Belfast continues its meteoric rise as one of Ireland’s culturally rich cities with theatre as one of the main springboards of its success.
The former has enjoyed a long and illustrious history in Northern Ireland for more than 50 years. Since being established in 1968, the Lyric Theatre has been home to internationally acclaimed playwrights, poets and actors, many of whom started their careers there.
A creative hub nurturing talent and promoting the critical role of the arts in society, it even launched a special programme in 2017 entitled ‘New Playwrights’ open to those interested in developing a new full-length play with the guidance of the Lyric’s literary manager and a team of experienced actors and directors. It has already supported twenty early career playwrights across the UK and Ireland. Next submissions window is due to open in early 2022.
As part of its contribution to the holiday season, it is hosting on its main stage the colourful musical production, ‘Pinocchio: The Greatest Wonder of the Age,’ the 25th original stage production by multi award-nominated writer, composer, and theatre director, Paul Boyd, a re-imagining of the classic tale by Carlo Lorenzini – also known as Collodi, with Christopher Finn acting as puppeteer for the life-size, wood-sculpted Pinocchio.
This vintage show is a high-energy spectacle – a dynamic feast of song and scenery with terrific costumes and make-up featuring a memorable cast of circus characters including the conjuror Mr. Fox (Richard Clements), acrobat Lady Cat (Christina Nelson), prima donna opera star, the Red Lobster (Richard Russell Edwards) and Mr. Keys (Michael Mahony).
The story-line follows the adventures of the ‘Wooden Boy’ cut from the Tree of Truth and evil circus-owner Swallowfire (played incorrigibly by Allison Harding) who sets up her carnival sideshow beside the tree, intending to use Pinocchio as a star attraction. With his newfound friends, Matchstick (Michael Mahony) and the Talking Cricket (Eimear Fearon), Pinocchio tries to escape Swallowfire’s clutches, become a real boy and return home to the carpenter who made him.
Song highlights include the opening number, ‘Days Gone By’ and the collective assembly’s rendition of ‘Hear Me Shout.’ Richard Russell Edwards operatic voice as Red Lobster is impressive, especially his performance of ‘Find That Note.’
The show’s strong creative team includes Deborah Maguire (choreographer); Oli Rew (musical director); Stuart Marshall (set designer); Mary Tumelty (lighting designer); Gillian Lennox and Erin Charteris (costume designers) and Paul Currie (puppet designer and build).
For those wanting a fantasy escape of a different kind, the MAC hosted ‘The Untold Truth of Captain Hook,’ a festive swashbuckling adventure for all the family.
Located in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, this theatre opened ten years ago and is key to the ongoing regeneration of downtown Belfast, offering an eclectic programme of visual art, theatre, dance and family workshops, attended so far by around 2.5 million people.
Its latest production, by the Replay Theatre Company, is written by David Morgan and directed by Janice Kernoghan-Reid, the plot being an innovative take on the classic story of Captain Hook, featuring two siblings searching for their father. It is an inspiring and touching morality tale about the meaning of life, love and loyalty.
Creative stage-craft transforms the open space in this intimate theatre into a vintage wooden ship with a multitude of clocks hanging on it, which themselves play surprising roles in the production.
Keith Singleton, as Peter, the narrator, uses his stage and film experience to skilfully anchor the entire story with lively aplomb and is ably supported by Niomi Liberante as Peter, Christopher Grant as James, and Christine Clare who plays various characters.
Add to this, shipwrecks, mermaids, crocodiles, and pirates, and you have an epic, theatrical adventure through the time before Neverland, in a show packed with excitement and charm.