Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Out to Lunch Festival (2-25 January): bands, books, bards, banter & (Kate) Bush #otl14

2015 will be the tenth January that Sean Kelly and the Out to Lunch festival has brightened up! Lots of workday lunchtimes warmed up with a bowl of stew and a fair few Sunday afternoons listening to glorious live music while the rain pelts outside.

Between 2 and 25 January, music, comedy, poetry, theatre, film and talks will fill venues in Cathedral Quarter six days a week. When did poetry become cool? Every festival programme now seems full of it. And puntastic show titles are definitely on the rise this year.

Tickets for weekday lunchtime shows include lunch and are generally priced at £6.50 (if purchased in advance) or £7 on the door if capacity remains. All shows are in The Black Box on Hill Street unless otherwise stated in the blurb below. Full timetable of Out To Lunch shows on the festival website.

The Whinge, The Nordie and The Geek Ride Again // Friday 2 January at 1pm // Follow-up to last year’s show when these three standups came together. Shane Todd, Ruaidhrí Ward and Lorcan McGrane. The first lunchtime show unusually lasts 75 minutes.

Niamh McGlinchey // Tuesday 6 January at 1pm // Another festival friend returning, the Gulladuff vocalist plays mandolin, tin whistle and guitar and sings folk, country and bluegrass.

Cutting Off Kate Bush // Wednesday 7 January at 1pm and 8pm // Cathy is 27 and having a crisis which she vents on YouTube through the medium of Kate Bush. A one-woman show by Lucy Benson-Brown about family, loss and the musical brilliance of Kate Bush, fresh from Edinburgh Fringe. (Evening performance £9.)

Robin Ince is (In and) Out of his Mind // Friday 9 January at 1pm // Comedian and science enthusiast (Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio 4) presents an unhinged comic lecture looking back on 100 years of psychiatry, psychology and skewiff brain dabblings.

Hollie McNish and Abby Oliveria // Saturday 10 January at 2pm // Labelled as “literary, poetic and pop”, Hollie McNish wowed the CQAF audience in May 2014 and is back with more in January. She’s supported by Derry-based performance poet Abby Oliveria. Tickets £5.

Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? // Sunday 11 January at 7.30pm // An animated documentary from the director of The Science of Sleep (reviewed back in 2007!) on the life of controversial MIT professor, philosopher, linguist, anti-war activist and political firebrand Noam Chomsky. “A dazzling, vital portrait of one of the foremost thinkers of modern times, but also a beautifully animated work of art.” Free but booking required. SOLD OUT!

Shlomo // Sunday 11 January at 8pm // Beatboxer and World Loopstation Champion Shlomo “gave up astrophysics to perform his amazing vocal pyrotechnics”. Having performed with Bjork, Jarvis Cocker, The Specials and the Mighty Boosh, now it’s the turn of a Belfast audience. Tickets £10.

Simon Armitage // Tuesday 13 January at 1pm // Audiences are promised “a relaxed lunchtime reading” from the playwright, novelist and poet who recently published an anthology of his work – Paper Aeroplane: Selected Poems 1989-2014.

Owen Jones // Tuesday 13 January at 8pm // Author of The Establishment: And how they get away with it Owen Jones offers “a biting critique” of the “powerful but unaccountable network of people [behind the UK democracy] who wield enormous power and reap huge profits”. “In claiming to work on our behalf, the people at the top are doing precisely the opposite.” Tickets £7. SOLD OUT!

Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel // Wednesday 14 January at 1pm and 8pm // A comedy play spin in the inimitable style of Jane Austen and based entirely on audience suggestions. No two shows are ever the same. Evening tickets £9.

Martina Devlin // Friday 16 January at 1pm // Author Martina Devlin’s tale The House Where It All Happened takes readers back to 1711 Ulster Scots Islandmagee where eight women are accused of being witches by a pretty young newcomer. Ireland’s version of the notorious Salem epidemic.

The Sea Road Sessions // Saturday 17 January at 2pm // With band members from Sweden, Scotland and Ireland, this new six-piece group brings together established traditional/folk musicians with “formidable talents and diverse repitoires”: singer/guitarist Kris Drever (Lau), accordionist Alan Kelly (Eddi Reader), guitarist Ian Carr (Kate Rusby), banjoist Éamonn Coyne (Salsa Celtica), flautist/singer Steph Geremia (Alan Kelly Gang) and bassist Staffan Lindors (Sofia Karlsson). Tickets £10.

John Shuttleworth – A Wee Ken to Remember // Wednesday 21 January at 1pm and 8pm // Intending to share fond memories of his favourite past weekends, a typo on the poster means John is touring with a homage to his next-door neighbour and agent. A brand new show from a comedy great. Evening ticket £10.

