THE GRAND OPERA HOUSE PANTO IS THE GRAND DAME OF CHRISTMAS THEATRE IN BELFAST… OH YES IT IS!

Jack and the Beanstalk at the Grand Opera House is so good I’ve seen it twice.
Jack and the Beanstalk is SO GOOD, I’m writing this twice!

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I’m literally just home from watching the Grand Opera House’s panto for the second  time in as many weeks and I was delighted to see many regulars from the GOH Panto stage take to the boards again this year. John Linehan’s May Trott character is of course the comedy hero - and this is his/her 29th consecutive panto. What a run! Joining May is the double Olivier award-winning actor David Bedella as pantomime’s ultimate baddie, and the giant’s henchman, Fleshcreep. David played the role of Captain Hook in Peter Pan last Christmas, seen by over 75,000 people during its six week run (and I loved the jovial jibes from May and co when she teased him as he sang ‘My Way’ just before his on-stage demise, saying he sang it last year). I cant fail to mention Paddy and Simon, also, who were both wonderfully present and very funny on stage too.

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My six year old and friends absolutely LOVED the music - some Greatest Showman numbers mixed with the usual bouncy pop classics, perfect for kids full of delish Dale Farm ice cream and mums seeking a bit of nostalgia in the score. They also loved the characters, the lights, the sounds, the animals, the big choreography as well as the splashing and the audience cam.

But as a wordsmith by trade, I must say that it is very cleverly written too; my favourite part is the tongue-twisting dialogue about Susan (or was it Sharon?) selling Sushi on a Saturday, which makes no sense on its own, but which is woven into the script perfectly. As usual with panto, there are multiple levels of humour, plenty for the kids and some most definitely for just the grown-ups. And proper order too.  I also loved the totally slapstick ‘If I were not in Pantomine’ skit towards the end, again superbly well written and choreographed to nano-second-synchronicity. The kids sang it all the way home, adding in  their own future jobs with actions.

I shant say any more for fear of spoilers, but in short this is West End worthy theatre in the heart of Belfast - all wrapped up with pyrotechnics and a big chopper like I’ve not seen since Miss Saigon plus a wonderfully 3D scary giant who had little kids around us screaming.

As for me, I’m one of over 1000 people to have booked for December 2019’s Beauty and the Beast already. The Grand Opera House panto really kicks off Christmas for me and I hope it’s a tradition I never give up.

 Jack and the Beanstalk, sponsored by Dale Farm, runs from Saturday 1 December 2018 to Sunday 13 January 2019. Tickets can be booked at goh.co.uk.

FOLIO | FLASHDANCE FOR FUN!

Last night I was invited along to the UK Tour of hit musical Flashdance at the Grand Opera House, and was treated to a colourful array of 80s dance classics.

The Musical tells the inspiring and unforgettable story of 18-year-old Alex, an apprentice welder by day and ‘flashdancer’ by night, who dreams of going to the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy and becoming a professional dancer.  When a romance with the boss and background which isn’t straightforward  complicates her ambitions, she harnesses it to drive her dream. She is every bit the modern feminist, despite her dancing-for-bucks night job, or maybe because of it. The story is a tale of loyalty, love, jealousy and forgiveness as well as ambition and the timeless rich-versus-poor narrative - all peppered with catchy tunes and delivered by a fun cast.  

  I enjoyed the energetic performances by leads Joanne Clifton and Ben Adams (both dancers on Strictly at various times, among other previous roles) and I got to meet them before the show as the team had organised a Flashdance masterclass at Auora dance studios in Belfast (not much fun for me in my worky LBD and a pair of spanx underneath, but hey!)    Notable solos also by the nurse (played by Sasha Latoya) and also by Colin Kiyani as Jimmy.   Having grown up in that era, I remember dancing to some of the faves, like Irene Cara’s ‘What a Feeling!’ in the kitchen as they blasted out on the radio. And I especially loved the finale sequence, which had the whole Opera House audience on its feet (and swinging hips too I might add).   Tickets available now at:   https://www.goh.co.uk/whats-on/flashdance-the-musical/  and the show runs until 25 August

I enjoyed the energetic performances by leads Joanne Clifton and Ben Adams (both dancers on Strictly at various times, among other previous roles) and I got to meet them before the show as the team had organised a Flashdance masterclass at Auora dance studios in Belfast (not much fun for me in my worky LBD and a pair of spanx underneath, but hey!) 

