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Our critic's best shows, concerts and events of 2015

From Paul Simon and Sting's Odyssey tour de force to the guilty pleasure of McBusted, from the long-awaited return of U2 to Van Morrison's spellbinding Cyprus Avenue masterclass, Andrew Johnston picks his cultural highlights of the year.

Paul Simon & Sting 

Odyssey Arena, Belfast

The pop veterans teamed up for a sublime co-headlining show at the Odyssey in April. Sting's canny procession of hits seemed to be edging it for much of the evening, until Simon unleashed The Sound of Silence, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes and an extended You Can Call Me Al. But fans of both acts - and of quality music in general - were delighted by the three-hour, 37-song set, that saw the legends performing both separately and together.

Reduced Shakespeare Company

Theatre at the Mill

April also saw the return to Northern Ireland of the controversial comedy troupe who were at the centre of a censorship row in 2014 over their production, The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged). There was no such kerfuffle surrounding The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged), but this rollicking tour de farce was every bit as amusing as last year's show, putting smiles on the faces of audiences in Newtownabbey, Downpatrick and Londonderry.


Odyssey Arena, Belfast

When washed-up Noughties boy bands McFly and Busted joined forces a couple of years ago, the music world gave a collective shrug. But one surprisingly successful arena tour and a damn fine studio album later, the conjoined six-piece proved their worth with another charge around the country's arenas in 2015. Their Odyssey gig in April was sheer entertainment from start to finish, with the boys throwing everything they had into a stage show that could rival Kiss.

The Producers

Grand Opera House, Belfast

Mel Brooks' musical of his 1968 movie is an established crowd-pleaser, and with Jason Manford on board as mousy accountant Leo Bloom and Phill Jupitus donning the boots and braces of Hitler-loving playwright Franz Liebkind, the punters who flocked to the Grand Opera House during The Producers' week-long run in May couldn't have been happier. The Brit comedy stalwarts made this one of the finest and funniest stagings of Brooks' romp since the original.

Mamma Mia!

Odyssey Arena, Belfast

Ice hockey arenas aren't usually the best places to see live theatre, but the songs of Abba could turn the most foreboding of venues into a feel-good party zone. And even if you weren't a fan of the Swedish pop maestros, the relentlessly upbeat spectacle of Mamma Mia! couldn't have failed to entertain in June. The long-running show came back to Belfast for a string of sell-out dates that got audiences singing and dancing along with surgical precision.

Van Morrison

Cyprus Avenue, Belfast

Van Morrison has been no stranger to Northern Ireland in recent years. But none of his many homecomings - Orangefield High School, the Strand cinema, Aircraft Park - carried as much emotion as his return to Cyprus Avenue. Fans travelled from around the world to see their hero perform on the street that inspired many of his early lyrics, and on the day in late August - despite some horrendous weather - they weren't let down. Van 'The Man' delivered a masterclass in what makes him one of music's most respected figures.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Grand Opera House, Belfast

It was standing room only at the Grand Opera House in October for the stage version of Mark Haddon's acclaimed novel. Dead dogs, mental health issues and broken families might not sound like anyone's idea of a fun night out, but this impactful play had Belfast audiences on the edge of their seats. Part amateur detective story, part examination of social disability, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time offered intelligent theatre for all the family.

Chivalry Is Dead

MAC, Belfast

If The Producers and Mamma Mia! draw in the mainstream theatre-goer, then Chivalry Is Dead is for more obscure tastes. This performance art piece, staged at the MAC in October as part of the Belfast International Arts Festival, saw actors Alexander Deutinger and Alexander Gottfarb clanging about in full body armour, augmented by a moody lighting display. Themes of knightly valour and medieval manliness were in there, or you could just have enjoyed it for its inherent oddness.

Napalm Death

Limelight 1, Belfast

In 2016, the Birmingham grindcore outfit will have been in existence for 35 years. Who knew second-long songs could be parlayed into such a lengthy career? But while many fads have come and gone in that time, gig-goers' fondness for Napalm Death shows no sign of diminishing. the band's lowly slot alongside Carcass, Obituary and Voivod not only stole the show at the Limelight in October, but most of the audience's hearing as well.


SSE Arena, Belfast

U2's first visit to Belfast since 1998 came in the immediate aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks in November. The Irish supergroup had to cancel their concerts in the French capital the previous weekend, and the SSE Arena dates were their first on stage following the tragedy. Feelings were running high, but even without any sense of occasion, this was a superlative arena rock show from the masters of the form. Let's hope they don't leave it another 18 years!

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