Prime Cut Production's latest interactive, sit-specific work only lacks a little darkness
We have an addiction to self-vaunting hyperbole in Northern Ireland. It's most often typified by the phrase 'world class', which is applied, with mind-numbing frequency, to everything from our golf courses to our restaurants to our museums.
It's an unattractive, undignified habit, borrowed from the glib language of marketing, which actually has the opposite of the desired effect.
That's why my heart sank a little when I read the description of Prime Cut's one-off 'community engagement' production, Kaleidoscope, a collaboration with Dee Street Community Centre, Grace Women’s Development, John Paul II Youth Club, Knocknagoney Community Centre, New Lodge Arts, North Belfast Interface Network and The Spectrum Centre presents.
No, it didn't claim to be world class. But it did promise to be, and I quote, 'a magical multi-sensory experience that will redefine what Belfast means to you forever'. Redefine what Belfast means to me forever? I doubt that any 45 minute play, however innovative, could do that. But that's the trouble with over-statement: by raising the bar so dramatically, it risks the possibility of disappointment.
On a chilly Thursday evening, on March 28, 2013, when I turn up at the Belfast Welcome Centre – the starting point for this mp3-guided imaginary tour of the streets between Donegall Place and Cornmarket – my expectations are high. I'm ready to be amazed.
Let's get the negative out of the way first: as expected, my impressions of Belfast are not revolutionised. On the upside, though, Kaleidoscope is an unusual, thought-provoking and innovative experience; both solitary and communal, serious and uplifting.
It offers a seemingly random constellation of memories, wishes, desires and regrets, generated by the people of this city through interviews with theatre maker Louise Lowe and artist Will St Leger.
The stories we hear via the mp3 recording become enacted in the streets around us: an icecream van appears in the street behind Marks and Spencers (distributing real ice-creams, squirty sauce and all!), a girl with a red balloon skips down Arthur Street, and – in a beautiful moment – a series of candle-lit lanterns drift across the night sky.
What is it about? Who knows? As far as I can tell, it is about the multiplicity of life in Belfast, what Louis MacNeice called 'the drunkenness of things being various'. It is about the nature of happiness, love, music and dreams. It is about everything and nothing. 'Sometimes you love this place, sometimes you love and hate it at the same time,' we are told: that's a sentiment that many of us identify with.
All this I like. After all, how often do we stop on the street and look at the place we live, and the people who live here? Kaleidoscope encourages us to be in the moment, to become fully conscious of what is going on around us, and for this I am grateful.
I am less grateful for the injunctions to 'keep breathing… listen to the breath' or to 'close [my] eyes and make a wish for this city, which, to these cynical ears anyway, are uncomfortably redolent of self-help meditation CDs. As for the part where we are instructed to embrace our partner and look deep into their eyes, the producers should know that Belfast people are naturally allergic to such schmaltz and sentimentality.
Nevertheless, this is an exciting, hopeful production which, to my mind, would be improved still further if it reflected more of the darkness of this city, as well as the light.