Notable solos also by the nurse (played by Sasha Latoya) and also by Colin Kiyani as Jimmy. 

Having grown up in that era, I remember dancing to some of the faves, like Irene Cara’s ‘What a Feeling!’ in the kitchen as they blasted out on the radio. And I especially loved the finale sequence, which had the whole Opera House audience on its feet (and swinging hips too I might add). 

Tickets available now at:  https://www.goh.co.uk/whats-on/flashdance-the-musical/ and the show runs until 25 August

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FOLIO | THE SWORD AND THE SAND

I’m literally just in from The Lyric Theatre where I watched The Sword and The Sand; a really gritty, aggressive and powerfully dark play by acclaimed writer Pearse Elliot, and I cannot seem to spit  the words out of me fast enough to express what I thought of it - my mind is whizzing and full of the kind of energy that only fear and adrenaline bring.

This was a black and scary play which was quite shocking in parts - but in a way that makes you realise it’s the kind of art which challenges you; theatre which makes you question who you are and wonder what on earth is going on in rough and tough corners of your city - never mind corners of the earth - well beyond your safe little bubble.

The Rawlife Theatre production was directed by Martin McSharry, whose first play for me was Clockwork Orange back in 2005 in the Potthouse, (with Marty McCann among others). The McSharry-Elliot combo has worked brilliantly here - the casting and the performances together make for pretty emotive viewing, even if the main character, Duff, a psychopath played brilliantly by Marty Maguire, is so excellently lacking in emotion and empathy…  (And Pearse told me afterwards that Duff is based on a real-life psycho who is alive and well in an Irish prison - eek!). Maguire’s character leads his impressionable protégées Cricky (Gerard Jordan-Quinn) and Lala (Bernadette Brown) down a path of delusional dreams and idealistic dead ends while also taking advantage of refugee Azir (Mark Asante) whose character deserves every ounce of the audience’s sympathy. And I’m not sure how he does it, but the handsome 6’5” actor has an excellent way of making stage presence feel meek and mouse-like for his role despite his grand stature.

The play is almost Shakespearean in its gore but with a dash of modern Tarantino and a good mash-up of all the seven deadly sins - especially avarice, lust, anger and envy in abundance in Maguire’s Duff.

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This is a go-see play. But not if you don’t like the C word. Or racism. Or misogynistic sexism. But that sh*t unfortunately happens in life and Elliot’s play shows it like it is.

Booking now at The Lyric here: https://lyrictheatre.co.uk/event/the-sword-and-the-sand/

 

FOLIO | THE COLLEEN BAWN

The Lyric Theatre continues its 50th year celebrations with a fantastically funny production of ‘The Colleen Bawn’, Dion Boucicault’s exuberant tale of desire, duty and betrayal, based on an infamous true crime.  The Lyric Theatre and Bruiser Theatre Company are back together for the first time since The 39 Steps, for this madcap, melodramatic, musical co-production. Boucicault’s masterful interweaving of plot and character, comedy and suspense, has been captivating audiences since it premiere in 1860. The F words team LOVED the play - and you can check out my initial video review here too - but first, some words from Jimmy Fay and Lisa May.

Executive Producer of the Lyric, Jimmy Fay, commented: “Don Boucicault’s The Colleen Bawn is a masterpiece of melodrama. It is as spritely and lovely as any ballad and has proved to be a timeless engaging entertainment captivating audiences in its outrageous plots and musical interludes since it first premiered in New York in 1860. We in the Lyric are delighted to again partner with Bruiser and their distinctive style on this wonderful play. Our first collaboration was the enormously successful The 39 Steps and the vibrancy of that production is also well suited to the exuberance of The Colleen Bawn. In fact, Dion Boucicault and this play in particular had a huge effect on the young Alfred Hitchcock when he saw it at the theatre in London in the 1920s. This year we mark the fiftieth anniversary since the Lyric opened its doors on Ridgeway street we plan a year of celebration, surprises and fun.”

