Party time for Conleth
Party time for ConlethTHEY'RE throwing a party at the Lyric Theatre tomorrow night -and well might they do so.
The knees-up is being held to celebrate the Lyric's tremendous achievements at the Irish Times theatre awards in Dublin a week ago.
They swept the boards, winning no less than three titles and being nominated for five others.
Marie Jones's hit comedy Stones In His Pockets, directed by Ian McElhinney, took the award for best production, Conleth Hill won the best actor award for his performance in it, and, completing the hat trick, the Lyric was named best company.
Needless to say, joy has been unconfined at the Ridgeway Street theatre all week and the Lyric's executive producer John Sheehan waxed (well, what else?) lyrical about it.
"We are absolutely delighted with this recognition from the theatre community," he said.
"It proves that the Lyric can build on its legacy of successful work and move forward with a variety of productions to achieve undisputed excellence at the theatre.
"It is also a tribute to the people who work at the Lyric and who are so passionately committed to the mission of theatre in Northern Ireland."
No doubt about it, this was a great morale boosting success and tomorrow night's celebratory gathering is thoroughly deserved by all who were involved in it.
But next week, it's back to work again as Stones In His Pockets opens at five week run at Dublin's Tivoli Theatre on February 28.
In the meantime - enjoy yourselves, folks. And many congratulations.
Cultural wingding in US
IT'S all systems go for the Irish arts festival of the year -the only problem for most of us is that it is happening in the US.
I am referring to Island, the 15 day cultural wingding being held at the John F Kennedy Centre (I refuse to spell it as Center) in Washington in May.
The festival, a celebration of the arts in Ireland north and south is the brainchild of Jean Kennedy Smith, the former American ambassador in Dublin.
They have just forwarded me the finalised programme of music, drama, films, dance, art exhibitions and literary readings and it looks like being a very jolly junket for all concerned.
Big names? There are dozens of them in the line up.
Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney will be there in partnership with Uilleann pipe virtuoso Liam O'Flynn and I bet there won't be many empty seats at that gig.
At the opening concert on May 13, the well known links between Irish and Ulster-Scots music and their American offspring, country and bluegrass music, will be demonstrated by a high powered cast of musicians from both sides of the Atlantic, including Donal Lunny, Sharon Shannon, Mary Black, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris and Ricky Skaggs. Tommy Makem and David Hammond, with classy accompanists like the guitarist Arty McGlynn and cellist Neil Martin, will celebrate the Ulster song tradition.
And the province is also well represented on the classical music front, with concerts by the Irish Chamber Orchestra, whose director is the Belfast violinist Fionnuala Hunt and Camerata Ireland, the chamber orchestra founded and led by pianist Barry Douglas.
A poetry reading and symposium will be given by four of our leading poets - Paul Durcan, Michael Longley (whose latest collection The Weather In Japan has just been published), Nuala ni Dhomhnaill and Eavan Boland, whilst the Derry novelist Jennifer Johnston will take part in a prose writing evening with, among others, Frank McCourt and John McGahern.
A major exhibition of Irish art will feature masterpieces by some of our greatest painters over the past 150 years, including Roderic O'Conor, Paul Henry, Sir William Orpen and Jack Yeats. And that's not the half of it. Lucky old Washington. Could you not come back here, folks and do it again for the rest of us?
Festival revivedMAKING a comeback after more than 40 years -that's the Larne Music Festival.
It was founded back in 1925 and in its early days was one of the most popular events on the music calendar.
In fact, it is on record that in 1935, the adjudicators listened to no fewer than 900 entries -a total of 3,000 competitors.
But sadly, by the mid 50's the festival had gone out of existence.
Now however, thanks to a group of local enthusiasts, it is being revived and will be held at the local leisure centre and grammar school from March 2-4.
Their chairman, Chris Robinson, tells me that 12 of the original trophies have been tracked down and these will be now be up for grabs again, along with several new prizes.
"Now that we've got started again we hope to make it an annual event," he said, "and we would appeal to choirs and solo singers all over the province to enter this, the first festival in Larne for over 40 years."
"In our first year we are confining it to choirs and singers but next year we will be introducing instrumental classes and, eventually, speech and drama competition as well."
The festival, which will conclude with a gala concert and prize giving ceremony, deserves all the support it can get.
So get your entries in now. The deadline is next Friday and full details are available from Larne tourist information centre (tel 01574-260088).
Julie puts her body upfront for awardAN Ulster artist is just one step away from a prestigious national award.
She is Julie McGowan (24), from Craigavon, who has been named as one of the 10 regional winners of this year's Pizza Express contemporary art competition.
Julie is a sculptor and her entry -a resin cast of her own body - caught the approving eye of the adjudicators, who included the flamboyant art collector and jazz singer George Melly.
Winning the Northern Ireland title means that she will now have the chance to host her own exhibition with a grand opening party at Pizza Express in Belfast. She also receives £250 worth of artist's materials.
"I am really delighted," said Julie, who is currently completing her MA at the University of Ulster.
"The opportunity couldn't have come at a better time for me and the chance to have a solo show at Pizza Express is really great.
And she could do even better, for Julie now goes forward to the final stage of the contest in which an overall national winner is chosen.
This will be announced in two weeks time and at stake is an exhibition at a major London gallery, an all expenses paid study trip to Paris, plus £1,000 worth of materials.
We wish her all the best in her bid to become the champion of champions.