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Cathedral Quarter Unloaded

Stuart Bailie | 10:58 UK time, Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Like many others, I've been elated by this year's Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. Thirteen years on, and the event was manifestly on its uppers, giving the people what they like and also moving on their expectations. In the early days, Sean Kelly had a notion that there was a shifting locus in Belfast's cultural life - back to the old side of town, loaded with history and potentially refreshed. His instincts were right and this year, there was no need to labour the point. It's essentially there.
It's no small deal when John Cale arrives in your city, and his night in the Festival Marquee imported some gravitas and that signature voice. Rachel Austin can only aspire to some of that, but her night in the basement of The Merchant was open to the best possibilities. Elsewhere, we encountered Katie And The Carnival, Bronagh Gallagher and a rogue appearance from General Fiasco. At The Assembly Rooms, Glenn Patterson was blowing out the candles like it was 1830 while return visits to Custom House Square gave us the Global Market, the Wonder Villains and the rare experience of The Undertones playing 'Instant Karma'.
There was crash test theatre at White's Tavern, where the Terra Nova company delivered the Ulster Kama Sutra. Perhaps we had expected comedy skits about our inhibited, religion-mangled sex lives, and indeed there was some of that. But there were also barmy songs, rhyming Tandragee with VD, and I suspect the hidden hand of Anthony Toner in there. I will never forget the soliloquy from a crocheted puppet. A male member, if you will. A country penis. Narrated and indeed animated by Nuala McKeever, it was a quiet admission of aloneness. We laughed, but our hearts were sore.
There was remedy of sorts with The Odd Couple, resourceful theatre in the Dark Horse. My old colleague Joe Lindsay and the Skewiff players managed to rock the Neil Simon play, causing us to laugh plenty at the disintegrating lives, the opposing manners and the prissy rage of Felix Unger. Maybe this could have happened elsewhere, but CQAF has the edge, the sense of artistic permission, an encouraging clientele and a perfect environment of cobbled alleys, new builds and curious reveals. Loved it.

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