Director and Bruiser Theatre Company's Lisa May commented: "Bruiser is thrilled to be back at the Lyric with the melodious mayhem of The Colleen Bawn.  This classic is filled with all the trademark shenanigans of a bashful Bruiser show, and is the perfect follow up to our 2016 collaboration with the Lyric, The 39 Steps.  Audiences can expect the same type of madcap melodrama, as our mischievous and musical cast fill the stage with laughs, love, and live music.  It’s been an absolute hoot to rehearse this timeless piece, and we’re sure audiences will enjoy the fast-paced fun as much as we do!"

A co-production by the Lyric Theatre & Bruiser Theatre Company
Written by Dion Boucicault
Directed by Lisa May
Musical Direction by Matthew Reeve

The Colleen Bawn runs from 7 – 28 April
Tues - Sat: 7.45pm, Sat & Sun matinee: 2.30pm

CAST:  BRYAN QUINN, ENDA KILROY, JO DONNELLY, PATRICK MCBREARTY, CAVAN CLARKE, COLETTE LENNON and MAEVE SMYTH

07 - 10 April: £13
Off-peak (Tues - Thurs & matinees): £15
Peak (Fri & Sat evening): £24.50
Students, unemployed people, and under 20s any performance except Friday and Saturday night: £10.00
Over 65's any matinee: £10

www.lyricbelfast.co.uk
Box Office 028 9038 1081

The Colleen Bawn is funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council.

FOLIO ¦ GOING WILDE FOR ORIGINAL THEATRE

In this week's theatre review, guest blogger Emer Dooris (from Emer D blog - www.emerdblog.com) takes us back in time to Victorian London and deepest Hertfordshire in this brilliant adaptation of one of Oscar Wilde's most popular plays, 'The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People' (to give it its full name!)...  Emer and I both enjoyed this show early this week at Belfast's Grand Opera House, one of my favourite theatres in the world, because it was the first one I ever visited - I can still remember the awe I felt at the rows and rows of seats to the sky. And like the theatre, this play is one of my favourites too, because I am a huge wordsmith and a massive fan of Wilde's clever puns and salacious satire, he has always featured on my ultimate dinner party guest list. Imagine the banter!

But now, over to Emer:

The Original Theatre Company's production of The Importance of Being Earnest is witty, charming and hilarious. As one of my favourite Oscar Wilde productions, I waited with bated breath to see what direction this production would take, and I was not disappointed.

My last viewing of this play was with an all male cast which added to the hilarious absurdity of the piece, but this time I was transported back to the original Victorian era and no gender swaps (neither direction being a bad thing, but I’m always interested to see how far the director is willing to change/challenge the characters and the actors.) From curtain up, the audience was transported to a luscious, decadent  set complete with wood panelling, chandeliers and hanging baskets. Add in a fantastic cast and the most amazingly outrageous costumes - which seemed to add caricature to the characters, (I was especially enamoured with the bustle on the back of Lady Bracknell’s dress which made this larger than life character a much more formidable force to be reckoned with) and you have a visual feast before the actors even mutter a word.

The genius of Wilde’s script with its perfect one liners and punch lines kept the audience giggling throughout the three act production. I'm not sure if it was opening night production/acoustic problems, or a voice projection issue, but the actors seemed at first a little meek and quiet on stage (audience members nearby remarked they were hard to hear), however, they soon relaxed into their roles by the first half of Act I and the pace and delivery of the lines came up to speed. Special mention should go out to the humorous facial reactions by Susan Penhaligon who played the down beaten, accident prone but love struck Miss Prism. Lady Bracknell, played with aplomb by ational treasure Gwen Taylor, was also fab. Jack Worthing was a voice doppleganger for Colin Firth and Algernon Moncrieff looked just as I would imagine him. I totally loved his dapper and dandy wardrobe.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable production with a well-versed and talented cast, I would highly recommend checking this one before the end of its very short run this Saturday 24th February.

Limited tickets available at www.goh.co.uk

FOLIO | BEAUTY AND THE BEAST AT THE LYRIC

Following on from the truly magnificent Little Red Riding Hood (2015) and the hilarious Gingerbread Mix-Up (2016), I was excited to hear that the Lyric theatre would be giving Beauty and the Beast - one of my favourite fairy tales - a fun twist this festive period.

