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The festival fights back

Comedy, cabaret and ...a troupe of circus fleas

By Matthew McCreary

Earlier this year the Belfast Festival was faced with closure, but now it's bouncing back with the announcement of a confident, world-class programme

A troupe of circus fleas, the world's greatest cabaret diva and a musical drama about post-Apartheid South Africa are some of the acts which will captivate audiences at this year's Belfast Festival at Queen's.

The 2007 programme was unveiled today at the Elmwood Hall in Belfast.

And organisers have pulled out the stops to ensure the festival - which was under threat of closure earlier this year - will continue the fine artistic and entertainment traditions of its 45-year history.

"You'll travel a long way to find an array of talent like this," said festival director Graeme Farrow.

"When you showcase the best of what Northern Ireland's culture has to offer, alongside international arts and culture of the highest quality, you get a dream ticket, this is what Belfast Festival at Queen's offers."

Earlier this year the Belfast Telegraph joined forces with festival organisers in a major campaign to save the event from possible closure.

Last November it was revealed that, despite earning its highest ever gross box-office, the festival was running at an estimated annual deficit of around £150,000.

This shortfall had been met by Queen's University, which said it would no longer be able to meet the cost of the event.

A last-minute funding lifeline from then Arts Minister Maria Eagle helped maintain the festival for this year, but the long-term future of the event has still not been secured.

The 2007 festival will kick off with a touch of Irish class as legendary group The Chieftains take to the stage of the Waterfront Hall for the Ulster Bank Opening Concert, alongside the Ulster Orchestra and others.

A host of big names from the world of film, theatre, dance, comedy and music will bring their talents to the stages and screens of the city over the following two weeks.

Among the highlights are stand-up comedian Frank Skinner, whose sold-out show hits the Grand Opera House on November 1. Fellow comedy star Bill Bailey will also be bringing his anarchic sense of humour to the Whitla Hall, while Irish funnyman Sean Hughes take to the stage at the Elmwood Hall for a special show.

Truth in Translation, a moving drama about South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, promises to resonate with local audiences and features a sublime score by Hugh Masekela.

Cabaret diva Ute Lemper will also set pulses racing when she arrives at the Grand Opera House with the Ulster Orchestra.

Younger audiences will enjoy The Flea Pit, in a purpose-built theatre for 15 people in Botanic Gardens. Meanwhile, crime, adventure and capitalism are among the topics in this year's talks as best-selling crime novelist Alexander McCall Smith, intrepid adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, veteran reporter John Simpson and author Naomi Klein share their views.

One of the stars of last year's festival, the Spiegeltent, will also return to Custom House Square.

Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Jim Rodgers, praised the role of the festival in the city's cultural and economic life.

"If we have a vision of Belfast as a modern, vibrant cultural capital (and we should have) then Belfast Festival at Queen's has a key role to play, " he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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