Theatre at Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival

Ambitious adaptations, fearless drama and a play packed into a Belfast bathroom; we sift through another sprawling array of events for the on-stage highlights

The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival returns for its 17th outing this week with another bumper packed programme of delights. While the festival encompasses comedy, literature, music and the visual arts, here’s a sneaky peak at what’s coming up in their theatre strand: which bards are treading the boards.

There’s a rare treat in store for the plain people of Northern Ireland as the Dark Horse is graced, for one night only, by twentieth century literary giant and satirical gadfly, Flann O’Brien. Val O’Donnell’s Flann’s Yer Only Man enacts extracts from the great man’s literary works and his immortal Cruiskeen Lawn column in the Irish Times, as well as key incidents from the writer’s life. O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds is thought to have been the last book that James Joyce ever read – though I should point out that there is no suggestion that it actually killed him!

Gare St Lazare returns to the Belfast stage with First Love, an adaptation of an early Samuel Beckett short story. Director Judy Hegarty Lovett brought Waiting for Godot to the Lyric in 2013, and the company are frequent visitors to Northern Ireland.

Starring Conor Lovett (dubbed 'The funniest man on an Irish stage' by the Belfast Newsletter) First Love tells the story of a man recalling an incident in his youth which he refers to as his 'first love', but whether the audience shares that perception of events is another matter entirely.

First Love

Also inspired by the works of Beckett is Jane Coyle’s Me Here, Me, a monologue that features a young woman people- watching while sat alone outside a Parisian café. Every passerby seems to have a story to tell but does our young coffee drinker? And will she get to tell it?

Spawned not only by Nobel Prize-winning writer's work but by Coyle’s own lengthy flaneuring sojourns around the city, the play stars Hannah Coyle, who is currently studying at the Cours Florent École de Théâtre in Paris.

Following hot on the heels of their last play, Prick, Shot Glass Theatre return to their pub theatre roots with the peculiarly titled Primal Squeam. They bring us two more of their short, two-hander plays, and continue in their obsession with a forensic examination of human relationships.

As usual the plays are peppered with hard-won wisdom, pithy one-liners and a permeation of smut so indelible you’d think there’d been a fire on the premises. (I’m reliably informed by the director, Adam Turns, that the only thing on fire on the night will be the actor’s performances.)

Broken Bone Bathtub

New Yorker Siobhan O’Loughlin can’t seem to stop loitering in the bathrooms of Belfast! She was here, bothering the grouting, last year and she’s back once again with the marvellous Broken Bone Bathtub. It’s a work of Ronseal-like self awareness - it does exactly what it says on the tin: it is set in a bathtub and Siobhan has a broken bone!

This is a site specific performance and numbers are extremely limited (to however many can comfortably fit into a local bathroom) so you would do well to book early for what promises to be an extraordinary show.

In a birthday party where the cake could well pose a fire hazard, Shakespeare's Women arrives hot on the heels of the bard's 400th anniversary commemorations from writer and star Clare McMahon. This witty and ambitious play sees Shakespeare’s assorted heroines meeting and attempting to find a way out of their (almost universally awful) fates. Can Cleo council Juliet? Will Hero live up to her name? Will Portia ever be more than a rich man’s run-about? Will Lady M ever get that damn spot out? Pop along to the Barracks and find out. 

After a short hiatus provocative local theatre company, Punched Canvas, return ready to rouse us from our complacency with Turtle, a play promising a heady cocktail of lesbianism, sex, animals and murder.

The company has assembled a stellar young local cast (who look like they’ve been chewing the wrong end of their felt tips in the promo shots) and the evening promises to dazzle with theatrical fireworks. Writer James Johnson describes it as 'A Streetcar Named Desire...with lesbians.' Come along and see what he means.

Turtle

Pintsized Productions bring us a rehearsed reading of John Donnelly’s acerbic new play The Pass, a meticulous examination of the seemingly entrenched homophobia in the culture of football.

Set in a hotel room and spanning several years, we first meet Jason, an ambitious footballer, as a seventeen year old, sharing a room with a team mate in Bulgaria. It is a night before a match that could change both the player’s lives, though it’s not just the action on the field which proves to be a game-changer...

Neil LaBute is a divisive fellow, isn’t he? His treatment of The Wicker Man may well live on in infamy, but he’s on rather firmer ground here with Bash: Latterday Plays, a triumvirate of dark, brooding one act plays. Prepare for The Barracks to be turned into a confessional, as each modern meditation on evil is coolly placed before you.

Directed by Rhiann Jeffrey and performed by Michael Patrick and Amanda Doherty, this production will make it impossible for you to make eye contact with the person sitting next to you. In a good way.

It’s another varied and exciting programme of theatre from a festival that seems to be going from strength to strength, proudly celebrating the best of local talent year after year. Many happy returns, CQAF.

The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival runs from April 28 - May 8. For full programme listings and ticket booking visit www.cqaf.com/2016.