“Comedy is the new opera” Stewart Lee quipped at the outset of his new show, referring to his Grand Opera House surroundings. He might just be right too. Lee’s brand of comedy is dramatic, intense and, at times, beyond his audience.
Throughout the ninety minute set Lee effortlessly kept everyone laughing. However, underneath the mirth, omnipresent, lay a didactic, challenging style. Lee is unforgiving of ignorance and regularly broke from his set to goad punters (not unkindly) for failing to grasp some of his more cerebral allusions.
I imagine that many English comedians may find playing Belfast a daunting experience, there must be something of an internal struggle about whether or not to mention the troubled past and present of the city you’re standing in. Lee had no such reservations:
“Unlike you I don’t live in a culturally divided war zone. I live in Hackney.”
The locals rewarded him for his frankness time and again; there was no shortage of spontaneous applause. But then perhaps this was not your average Belfast audience. As Lee pointed out, if all the Guardian readers of Belfast were in the Grand Opera House who was going to smooth over any pub brawls.
Lee’s intelligence is palpable; nothing leaves him speechless or gag-less. When improvising, which he did frequently, you didn’t see the struggle for material register on his face.
This comedian’s greatest talent is for building seemingly endless and meaningless hilarity only for the punch-line to hit you entirely unexpectedly.
However, the most arresting aspect of a Stewart Lee show is his vitriol. The stand-up’s capacity for hate is far-reaching, no one is too big or too small and he has no fear of making enemies. If he has you in his sights and he doesn’t respect you, watch out: I’m looking at you Michael McIntyre.
Lee’s latest show is yet another work of artistic brilliance. But it isn’t for everyone; this is exclusionary comedy for an intelligent, sharp, liberal minority. Lee uses this show to talk about the world as he sees it, his understanding of it and, often, his utter exasperation with it. You can tell Lee really couldn’t care less whether he has universal appeal or not, he won’t put on a front; his satirical meanderings, his irony, his fury are who he is. This isn’t a character, or an act, this IS Stewart Lee.
‘Stitched Up’ is a topical play tackling relevant subject matter at a time when the NHS is dominating the headlines.
As I collect my ticket at the usually quiet Riverside theatre in Coleraine it is clear from the number of people in the foyer the satirical drama by Northern Irish playwright Rosemary Jenkinson has caught people’s attention. A recognisable face from BBC’s drama ‘The Fall’ is no doubt giving ticket sales a helping hand as Richard Clements plays Aidan, a disgraced surgeon in the touring production.
As the show starts the reassuring beep of a life support machine can be heard throughout the dark auditorium and as the lights slowly build a surgeon can be seen at work through a dimly lit gauze. The stillness of the operating room is established and creates a stark contrast to the, at times, manic action of the following 75 minutes.
Clements plays a surgeon facing unwanted media attention after leaving a pair of scissors in a patient during a rushed surgery. Meanwhile his wife Kate, played by Roisin Gallagher, is distracted by the success of her campaign to demolish Belfast’s infamous peace walls. Repercussions occur when the introduction of a third character lying on the couple’s kitchen table, ”like a Sunday Roast” forces Aidan to make a split second life or death decision.
Making his directorial début for C21 Theatre Company, http://c21theatrecompany.com Stephen Kelly’s style is considered, as staging and technical nuances compliment elements of the script in conveying current pressures faced by NHS staff. At one point the disgraced surgeon stands at the front of the stage facing the media backlash and fielding questions thrown at him from recorded voice-overs playing through speakers in the auditorium. All of a sudden the audience are no longer bystanders as they become the faces of the public putting the doctor on trial.
The play invites the audience to question the staged elements, the truths, and the fictions behind the portrayal of current issues in contemporary society as the couple’s individual experiences challenge Kate’s belief that, ”All publicity is good publicity.”
‘Stitched Up’ certainly gets a few chuckles but a slight dependency on the use of bad language for easy laughs may offend some audience members.
This production is big on laughs but lacking in depth, and that’s just fine, says Richard O’Connor.
The Newcastle Glees production of The Addams Family opened last night to a sold-out Annesley Hall.
This Broadway comedy-hit is a deviation from the Glees usual fair of “golden-age” musicals.
Casting was outstanding with Gomez (Niall McLean), the suave, wise-cracking Addams patriarch and Wednesday (Sarah King), his coming of age daughter, in particular wowing the audience with their acting and singing abilities.