The story, adapted for the Lyric by writers Derek O’Connor and Trevor J. Colgan, tells the tale of a once sweet-natured singer-songwriter who is played by Ross Hoey (The Commitments, We Will Rock You). Desperate to achieve the fame, fortune and stardom he had always wanted, Hoey makes a deal with the all-powerful, all-controlling music producer Shazza (played fantastically by Orla Gormley) who makes all his dreams come true, but at a high price. In true Frankenstein style, his voice suddenly becomes deep and distorted as he turns wretchedly into The Beast – the furry, beastly creation of powerhouse Shazza.

We soon meet the energetic Theo, played by Mark Dugdale, who is a seemingly zany, job-juggling single dad. Bouncing about the stage, his infectious cheery demeanour, quick-witted quips and songs about pizza soon have the younger audience members in raucous laughter. Fame-hungry but well-meaning, he encourages his fearless daughter Bella (Charlotte McCurry), to become the beast’s assistant and, becoming increasingly worried about her father’s workaholic behaviour, she reluctantly agrees.

As the two tussle, it becomes apparent that the brusque demeanour of The Beast has no effect on the intrepid Belle who is all too willing to stand up to him and his ludicrous demands. With The Beast suffering a year long dry spell of music creation and Bella struggling to rediscover her relinquished  passion for singing after the passing of her mum, to the sympathetic audience, it becomes apparent that these two misfits are simply trying to find their own place in the world. 

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The back-and-forth witticisms that frequently take place between the two are perfectly timed and delivered and as Belle slowly uncovers the Beast’s softer side, the pair create some of the most memorable moments of the show, with their exhilarating exchanges and duets, including, “Maybe All I Need’s a Muse”, (a musical highlight for me).

The fashionista in me loved Shazza’s fabulously fancy costumes – we’re talking protuberant hips, futuristic headpieces and brightly coloured beads as Diane Ennis gives a very obvious nod to the 80s. I also loved The Beast’s costume – pretty wow with his stilts (and a nod goes to Hoey for walking around the stage in them throughout). I didn’t love Belle and Theo’s costumes so much – too tacky for me, but then, maybe that was the point of them!

But, back to the 80s inspo – this is the same decade where my friend and composer Katie Richardson also gets a lot of her musical inspiration from – think Grease, Beach Boys and George Michael. The power ballads that take place throughout the show successfully showcase the extraordinary talent of this small cast of 4. And by pairing this timeless tale with such an enchanting score, this exhilarating family production will have audiences of all ages enthralled. With electric guitars, drums and plenty of bass, director Paul Boyd certainly gives this classic tale some major rock and roll treatment!

Special mention has to go to Ciaran Bagnall who created the incredible revolving set (which is also the base of the set for the adult show currently running at the Lyric ‘What The Reindeer Saw’.

The well-written script gives the well-loved French fairy-tale a modern makeover and whilst little ones can enjoy the funny retorts and fervent acting, the more mature of us are left to explore the deeper messages hidden within the narrative tackling issues such as grief and our insatiable quest to ‘have it all’.

Music, mayhem and tonnes of hidden innuendos that fly hilariously over the heads of the innocent little ones, writers Derek O’Connor and Trevor J. Colgan have given this well-loved classic a hilariously thrilling rock and roll twist! Combined with a powerful soundtrack, talented cast and tale filled with humour this play really does have it all.

The star of the show? For me, it was Orla Gormley as Shazza. An excellent performance.

FOLIO | THE FERRYMAN - GIELGUD THEATRE, LONDON

Unless you've done your homework or some pre-show research, it's not until the third act of this gripping drama that it is explained who The Ferryman in Jez Butterworth's play title links back to. It is of course the mythical Cheron, who ferried souls across the River Styx - except the souls of those who had lied to innocents and those whose bones remain unburied.

But no matter, because there is a whole host of 'stuff' going on - including a live goose, a couple of live rabbits and swearing, glug-swigging children as well as gripping plot lines woven into a historical context with the IRA hunger strikes, Margaret Thatcher's reign as British prime minister and a missing body becoming a political pawn merely by the silence around its recent discovery - to keep you occupied. And it's important to note that this 'stuff' makes for a long performance - 180+ minutes to be precise - but that didn't deter me, nor the thousands who are queuing up to see this masterful follow up to ‘Jerusalem’; because between Butterworth and director Sam Mendes, the content is both interesting and awe-inspiring to watch. 

