.
  • Belfast Waterfront Exhibition and Conference Centre Tour: 45 minute tours led by project team representatives from Todd Architects, McAdam Design and McLaughlin & Harvey 15 10am, 11am and noon on Saturday 18 July.
  • Belfast Central Fire Station: 45 minute tours led by Station Commander Al Cunningham at 10.30am, 11:45am and 2.15pm on Sunday 19 July.
  • Jump on board the Wee Tram for a 90 minute guided tour around Titanic Quarter by self-confessed Titanorak Chris Bennett at 10am and 2pm on Saturday 18 July.
  • Ulster University, Belfast Campus Development Phase 1: hour-long tour with architect Cormac Maguire of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios at 11.30am on Saturday 18 July.
  • The Soloist in Lanyon Place - 40 minute tours at 10am, 11am and noon on Saturday 18 July.
  • Divis Tower: visit the only remaining structure from the Divis Flats complex, tour the top floors and hear from residents - 40 minute tours at 11am, noon and 1pm on Sunday 19 July.
  • Architectural practice Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios: a lunchtime talk to look at some of their projects and learn how an initial scribble becomes reality - 1pm-3pm on Saturday 18 July.
  • South Belfast Methodist Church opened in 2012 and provides community facilities (like  gym, conference hall and classrooms) along with a space for worshup. Open 10am-6pm on Saturday 18 and 2-6pm on Sunday 19 July.
  • The Tropical Ravine in Botanic Gardens has been undergoing restoration. Ahead of its reopening in late 2016, you will have a chance to see the ravine in an uncharacteristically empty state and hear about the delicate operation that will be required to repopulate it with its greenery. Check on closer to the festival for date and time. 
  • And don't forget to check out HOUSE, a tiny two storey structure inside PLACE on Lower Garfield Street during the Open House Festival: a library, a cinema, a space to reflect ... and the festival hub and information point.
Click on the programme summary below for a legible version!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Scratch Bang Wallop - dramas in development seek audiences and feedback (Accidental Theatre)

Seven short dramatic performances over three nights in the fourth floor of a city centre office building.

This weekend, Accidental Theatre hosts scratch performances in their Wellington Street base (down the side of the Danske Bank headquarters) to help playwrights and dramatists get feedback on their works in development.

Last night, audiences were treated to Adam Turns’ extended examination of the Retrogradatory Power of Nicki Minaj’s (appalling) rap Only, with the chance to perform it, imagine the writing process, listen to a textual analysis, and finally draw our responses to it.
[Tied up lyricist:] I haven’t eaten food for days!

[Composer:] Excellent. Your other song-writing senses will be heightened.
Don’t Call the Shantyman by Megan Armitage took a high-energy look at the friendship between two young women as they peeled back the layers on years of hurtful words and actions. When did the relationship start to fall apart?

Second, Minute, Hour performed by Paula O’Reilly (and developed along with Patrick O’Reilly - no relation) watches Tanya’s lonely addiction to alcohol spiral out of her control. Waking up and tripping over an empty wine bottle on the floor she caresses last night’s source of comfort and quips: “didn’t realise you’d stayed over!” Fast-paced, performance art, and the bottle – along with Paula – deservedly took a bow at the end!

Accidental’s scratch series continues on Saturday and Sunday evening (7pm for 7.30pm).

  • The Premise (Michael Draine): Two men try and make a decision.
  • Juliet’s Balcony (Aisling McGeown): A chapter of Juliet’s life unfolds on her balcony as she takes a chance on love and on her first serious boyfriend and learns that surprises aren’t always as happy as they seem.
  • Jellyfish (Alice Malseed and Sarah Baxter): Growing up, Alice was promised the world. What happened? This one woman show will rollercoaster you through 10 years of her life, from Belfast to London.
  • The Deconstructed Coffee Episodes 2 & 3 (Gary Crossan and Chris Grant): Featuring a disgruntled waiter, a lesson in types of comedy and of course Percival Snoutington the tea-cup pig.
There’s a small bar up on the fourth floor venue. Doors open each evening at 7pm and the first performance begins at 7.30pm. Tickets available online or on the door.

This time twenty two years ago I was starting a twelve week placement as a summer student with BT up on the fourth floor of Wellington Buildings, sitting behind my VT220 terminal creating a training database using Oracle Forms on a VAX mainframe. It was strange to see the same blue window frames, the diffusers/reflectors on the fluorescent lighting that I helped to fit along with another student, and hear the same irritating ping of the lift through the double doors onto the floor!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Gifts of courage, friendship, and becoming comfortable with complexity and paradox

Nearly every week, a church story seems to scream out from the front page of the News Letter or the Belfast Telegraph. Religious views are being discussed in the public square. It's not all wholesome. And it's not all presented with a great deal of context. But it's a trend, and circulation figures will prove to the editors whether the stories are selling papers.