Ellie Taylor – Elliementary // Thursday 22 January at 1pm // Another Edinburgh Fringe performer now touring with her show, Ellie Taylor will be tackling feminism, love, life and Matalan as best she can from the perspective as the presenter of BBC Three’s Snog Marry Avoid … Don’t buy a ticket expecting Sherlock Holmes!

Arco String Quartet // Friday 23 January at 1pm // Four members of the Ulster Orchestra, with a wide repertoire of classic, easy listening, jazz, pop and show tunes for a Friday lunchtime.

Oh Susanna // Saturday 24 January at 2pm // Massachusetts-born and Vancouver-raised Suzie Ungerleider mixes folk and country with blues and songs that tell stories of troubled souls who rebel, of small town joys and pains, of simple feelings and strong passions. Tickets £8.

Lots of other great events, including sold out ones featuring restaurant critic Jay Rayner, Tony Law, Young Fathers and many more.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Review: Visit the magical Family Hoffmann Christmas Mystery Palace in the MAC (until 4 January)

Even before the curtain went up, one of the members of the cast – Alexander (played by Hugh Brown) – was shuffling along the rows of families sitting in the MAC’s main theatre, looking lost and sounding confused as he did a few card tricks and amused the audience with his drôle patter.

As the last member of the audience settled into her seat last night, he made sure that Paula took a bow to acknowledge the applause, before heading down to an eclectic drum kit and percussion collection at one side of the stage and began to narrate the show as master of ceremonies. Squeezed over on the other side, Chris Huntley and his band of musicians cranked up the tunes that accompanied the next two hours of action.

Sibling rivalry, badly-treated children, running away, laughing, clapping along, and magic: all the elements of a traditional pantomime were there. But Cahoots NI’s Family Hoffmann Christmas Mystery Palace was no ordinary Christmas show.

The illusions and tricks came thick and fast as Willard Hoffmann (Philip Judge) introduced his performing family who tour the country with a tent and their magical routines. Daughter Marie (Flo Fields) appeared out of nowhere inside a previously empty box, the first of many large scale illusions.

Having muscled his way into seat 22B, orphan Harold (Greg Fossard) astounded Willard by actually vanishing, and Margaret (Abigail McGibbon) from the local workhouse agreed to rent him out to the Hoffmann troupe for her own financial advantage. With the audiences for old-style magic dwindling, Willard knew that he needed a new act to attract punters back from the lure of the new-fangled cinema.

Stephen Bamford’s revolving stage allows the audience to switch from the magical front-of-house to see the behind-the-scenes action. The muted lighting helps build the enigmatic atmosphere. And as it’s the MAC, you’re never quite sure which door an actor will appear through next.

Given the nature of magic routines, there was a lot of superlative dialogue – “now is the hour of destiny” (the ghost of Kenneth Williams is in there somewhere) – as tricks were introduced and mumbo jumbo was threaded around the actual illusion. While Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney introduced some magic to the MAC earlier this year with Nivelli’s War, this festive show is a cut above his previous work, making the conjuring even more central to the plot and the character development, with it all wrapped up in Conor Mitchell’s music.

By the end of the first half, we see Willard Hoffmann as a hard taskmaster; Bess (Kirsty Marie Ayers) as the Cinderella-like sister left to sweep the floor while her older sister Marie performs on stage; and Margaret is the kind of workhouse beadle who sees no need to celebrate Christmas (and has shades of Miss Hannigan [Annie] about her).

But the second half rapidly moves the characters on – perhaps a little too quickly – as they live out Willard’s mantra that “a talent must not stand still, it must travel” and the action shifts to Paris. There’s a softening of relationships, dreams come true, true love blossoms and the show emphasises the importance of family.

The accents were hard to place and some of the singing seemed purposely discordant. It’s a technically complicated show, and together with sound effects and the music from the band, the sound ended up a little muddy and some of the lyrics became indistinct. However, that didn’t spoil the understanding of the plot. And Alexander’s range of percussion instruments meant there was never a dull moment at the front left of the stage. (Now he has mastered playing the saw he could make a fortune busking on Hill Street!)

It’s a noisy production, with some in the young audience experiencing theatre for the first time, tripping in and out to the toilet, and gazing up over their heads in wonder at the spotlight beam piercing the fog and dust. However, it’s a Christmas show for families, and the cast aren’t distracted by the commotion.

The Family Hoffmann’s Christmas Mystery Palace is a great original piece of family entertainment, with a convincing cast, and it’s the only place in Belfast you’ll see two women chopped in half this season!

I can’t begin to fathom how half the big stage magic tricks were performed. You can judge for yourself in The MAC until 4 January with adult tickets ranging from £12–£22 (typically £17) and children £10.

Update - Chris over at Pastie Bap liked it too.