The play, which is superbly directed by Mendes, is set in an Armagh farmhouse in 1981, where the extended Carney family lives and through which various family members come and go like a busy bus stop. And in this respect, Mendes is as much choreographer as director. Characters are quickly established though, despite the sheer numbers (the play features a cast of 21) and one gets a true sense of how a large family operated in the much more austere early 1980s. Had I not grown up in the 1980s in a bustling family home with seven children and almost 40 cousins on my maternal side alone, I might not have believed the comings and goings as possible, but this side of the story rang very true for me. There was a lot of traffic in our living room at times too, although not as much whiskey. I think that part has been exaggerated to fit with a ‘fightin’ Irish’ stereotype a little.

Family patriarch, Quinn Carney (superbly played by Paddy Considine, who makes his stage debut in The Ferryman) has long since denounced violence with the IRA in favour of life as a farmer with his wife and eight children. From the time his brother Seamus went missing 10 years previously, his sister-in-law Caitlin (Laura Donnelly) and her son have lived as an integral part of the household.

The (very cleverly written) dialogue is powerful and poignant and touches upon emotional personal relationships, love and loss and well as pride, identity and nationalism. The overriding theme though, is that of ambiguous loss. When a family or a community experiences an ambiguous loss, i.e. the loss of a loved one whose physical body is missing, those left behind often create their own meanings and endings to the mysterious stories of disappearance. And as we humans are individual, our story endings (and therefore our expectations and how we manage them) in those kinds of situations are also different and, at times, conflicting. It’s no surprise then, that this situation can create conflict and confusion in families, and we see this pan out as the play develops. It was interesting to see how, as well as the physical ambiguous loss surrounding the ‘Disappeared’ Seamus Carney, we also see the psychological ambiguous loss of Aunt Maggie Far Away  (played brilliantly by Brid Brennan) whose dementia (if that’s what it is) leads her to tell her own roguish versions of her childhood loves, and memories and thoughts as a seer are shared in a magical, fairytale and humane way. The kids who play the family’s children are fantastic supporting actors to her in a couple of scenes as this happens.  

Aunt Maggie is wonderfully juxtaposed with militant Aunt Pat, who is a hardened Republican and IRA supporter. And I couldn’t help but feel endeared to Mary Carney, although Laura Donnelly’s Caitlin is the most favourable and formidable character - her tenacity and strength, as well as good values in the face of a suppressed love developed over a decade for her host Quinn Carney. 

Mendes and Butterworth have worked together before on the scripts for Skyfall and Spectre, the director's two Bond films, but this is their first theatrical collaboration and one which will not disappoint, despite its 3 hour duration. This rich, political and personal production kept me hooked and absorbed in every single scene.

KATIE LARMOUR DESIGN - A TRULY UNIQUE DESIGN CONCEPT

This week I catch up with my friend and former model Katie Larmour, whose design business Katie Larmour Design has found global success in the luxury interiors market with her statement, one-of-a-kind, artisan-made cushions fashioned from antique and vintage designer silk scarves and backed with Irish Linen.

As of this week, I am now the owner of a beautifully striking oversized cushion intricately made from a rare and exquisite vintage Jean-Louis Scherrer silk scarf backed in pure, undyed Irish Linen.  The cushion is perhaps of one of the prettiest pieces of furnishings I think I have ever owned. It appeals to my love of fashion and design as much to the aesthete in me and will no doubt make my once-cool-now-feeling-dreary grey living room a much brighter place to sit! And as I decided to tell its story here on the blog, I thought I would venture into Katie’s story also, because I’ve known Katie for more than a decade as a model and presenter who I represented and who worked closely with me at FASHIONWEEK - being front of camera for the ad campaign, then hosting the popular BFWTV shows.  I know Katie as an artist also, and so I wanted to find out how her art and love of fashion got woven together to create her wonderfully creative company.

But before we get to the interview, (which also appears on the William Clark Living in Linen blog here: http://www.wmclark.co.uk/living-linen-katie-larmour-design/), let’s take a look at my new cushion - it is a thing of beauty indeed, especially for someone as moved by colour as me.

