10 hidden festival gems
While the high-profile performers are sure to draw the big crowds at this year’s festival, Seana Skeffington seeks out plenty of lesser-known attractions
Showstopper: the Improvised Musical
The premise is so wonderfully simple. With suggestions coming from the audience that make up the subject of a musical, there is literally a brand new performance every night. Mixing improvisation and musical theatre, the results are often hilarious, not to mention unexpected. It takes the magical art of improvisation and makes a real song and dance out of it!
The People Left Behind
Coming out of this play, you may find yourself in a different location to where you started off, emotionally and literally. Some audience members will remain within the Brian Friel Theatre and some will actually be led away to somewhere else across the city. You might even get bought a drink from one of the characters! Totally different experiences are possible from this performance and it really just depends on whether you are taken away or are one of the People Left Behind.
The audience here become rather like voyeurs, Big Brother style. This performance is set in an apartment and you become a witness to the character’s daily life. The play is a non-verbal production which really adds to a powerful, almost disconcerting experience as if you’re looking through a concealed one-way mirror at somebody going about their normal everyday routine.
Irish Sea Sessions
Niamh Parsons played at the launch of the festival in August and was absolutely awesome. She has such an amazing voice and is one of maybe only a dozen trad legends that will be performing in the Ulster Hall. Electric atmosphere and craic guaranteed.
James Vincent McMorrow
A singer-songwriter from Dublin, McMorrow has a haunting, mesmerising voice that draws you in to his beautiful musical world. Currently touring Canada and America, he is being hailed as the Irish Bon Iver — not a bad compliment.
Woyzeck on the Highveld
The use of the Handspring Puppet Company’s ornately-crafted wooden characters lends a real magical, dreamlike quality to this age-old tale. The South African-based puppeteers have scooped many awards for their amazing work, including a Tony Award for War Horse. This mix of multi-media, animated film and of course, those puppets, has to be seen to be believed.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea
This funny little play has been making big waves in the Edinburgh Fringe and beyond. The powerful drama set in the Bronx is a kind of modern version of Beauty and the Beast. Although it’s a German production with European actors, Alessija Lause and Nikolaus Szentmiklosi’s thick New york accents might take a bit of getting used to. A real theatrical gem from this year’s pretty impressive drama programme.
West Side Story
One of the great musical love stories of all time, we all know about the Sharks, the Jets and the classics Somewhere or America. But what makes this production so special is that it’s done by our very own Musical Theatre for Youth. It’s also going to be performed in a specially-designed set, built by the team from HBO’s Game of Thrones — where better to present Sondheim and Bernstein’s most epic musical than amidst this awe-inspiring backdrop? It will be a very special evening for anybody who is a sucker for a big musical number.
Two unique films from two of our most exciting media innovators. Adam Patterson and Derville Quigley took to the streets, places and spaces of Belfast to each record a remarkable take of life in our shiny contemporary new Belfast. These films explore the excitement and pace of our rapidly-changing city. Best of all, you can watch them throughout the festival for free on the Big Screen at the City Hall. It’s a fitting spot for a visual love letter to Belfast.
26 Treasures at the Ulster Museum
This is a combination of Around The World In 100 Objects coupled with a great, modern Irish literary and art exhibition. Take 26 of our greatest writers (including the likes of Michael Longley and Paul Muldoon) and randomly pair them with some of our most talented visual artists, then invite them to take a fresh look at some of the Ulster Museum’s greatest treasures. The resulting art and artefacts are then presented in an interactive and innovative way. And it’s completely free.