ArtBeat: Mary O'Malley and the Lyric Theatre; Colin Davidson and the queen; NI Opera and generosity; Paddington and marmalade sandwiches

Notes and musings from the arts scene, by Jane Hardy

One of Colin Davidson's sketches for his portrait of Queen Elizabeth
Jane Hardy

THIS week I attended a moving event, recalling a great woman who lived a long life, achieved much and was truly inspiring.

No, not Queen Elizabeth but Mary O'Malley, founding mother of the Lyric Theatre. One of the Ulster History Circle's blue plaques was being unveiled on the south side of the award-winning building. It overlooks the Lagan, as did the original theatre in Ridgeway Street, much loved and remembered for its great productions.

O'Malley's background was intriguing and a splendid biography, Fierce Love by Bernard Adams, is about to hit the bookshops. He spoke, as did artistic director of the theatre Jimmy Fay, who noted that O'Malley created a theatre against the odds.

Liam Neeson sent a nice note saying a phone call to O'Malley started his career. A glitzy roll call attended the event, including Michael Longley and Stella McCusker, who remembers O'Malley directing her in The Fantasticks, a musical by Schmidt: "She couldn't always tell you how to get it right but always knew when it was wrong."


COLIN Davidson, whose distinctive portraits of the great and the good adorn the Lyric among other places, painted the last important portrait of Queen Elizabeth.

The beautiful sketches for that painting were on show in his recent retrospective at the FE McWilliam Gallery in Banbridge. They indicate a humorous, thoughtful, still pretty woman in her nineties.

He recalled her as a clued-up sitter and has allowed the gallery to keep the sketch in the reception area for a while, although the exhibition is over.


AN award should go to NI Opera for cultural generosity.

They invited 600 people from different groups, from asylum seekers to older citizens, to enjoy the dress rehearsal of La Traviata at the Grand Opera House (Verdi's great finishes its run tonight).

Darren Ferguson of Beyond Skin and Marrs (Musicians, Artists at Risk Resettlement Scheme) was among those who benefited. "Thank you for inviting 40 of our friends seeking asylum to see the opera," he said.

"We can't underestimate the positive impact this has made on people's mental health. Everyone enjoyed it very much and it provided total escapism from daily worries. It's what the arts do best."


THE influence of popular culture can never be overestimated. Take Paddington, the Peruvian bear created by Michael Bond.

The Queen did a routine with the great bear for the platinum jubilee which thrilled everyone but me. Anyhow, children have been bringing marmalade sandwiches as well as flowers to Hillsborough Castle, which is sweet.

Jane Hardy