The play opens with an illicit engagement between Wednesday and “normal” boy Lucas Beineke (Chris Poland).
A culture clash ensues when Lucas’s all-American parents land at the Addams family mansion to meet their altogether more gothic future in-laws.
Both families are ordered by the young couple to act normal, and they oblige to comic effect. All goes well until a post-dinner engenders a series of fall-outs:
Mr Beineke (Dean Richman), not impressed by the spooky shenanigans on offer is at odds with his ditzy, more accepting wife (Emma Jane-McKnight). Vamp-like Morticia Adams (Carol-Anne McKay) is furious at Gomez for keeping the engagement a secret. And Wednesday breaks off the engagement when Lucas refuses to elope.
The story follows these couples as they proceed to make-up in time for the wedding finale, which in typical Addams style, takes on a comic-funereal aura.
Subplots, including Uncle Fester’s affair – and resultant offspring – with the moon, add to the zaniness of this 2.5 hour production.
This fast paced show is big on laughs with little plot or character development, but this is one of the reasons it is so enjoyable.
What it lacks in substance it makes up for in slap-stick and the sheer exuberance of its all-singing all-dancing antics.
The costumes are exceptional with the transformation of Glees old-hand Careen Starkey into the repulsive yet loveable Fester a master-stroke.
Equally breath-taking is the set which transports the audience from splendid wood-panelled interiors to minimalist steamy exteriors with ease, adding to the quick-fire feel of the show.
One scene stands-out for its deviation in tone from the rest, but also for the quality of the emotions portrayed:
Gomez runs into Wednesday in the the twilight and tells her he is happy she has found love but sad she is no-longer his little girl. This emotional dichotomy is beautifully expressed in the touching song “Happy-sad”.
The score is bursting with memorable tunes comparable to any Rodgers and Hammerstein ensemble, albeit with a more comical slant.
However the orchestra-pit standing empty was disappointing. The live music brought an extra touch of class to previous Glees productions and this atmosphere was lacking. I Hope to see its return in 2016.
Go see this show. It will certainly brighten up your evening.
Don’t expect to take much away from it except aching sides, catchy tunes and a realization that there is an outstanding pool of talent on your own doorstep.
On the 9th March the annual SWOT Fashion Show took place in the Whitla Hall, in Belfast.
Students Working Overseas Trust is a charitable society run by fourth year medics at Queen’s University Belfast. The students raise funds and take them to the third world when they travel to work overseas during their six weeks summer elective.
The show featured music, dance routines, on-trend fashion, raffle prizes and an auction including tickets to see One Direction. The hosts were Shane Todd AKA Mike McGoldrick and the queen of UTV, Pamela Ballantine.
I was so lucky to be there as I left getting my ticket until the last minute, meaning there were none left! My better half did a bit of sweet talking and eyelash fluttering to the organisers and I had a ticket!
As it really wasn’t my boyfriend’s scene and he was snowed under with work, I had to bite the bullet and go alone. I was doing my best “air of confidence” impression until I couldn’t find a seat and had to walk around stopping occasionally to ask “is this seat taken?” Eventually I found space beside a lovely couple who took me under their wing and I could relax.
The event was outstanding and it’s not just me who thinks so! The show won Charity Event of the Year in the Union of Students in Ireland Awards.
The student medics had been juggling rehearsals, placement, lectures and exams since October and it was clear to see the time and dedication they had put in. I can honestly say that the hard work definitely paid off!
The lectures threw some shapes on the catwalk and rugby boys took on GAA boys in a topless dance off. The interval was filled with tasty treats that the medics had baked and there was more than just tea and coffee on offer for those who fancied something stronger to set them up for the after party at the Speakeasy.
The event raised an incredible £32,533 and this coupled with other fundraising efforts will undoubtedly make a huge difference to the wellbeing of individuals overseas.
I am already looking forward to next year’s show and will definitely make sure I get my ticket early. I strongly recommend you do the same!
Local politicians beware! The Hole in the Wall Gang are back with their annual ‘Give My Head Peace Live’ tour for 2014.
After another sell-out show in 2013, the gang hope for greater success this year with 11 live shows all over the country, from Belfast to Banbridge and this year it’s as funnier as ever before.
The show is led by Ulster’s most dysfunctional family and a genius performance by the province’s famous clergyman, Pastor Begbie, played by the great Paddy Jenkins.