Gareth Higgins and Brian McLaren are over in Northern Ireland from the US to lead a week-long spirituality and peace-building retreat in Northern Ireland. On Sunday night, before the retreat started, the pair spoke in All Souls Church on Elmwood Avenue. The recordings of their talks are echoey - due to my poor placement of the recorder! - but are audible if you concentrate.

The evening was organised by the Progressive Christianity NI group who explained the purpose of the event:
For centuries, Christianity has presented itself as a system of beliefs. That system of beliefs has supported a wide range of unintended consequences - from colonialism to environmental destruction, from subordination of women to stigmatization of LGBT people. What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith - not as a system of beliefs, but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in action, that makes amends for its mistakes, and is dedicated to beloved community for all?

Belfast-born social scientist, writer, film buff, festival curator and dreamer Gareth Higgins began the evening by telling a story about an experience in Paris near the Eiffel Tower 18 years ago. Later he reflected:
We're a community bound by the idea that there was a teacher two thousand years ago that had something profound to say that transcends everything else. We're a community, many of us who have been wounded by our attempts to follow that teacher within the structures that we got born into, or that we got saved into, or that we got landed into, or that we founded and we tried to lead. We're telling the story ...
One of the lessons he said he had learnt from that night in Paris in the late 1990s was:
You never know when a story's over ... especially when you're in it ... perhaps most especially when you're trying to tell it ...

You don't have to control the story. The story can change and things that you once held dear float away and things you thought you'd never believe can become the most obvious manifestation of love.
He added:
While church institutions and individuals have done much harm over the years, many damaged people still feel a connection to Christianity and their story is not yet at an end.
Some of Brian McLaren's books have been weighing down my bedside table for a long time: some completed, some still in a half-finished state. For some his book A New Kind of Christian was liberating, filled with keen insights that threw off the fatigue of evangelical busyness and dogmatism.

The US author shared three conversions that are already happening in Christian communities around the world, sometimes just beginning, sometimes well under way.
  1. Christianity converting from a system of belief to a way of life.
  2. Conversion in our understanding of God.
  3. Conversation from institutions to movements (that will continually challenge and transform institutions).

Coming back to the lectern, Gareth Higgins outlined four pillars of authentic religious practice that he wants to participate in:
  • to lament our sorrows and celebrate our joys, and to do that in community;
  • to educate for the realities of the world - not overstating how bad things are - in its hopes as well as its challenges;
  • to make communities gather in a way that marks the important moments of our lives: our births, our marriages, our divorces, our deaths;
  • to inspire change in the world.
The great thing is that these traditions already exist.
Gareth explained that he feels called to ...
  1. participate in rituals that create a sense of the sacred and support human struggle and celebrate achievement. He explained how this could apply to dealing with the past;
  2. celebrate community and bind wounds and celebrate joy together;
  3. religion which is not politics and is not the media but has a public role is called to - what scripture names as - prophetic witness.
He finished by commenting on two contemporary issues. Firstly:
The impact of welfare reform is a Gospel issue and the people suffering from it need to be heard, just as much or even more so than the public leaders.
And secondly:
The LGBT community doesn't just need to be supported, affirmed and sometimes defended by the majority community. We who are members of the LGBT community may actually have gifts to share with everyone. Gifts about courage, about friendship, about becoming comfortable with complexity and paradox.
During the Q&A afterwards, Brian and Gareth were asked about how to deal with theological disagreements in churches. Brian responded with a model of stating that you disagree (“Wow, I don’t agree with that!”) but not immediately jumping in with your alternative opinion, deferring any explanation until the other party comes back to discuss with, starting a genuine deliberative conversation rather than an instant heated debate.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s General Assembly – its decision making body – voted at the close of its June 2015 annual meeting not to send the Moderator over to Edinburgh to the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly next year. While the number of delegates – ministers and elders – present for the debate and vote was small in comparison with sessions earlier in the day, a majority of those left in the hall took umbrage with the Church of Scotland’s recent acceptance of the ordination of ministers in same sex civil partnerships.

It was as if some at PCI had never heard of Relate and had no clue about relationship counselling, perhaps forgetting that communication is at the heart of relationship. Snubbing the Church of Scotland and staying away is akin to dropping eye contact and deciding not to bother putting any effort into a personal relationship that in this case has lasted more than any one person’s lifetime. If only there had been a decision to explore the tension between the Irish and Scottish reformers over coffee in Edinburgh rather than in a vacuum.

