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Art Beat: Branding, the border and Branagh

Notes and musings from the arts scene as it emerges from lockdown, by Jane Hardy

The Border Game stars Liz McGibbon and Patrick McBrearty with writers Oisín Kearney and Michael Patrick.
Jane Hardy

ISN'T branding great, Ted? Well, yes. In terms of Belfast, the city I live in, and Northern Ireland generally, the Titanic is key.

The visitor attraction is one of the world's top 10 destinations and makes pots of money - yet you know what, guys, the liner sank.

The local joke that 'It was all right when it left us...' indicates another element for the BBC Tristrams (borrowing AA Gill's term) to ponder over their flat whites - Northern Irish black humour.

Another brand element for some might be a fondness for drink and the Array Collective, shortlisted for this year's Turner Prize, has sensibly set their installation in a pub.

An unusual one, though, with a comic priest and a T-shirt proclaiming 'Eire says Relax'.

The arts would be in the mix too. Provision here per capita, if you work it out (and with bottom grade GCSE maths and an old Biro, I have) we enjoy better, more affordable culture than London.

Derek Jacobi's National Theatre King Lear at the Grand Opera House a few years ago was so brilliant - with a great Fool, too - that I never need to see the play or the terrible blinding scenes again, and tickets were a fraction of the South Bank price.

We seem to have a festival every week and are now into the grandaddy of them all, the Belfast International Arts Festival.

It was originally super cool - Jimi Hendrix provided serious purple haze in 1967. It has range, hosting Michael Palin to Isabella Rossellini, whose nutty-but-nice ecological show with pet dog I covered in 2018 (a double act vaguely reminiscent of Julian Clary and canine sidekick Fanny the Wonder Dog).

During lockdown many of us have pondered identity and the Golden Thread gallery is exploring that complex question with the ambitious centenary exhibition Portrait of Northern Ireland: Neither an Elegy nor A Manifesto.

Partition is also the theme of The Border Game at the Lyric Theatre, coutesy of star playwrights Michael Patrick and Oisín Kearney (My Left Nut etc). It shows life between Europe and not Europe, here and there. Sinead and Henry - rebuilding a fence, symbolic or what - seem a bit like the perpetually scrapping couple John and Mary in the Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews masterpiece Father Ted.

Northern Ireland's best (male) actor, Sir Ken, or at least one of the top three, pace Messrs Neeson and Hinds, has been in town directing his Troubles memoir, titled, well, Belfast.

As a very young hack, I interviewed Kenneth Branagh before he became Kenneth Branagh.

We met in Greenwich Theatre in the stalls and he was (of course) charming. This was post the Billy plays, before his Renaissance Theatre Company and the sublime Shakespeare film adaptations. I was trying to ask him about any girlfriends and babbled on about whether he lived alone or had a load of cats.

Branagh smiled knowingly, but didn't actually answer. Looking forward a lot to the movie and Ciarán Hinds's performance as Ken's grandad.

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