Jean-Louis Scherrer was a flamboyant French fashion designer, affectionately described by Vogue as 'the Aladdin of Couture’, and was known for his forte in creating opulent evening wear. After apprenticing under Christian Dior alongside Yves Saint Laurent, the former classical ballet dancer launched his own label in 1962, and in 1971 was one of a handful of Parisian designers officially granted the prestigious ‘Haute Couture’ status. With boutiques on both the famous Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore and later Avenue Montaigne, his glamorous clients included Jacqueline Kennedy, Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, Bianca Jagger and Raquel Welch. This print is an example of his zesty, fluid work, displaying a striking pattern of block colour in strong, bright primaries and familiar bright ‘pop art’ shades. Stylised floral shapes in vibrant sweeping strokes stand out against an ivory white ground, most notably the hot pink buds. Adding interest to the design is the manner in which it is broken up into sections divided by bold yet blending right angles.

Aside from the wonderful design on the scarf, the attention to detail in creating the cushion is outstanding. Before being carefully unravelled to construct this cushion, the scarf edge would have been delicately hand rolled and hemmed, a distinctive French style finish of all scarves. Now backed in new, 100% pure Irish linen - the aristocrat of textiles and certified by the Irish Linen Guild - the cushion has been filled with plush duck feather insert and a concealed dress zip. The traditional oatmeal colour linen is a combination of the unbleached and undyed raw colour of the natural flax plant on the weft intertwined with pristine white on the warp, resulting in a beautiful mottled effect.

INTERVIEW

Katie, tell me how the scarf cushions came about?

I have been collecting high end designer silk scarves such as Hermes, Chanel and Cartier in an eclectic mix of rare and unusual vintage colour-ways for a long time, and a few years ago I started to fashion them into one-of-a-kind cushions, which are backed in Irish linen.One piece led to another and so my journey began.  I source the scarves from the best markets and antique dealers in Paris. My favourite place to hunt for treasure there is ‘Les Puces de Saint-Ouen’. It’s very fitting that these precious fabrics found in such an elegant city be matched with Irish linen which is often referred to as the aristocrat of textiles. I prefer to use Irish Linen in its natural undyed form which is very fresh, its unique shade seeming to complement every single colour of scarf I use no matter how vibrant. I sell these through a New York based antique dealership called 1stdibs. (Link at the end of the blog).

Have you a favourite piece that you have produced?

There have been a number of them, including a few of my antique silk scarf cushions that I know I will never find again, as they are such gems and one-of-a-kind beauties, but if I kept every one that I fell in love with my house would be coming down in cushions ...in fact it already is! A favourite pattern must be ‘Gloria’, a celestial looking print by Hermes, as I seem to keep buying the same one over and over again, but in different colour-ways. 

You are mostly an artist but you are passionate about fashion too, can you tell us a little about your journey within the fashion and textiles industry?

Fashion has definitely been an influence in my work, directly in the use of precious antique and vintage designer silk scarves which are a fashion item that I transform into one-of-a-kind luxury cushions, and then also with some of my ‘Artisan Linen’ designs, which is another facet to my business - and an entirely separate collection of 100% linen cushions.These are cushions created from linen alone. My two signature pieces, the bow and the rose cushion, have been inspired by the flamboyant bows and elaborate flower-like ruffle detailed on couture dresses, like the 1950s Dior, Valentino or Giambattista Valli ballgowns -whether it’s oversized shapes of sweeping fabric or in tiny intricate details. My cushions are artisan-made, constructed in a similar way to a bespoke garment by skilled seamstresses with precision and care, the cloth sculpted by hand and the finishing touches hand stitched. In a world of throw-away fashions I wanted to create products that felt timeless and more enduring in an era of ever-changing fads and trends. 

How did the vision for Katie Larmour Design come about?

I studied Fine & Applied Art at Ulster University Art College where I specialised in ceramics, but although my end of year show was focused on that medium, I was experimenting with Irish Linen even then. I combined textiles and porcelain with a delicate slip-dipping method which resulted in beautiful patterns being imprinted and fossilised within the clay. With Irish Linen being so imprinted in our city’s history and heritage I was intrigued to incorporate it into my ceramic pieces, and so took the first step into the field I am in today.

Tell us why you love Irish linen?

