Review: Virtual nature of Culture Night Belfast means focus is firmly on the arts

Marie Jones and Ian McElhinney star in Denouement
Jane Hardy


Culture Night

Belfast 2020

FUNNILY enough, the Covid-19 constraints seem to have helped Culture Night Belfast to return to its excellent roots. Instead of people tootling around getting enjoyably wasted as they consume the art on offer, you're dealing head-on with the stuff online.

So what's on offer via the trusty PC? An awful lot of good content. You might think you'd had enough of lockdown drama – the near misses, the metaphor for the human condition. Denouement by John Morton, a co-production between Belfast's Lyric Theatre, which has pretty much led the way in terms of hybrid Covid era entertainment, and Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre proved otherwise.

Starring the inimitable Ian McElhinney and Marie Jones as a couple facing the end of the world in 2048, it pulled off that most difficult thing, black humour. It's Beckett-ish, and with leads as good as these playing married couple Liam and Edel, exchanging the comfortable insults of a long marriage, you're in business.

The ending was a total tearjerker, with the couple swaying to music as their world explodes. Just one criticism: the vocalised stage directions became pretty irritating and were redundant on the whole. We don't need to be told Mr McElhinney does a line of cocaine if we then get his magisterial sniff.

The core programme really delivered. We had a superb sampler of work connected to Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. Paul Currie bowed a kitsch artificial Christmas tree for the Belfast Community Circus School slot and after a kind of commercial for St Anne's Cathedral, we heard a seriously funky session, Essential Journeys from Bounce Culture, by a group of musicians, including impressive Rick Swann on trumpet and engaging DJ Kwame Daniels "in the background, doing the beats".

Musically I have catholic tastes, and enjoyed both Dolly's Jukebox (two types of music in this country, this gal does them both) and Essentially Cher.

Away from the main Culture Night programme, there were gems. I must declare an interest here. My partner Michael Conaghan's lockdown play The Unbearable Lightness of Lockdown, took a different pandemic perspective. Well acted in Zoom frames by 4th Wall's Victoria Gleason, Mark Claney and Debbie McCormack, it uncovered the unsettling yet humorous possibilities of control.

On previous Culture Nights, one sampled shows and moved on. I dipped into ImageNation's superb India in Belfast set, which provided a wondrous introduction, or re- introduction if you're fortunate enough to have visited that part of the world.

There was some currently much needed comedy, the best I found via the Rosemary Drama Group's toilet roll challenge, filmed in lockdown (you could tell) and set to a murdered rendition of The Cure's ace Friday I'm in Love.

And of course there was poetry. I liked a beautiful site offering debates on John Hewitt with cool verse from poets Terrance Hayes and Mona Arshi.

Tune in and turn on to a vintage cultural smorgasbord at

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