NI Human Rights Festival (8-13 December) drones, Snowdon, film, quizzes & the forces of Fractocracy #NIHRF

The words “human rights” often seem to have special significance – and orange flashing lights around them – when used in Northern Ireland. They’re what people are denied … want … fear … celebrate. If you admit that the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights exists, some will assume you have a well-thumbed copy in your back copy ready to beat them with.

And human rights are confused with civil rights: the former being fundamental rights considered necessary for human existence; the latter rights you enjoy by virtue of citizenship of a particular state.

Northern Ireland’s third Human Rights Festival is running next week from 8th to 13th December.

Monday 8 December

Waltz with Bashir // 8pm // Black Box // £3 // An animated documentary exploring the trauma of war and human right violations as Israeli director Ari Folman reconstructs his own memories of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon through interviews with fellow veterans.

Tuesday 9 December

From War to Surveillance: Human Rights and Drones // 7-8pm // St Mary’s University College // Free // Professor Noel Sharkey (University of Sheffield) specialises in robotics and the ethics of military robotics. In his lecture, he’ll discuss what human rights commitments exist under conditions of war and conflict and the use of new technologies such as drones.

Superhero Pub Quiz // 8pm // Black Box // £5 // Combining superheroes of comic books and human rights, this pub quiz will test if you know Batman from Black Panther, Green Lantern from Green Arrow, Desmond Tutu from Mohandas Gandhi or Eleanor Roosevelt from Aung San Suu Kyi. There’s also a competition for the best comic book or human rights hero costume on the night!

Wednesday 10 December

Human Rights: From Conflict to Transitional Justice // 7-8pm // St Mary’s University College / Free / Ulster University’s Dr Louise Mallinder delivers a lecture examining what role human rights can play in post-conflict societies, and their importance in establishing peaceful and just societies with repaired community relations.

From a Republic of Conscience // 8pm // Sunflower Bar // Free // Inspired by Heaney’s poem, poets will share some of their own work as well a poem on a human rights theme that inspires them.

Thursday 11 December

Global Journalism – Fighting the Challenges // 12-3pm // Linen Hall Library // Free // At least 70 journalists lost their lives at work in 2013; scores were imprisoned unjustly. Syria, Iraq and Egypt are currently some of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist. over the years in Northern Ireland, journalists have been attacked, abused, injured and shot dead too. Local and international speakers – Kevin Cooper, Sarah Hunter (a Belfast photojournalist, based in the Lebanon for five years), Ciarán Ó Maoláin and Eamonn McCann – will discuss the dangers of striving to provide honest, accurate and unbiased reporting.

Love Music Hate Racism // 9pm // Whites Tavern // Free but bring a present // Robocobra Quartet (the sound of hip-hop interpreted by two jazz sax players, a punk drummer/vocalists and the FX-pedal-nerd bass player) supported by Scream Blue Murmer and Thomas Annang. Free admission, but you’re asked to bring a Christmas present for the children of refugees, some tinned food or warm clothes which will be distributed by NICRAS to refugees and asylum seekers in Northern Ireland.

Friday 12 December

I’ll see you in court: ten people silenced by our libel laws // 6.30pm-8pm // Crescent Arts Centre // Free but register for a ticket // Simon Singh and the libel Reform Campaign will outline ten discussions you cannot hear “due to the archaic state of the law of libel”: from scientists sued for casting doubt on dubious treatments, to tennis players and oligarchs.

Saturday 13 December

World Zone // 2-5pm // The Dark Horse // Free // Arts workshops, story-telling and music for children and the families with a sense of adventure and curiosity.

The Feminist Photo Booth // 2-5pm // Black Box // Free // Call into the Black Box and use a range of props, costumes and accessories – along with your inner feminist spirit – to be portrayed and photographed as a feminist icon.

Beware the Agents of Frackocracy // 3pm // Hill Street // Free // The forces of Frackocracy will attempt to take over Hill Street. Expect over the top costumes, music, and caricatures of the fossil fuel industry that make JR Ewing look like a cute bunny! You’re encouraged to defend the public realm from “their reckless ambitions”. Street theatre meets civic education.

CITIZENFOUR // 8.20pm / Queen’s Film Theatre // £6.50 // A portrait of Edward Snowdon filmed in secret in his Hong Kong hotel room as he prepared to become one of the most notorious whistleblowers by exposing global mass-surveillance schemes conducted by the NSA in the US as well as other governments. (Also showing at 6.30pm on Monday 15 December.)

There are also events looking at the legacy of the Magna Carta, children and young people, motherhood, reproductive rights, transgender, travellers, migrant culture, Rwanda, Congo, Kenya, and the Campervan of Dreams.

More details on the NI Human Rights Festival website, Facebook and Twitter @NIHRF.