Art Beat: Array Collective and the Turner Prize, Stephen Sondheim, NI Opera and Into The Woods - plus Goldilocks and the Three Bears (and May McFettridge...)

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

Jane Hardy

 Array Collective’s Turner Prize winning installation, The Druithaib's Ball

THE Turner Prize, now in its 36th year, is the enfant terrible of art prizes, with nominees such as Tracey Emin's My Bed and the Chapman Brothers' doctored Goyas (neither won).

Belfast's Array Collective have won the 2021 title (and £25,000) with The Druithaib's Ball, a political Irish pub recreation with banners on conversion therapy and reproductive rights.

The 11-strong team of artists beat a field of collectives, something Sunday Times critic Waldemar Januszczak dismissed as 'social engineering', but possibly fitting for these Covid-19 times when we have all tried to pull together.

Whether the individual artistic effort is over is up for debate. The Array winners celebrated, how else, with a few pints 'at the shebeen' late on Wednesday...

The great Stephen Sondheim, who died last week. His Into The Woods will be performed by Northern Ireland Opera at the Lyric Theatre in February. Picture by Yui Mok/PA Wire

TIMING is all in the theatre. Which is something the late Stephen Sondheim who exited the world stage on November 26 at 91 undoubtedly knew.

Shows by the great man are popping up on the schedule everywhere from Manhattan to south Belfast, as Northern Ireland Opera's first musical theatre production coming to the Lyric Theatre in February is Into The Woods.

This suits the dark season with its reworking of Grimms' fairy tales like Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel, indicating stories from childhood cast a long shadow. Rumours are this could become a Sondheim trilogy.

Jimi Hendrix, good with words and riffs, noted death could be a decent career move: "Once you're dead you're made for life."

Clearly not the case with Sondheim, whose long career gave us the lyrics to West Side Story, plus the ultimate urban, bittersweet harmony to our lives via A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, so many...

Sondheim's titles like Marry Me A Little reveal that Cole Porter style genius. As you debate which version of Send in the Clowns you like best (Glynis Johns is still good), consider his musicality and the major-minor fun in Sorry-Grateful.

Radio 3 Breakfast revealed Stephen Sondheim directed a production of Merrily We Roll Along and informing the cast, "Don't worry, God's here", not totally seriously.

Cameron Menzies, Artistic Director of NI Opera, declared: "We hope to create a wonderful tribute to one of the greatest composers/lyricists of all time. There is truly now a giant in the sky."

Off to the Grand Opera House to see Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Or Goldilocks and the Three Bears and May McFettridge, whose comic timing remains sparky.

This circus-based story is cheesy, but in a good way. The villain of the piece is nasty circus owner Countess von Vinklebottom (Anne Smith). While smaller scale than pre-Covid outings, Goldilocks works well.

Highlights included two genuine, exciting circus acts - David Robert balancing on a really high pile of wobbly trays and an amazing juggler Alfio.

The narrative included a pro-wildlife message, but we got the audience shout-outs and a nice score too, ranging from period references to 42nd Street to the company's ballsy version of Hot Stuff.

On to feet. There are scenes in films you remember and Mind the Time, the new project devised by Ruairi Conaghan for Stage Beyond, Derry's impressive theatre group for adults with learning disabilities, provides one.

It's in the affecting halfway segment, like the others about memory, featuring Shania Irwin. She is on our human journey, battling anxiety, hoping to perform in The Wizard of Oz but remembering the difficulties she faced.

We see her red tartan shoes going up the steps towards her dream audition. Mr S could have made something of it.

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