While both Gareth and Brian have their detractors - and one was standing outside on the pavement wearing a sandwich board on Sunday evening - in a season in which conservative views and methods seem to dominate the public narrative about Christianity in Ireland, Gareth and Brian offer a much more generous and grace-filled approach to exploring difficult issues and dealing with the tensions that need to be addressed.

The Christian church's influence in the public square will be fundamentally affected by the tone of voice it adopts, its ability to relate to society, and how it is seen to deal with difference.

cross-posted from Slugger O'Toole

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Shadow of a Gunman: an energetic production of Sean O’Casey’s version of Coronation Street at the Lyric

Donal Davoren (played by Mark O’Halloran) is a poet and remains on set for the entire one hour forty minute duration of The Shadow of a Gunman. He’s a thin sockless figure, hunched over a manual typewriter on which he batters out poems when he’s not distracted and disturbed by the ever more colourful people who barge into his presence.

It’s May 1920, and Davoren enjoys being the mysterious lodger in the tenement. He plays up to the seemingly romantic notion that he might be a runaway IRA volunteer, giving rise to his private admission that he’s only “the shadow of a gunman”. But in the midst of ambiguity, some locals make false assumptions and their interactions with Davoren have extreme implications and repercussions.

Seumas Shields (David Ganly) peddles brightly coloured children’s toys, though he has the bushy beard of a man who may have been asleep for 50 years or more. He wishes the conflict would end and spars endlessly with Davoren.

While sticking to O’Casey’s text with its Dublinisms and deliberately mistaken words, director Wayne Jordan has created a very distinctive version of the classic Irish play. The language is dense and it took me a few minutes to break into the rhythm and accents. Even towards the end, some dialogue descended into muttering.

There is more than a hint of Schaubühne’s An Enemy of the People about The Abbey and Lyric Theatres’ joint production of Sean O’Casey’s The Shadow of a Gunman. The basic one-room set is built from wooden panels of wood, like an enormous study in brown by Sean Scully. There’s larger-than-life, animated hand-waving acting. There’s a use of distance between characters coupled with the invasion of personal space. The cast rearrange the set between acts accompanied by a booming soundtrack. So many contemporary theatre boxes ticked.

With a cast of eleven, there is no part-sharing in this full-scale production. Character development is unusually minimal: the cast adopt the personas sketched out by O’Casey and remain remarkably consistent from the moment they appear on the stage until the curtain drops at the end.

Adolphus Grigson (Dan Gordon) is a treat that playwright O’Casey and director Jordan reserve for the second half of the play. The bombastic, alcohol-infused Orangeman quotes from the Bible and disrespects his long suffering wife (Louise Lewis) as the nightly curfew is briefly overtaken by farce.

Amy McAllister, who plays the 23-year old patriot Minnie Powell, is perhaps the most watchable character on stage with her fidgety feet and expressive eyebrows that charm Davoren and later get her into trouble.
“That’s right. Make a joke of it. That’s the Irish way all over.”

Last night’s packed audience laughed and giggled their way through the play, finding the laughs that O’Casey buried even at the darkest moments in the play.

There’s deliberate incongruity in the costumes and props with an anachronistic mix of styles and decades. The otherwise drab set is brightened up by costumes (including a 1960’s A-line mini dress and some tracksuit bottoms that wouldn’t look amiss on any number of local estates) that are in contrast to more sedate Davoren and Shields (who wears long-johns and holds his trousers up with braces).

There’s no interval, yet the play takes its time. While there’s plenty of movement on stage, two minutes pass at the start before a word is uttered.

Sarah Bacon’s one-room wooden-walled set with a single door to enter includes two picture windows overlooking a back alley that is frequently integral to the action. It’s implausibly larger than an 1920’s flat, but the expansive floor space allows characters to be placed with a beautiful proportion across the room.

Leaving the Lyric last night, some people I spoke to were unimpressed with the extravagant gestures, modernist set and animated acting. Certainly, the enormous moon that descends was a surreal step too far! Yet the moments of modernity mostly work and are there to remind audiences that the themes of O’Casey’s play are still relevant today. Written only a couple of years after the ending of the Irish War of Independence, O’Casey already knew that it’s the civilians who can suffer the most in conflict.

A poignant play that balances tension and humour so delicately that it failed to build up empathy and left this member of the audience impressed by the energetic production but less than enthusiastic about the original writing.

The Shadow of a Gunman runs in Belfast’s Lyric Theatre until 6 June before transferring to The Abbey Theatre in Dublin (12 June - 1 August).

Photos by Ros Kavanagh