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ArtBeat: Christmas is coming

Jane Hardy look ahead to Christmas entertainment, and Paul Muldoon takes over from Frank Ormsby as Ireland Professor of Poetry

Corrie Early, pictured left, as Cinderella and Jayne Wisener as the Fairy Godmother get set to for Cinderella: The Midnight Princess at The MAC in Belfast from November 30. Picture by Hugh Russell
Jane Hardy

CHRISTMAS, heading our way like a tinselled juggernaut, is getting pretty secular. The seasonal cards are revealing: in our local corner shop, there's one nativity pack, a three kings and a menagerie of Yuletide cats, penguins, even cows.

And while there are some ace Christian entertainments – the Ulster Orchestra's Messiah on December 10 at the Waterfront Hall, carol concerts at St Anne's (December 10) and St Peter's (Together for Christmas, December 12), Northern Ireland Opera's Christmas Concert at the First Church on Belfast's Rosemary Street, (November 30) - there's a crackerful of pantos, funny shows etc.

This year, Cinders is having two outings, maybe because the girl in rags chimes with our times.

The Grand Opera House panto, mainlining May McFettridge, opens on December 3 while Cahoots NI's version with a new score and a Victorian magic trick entrances The MAC's audiences from November 30.

If you want a laugh, and gosh do we all need one right now, Grimes and McKee bring their Christmas Craic'er to The Lyric on December 2, where Paul Boyd's The Snow Queen is now playing.

And Michael Cameron's whipped up a new festive play, The Shop at the Top of the Town, on from December 2 at Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey.

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POETRY is an Irish speciality, something the writers on the island of Ireland often have in their DNA. Taking over as Ireland Professor of Poetry from the great Frank Ormsby, whose deft lyrics have even illuminated his experience of Parkinson's disease (The Parkinson's Poems), is another Northern Irish poet, Paul Muldoon.

Different characters, one an easy, one a challenging interview, both expert performers. What Muldoon brings to the role is a ludic way with words and the ability to encompass popular culture in his intellectual offerings. He edited Paul McCartney's lyrics last year and is also a great fan of the Horslips.

In Hedgehog (Poems 1968-1998), Muldoon observes a snail and a hedgehog, pays tribute to the latter then adds "we forget the god behind this crown of thorns", ending with a bleak comment about gods being unable to trust the world.

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UPDATE from the front line of the culture wars triggered by the Arts Council of England's cuts in funding to English National Opera, the Welsh National Opera and other organisations.

There have been marches, beautiful sung protests, Juliet Stevenson on demos, but sadly WNO has announced it can't afford to tour to Liverpool any longer, something it's successfully done since the Sixties. So the Scouse audience will miss out on Magic Flute. Levelling up, anyone?

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FINALLY, at the brilliant Media Festival in Belfast, I discovered in the BBC's co-commission session that comedy ideas can take seven years and many pilots to reach the screen (am certain Fawlty Towers didn't). In the drama section, the amazing Ciaran Bartlett (who's got several shows in production) quoted Seneca and said he'd had 1,000 rejections. Fair play.

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