All of your favourite characters return with the show featuring Da (Tim McGarry), Ma (Olivia Nash), Dympna (Alexandra Ford) and Cal (Damon Quinn).
The storyline includes all the latest satire with flegs, Haas, Garth Brooks, On-the-Runs and Paisley all featured.
Billy the Peeler (Michael McDowell) pretends to be deaf hoping for a big claim, Uncle Andy (Martin Reid) and Pastor Begbie plan to stand in May’s local elections and Da applies for the job of the new Chief Constable.
As well as with top-class stand-up comedy from Tim McGarry, laughter is simply guaranteed.
Give My Head Peace guarantees a laugh out loud night out which piles great humour on our politicians and on ‘our wee country’. GMHP Live is coming to a theatre near you…
What started as a joke Facebook page quickly escalated into 29,000 followers and the consequent books, Fifty Shades of Red, White and Blue, Dirty Dancin’ in le Shebeen and her more recently Maggie’s Feg Run.
Lisa Harkers smash hit sensation hit the stage at the Mill due to popular demand for two nights only. After coming to the stage in January 2013 it had two sell-out runs at the Mac and the Grand Opera House.
The play is directed by Martin Lynch and is produced by Martin Lynch and Joe Rea who are well known for The George Best Story and A Night With George. Caroline Curran magically brings the three characters of Maggie Muff, Sally Ann and Mr. Red White and Blue in the one-woman play to life in an astounding performance!
The infectious character of Maggie Muff tells the story of her life on ‘le road’ and her search for love. Maggie and her big mate Sally Ann introduce us to a hysterical world of ‘bonies and bucky’. Of course we cannot forget the antics between Maggie Muff and the‘buckalicious Mr. Red White and Blue from le Bru’ or Sinead ‘the tea leaf greener’. “The atmosphere in the auditorium was electric and it was non-stop laughter. The set was basic but effective and included some great movement which involved Maggie pushing around and hiding behind a heart shaped king sized bed. The Paris Hilton duvet typically Maggie”
The broad Belfast accent might be hard for visitors to follow and the demographic links to the City hard to connect to but Caroline Curran pulls off the Belfast slang perfectly.
Even after having read the book myself hearing Maggie’s antics all over again was fabulous. I too went home with an aching belly from laughing so hard. Whether it’s a night out with the girls, mother and daughter time or even a date night with your partner you’ll laugh from start to finish.
Maggie Muff is back again at the Mill in the sequel Dirty Dancing in le Shebeen which is sure to be another guaranteed geg. If it’s anything as good as the book you’ll definitely have “The time of your life.”
Tickets are available for Harkers plays at the Theatre at The Mill Box Office.
It should be noted that the production contains content of an adult nature. The humour and sexually explicit language is not for the faint hearted.
Building on the success of Annie last year, the Letterkenny Musical Society has produced another warm and lovable play for the loyalAn Grianán audience. I have to admit that I do not have any recollection of reading or watching Oliver Twist before. It is hard to believe I know, given how popular the novel and the much loved musical adaptations are. Even more embarrassing is that I am from Portsmouth, where the author was born.
The production of Oliver Twist at An Grianian was the perfect introduction to the story with great performances by all the actors. The children in particular stood out, and delivered a performance to be proud of as for some it was their stage debut.
Mr Bumble is played by Highland Radio’s very own Donal Kavanagh, and his character’s looming presence is superb on stage. He towers over the children in the workhouse and booms when Oliver asks for more gruel for dinner. The softer side of Mr Bumble is thrilling to watch as his wandering eye is drawn closer and closer to Widow Corney, played by Maria Heekin.
The music was beautiful with renditions of “Food, Glorious Food”, “I’d Do Anything”, “Oohm Pah Pah” and “Who Will Buy?”, which wooed the audience with some of them even singing along.
The characters’ costumes and make-up were very effective. Fagen, the spindly crook and chief pick-pocketing orchestrator, sang with a faux innocent, “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two,” which delighted the audience. Fagen’s protégé, Bill Sykes, seems to be behind every corner on the stage, thundering and stomping his menacing boots everywhere.
The theatre was full for the performance on Thursday night with people of all ages. Scene after scene was concluded with rapturous rounds of applause and deservedly so. The musical was produced by the Letterkenny Musical Society for the second time. In 2000 the show was very warmly received and judging by tonight’s performance, the cast can expect the same rave reviews by the public and media alike.