Firstly for its unique look, colour, feel and texture which is unparalleled. It’s very special as not only does it encapsulate our history and heritage but it’s an excellent eco-friendly choice. There has recently been a widespread and fashionable return to natural fibres, which makes Irish Linen all the more desirable now. Made from the flax plant it’s cultivated using just a little water, and so is an alternative to crops that seem to rely on fertilisers and pesticides. Basically grown as a weed, it is transformed into the most luxurious of fabrics today, and the whole plant is also used, making it a waste-free crop. I’m also fascinated by the old production methods of the past and found some historical photographs documenting the bleaching process whereby rows of long lengths of linen were laid out on the fields to be whitened by the sun’s rays. These archival photographs have been a source of inspiration for my designs. From a high level view the dramatic stripes created by ‘bleaching greens’ was astonishing and made very striking patterns across the landscape, and so I tried to translate this image into my cushion design ‘Erina’. I love visiting all the old linen mills that are scattered across the country, as they contain so much history and character, Clark’s of Upperlands being a picturesque example with its old stone buildings with soaring red clay brick chimney set within a luscious woodland.

Do you feel you are contributing to part of a revival of Irish Linen?

There is a sense of that, which is very gratifying, and it’s nice to think I'm celebrating what our city was known for, our industrial heritage. At one time there were tens of thousands of mill workers in Belfast alone, and now there are only a handful of mills left in the whole country still producing linen, but its niche is the luxury market. It’s a beautiful fabric with so many appealing qualities but it tends to be offered in quite a traditional way, whereas my aim is to create contemporary designs with a fresh approach and I love of the idea ofhelping to keep this wonderful fabric alive and being able to promote it abroad.

When you begin a new collection, where do you look for inspiration? 

I’ve just recently completed a set of contemporary patchwork Irish Linen cushions for Heal’s of London, on sale at their flagship store for Spring/Summer 2017. Because the collection was exclusive to them I looked to their archive of iconic furniture from the past for inspiration, to draw up something special to them, and that’s where I found a range of minimalist shapes. Heal’s has a fascinating design history which spans over 200 years, with a particularly strong background in the Arts & Crafts movement, Modernist designs, traditional craftsmanship and high quality materials, so there was a natural synergy here. I used clean lines with no frills, eliminating unnecessary seam-lines to create bold block geometrics with harmony and proportion. My goal was to make a collection that could be ‘mixed and matched’. I’ve done this by keeping the colour scheme neutral and using the same combination and textures of fabric throughout, so theoretically they should all complement each other. I’m delighted to be collaborating with such an iconic and prestigious company, whose own history was inspiration itself.

Congratulations on winning a place with the British European Design Group, what was it like exhibiting with them in NYC?

The BEDG promotes British talent to international markets. Once I learnt I was going to showcase at ICFF, North America’s luxury International Contemporary Furniture Fair, I got to work designing a whole new collection, as all my pieces up until then had been one-offs and therefore I could not reproduce them for a wholesale market. The collection I eventually exhibited there was picked up by a beautiful interior design boutique based in the Hamptons. On the journey home I stopped by the Caribbean to add some of my bijou accents to a private villa there. It was an amazing experience to be taking part in New York Design Week, not to mention the opening night party in MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art). Having visited the gallery many times during the day it was really cool to get in to see it after normal opening hours. I’ve since been invited to take part in ‘Maison & Objet’ in Paris later this year so I’m really looking forward to that.

What do you do in your spare time?

I always like visiting art galleries and museums wherever I go, and it has always been a pleasure in my spare time, although it often ends up as a stimulating influence in my work. I’m passionate about my design business so I never really 100% switch off. Experimenting with making quilts is very time consuming but also therapeutic. I construct them with what are essentially the left over pieces of linen from my cushions and so the size and form of these sections often dictate the shapes in the piece. I see them as one big picture and often look to icons of abstract art like the paintings of Rothko, and the graphics of the Russian Suprematists, and the Dutch De Stijl group for inspiration, which brings me back to my favourite hobby in my spare time - going to see these original works in galleries around the world.

Have your travels impacted on how you design?

Absolutely, I love to explore new places and absorb new cultures. I travel a lot and I find a wealth of inspiration everywhere I go. Last year on a trip to Venezuela I was lucky to have a private tour of ‘Villa Planchart’. It is a modernist gem by the celebrated Italian architect Gio Ponti and I was shown round by the nephew of the patron. The interior was magical and I was very impressed by the unique Mid-Century Modern decor full of fantastic geometric furniture and dramatic spaces. My ‘Tara’ cushion would fit in there perfectly. It’s the essence of the clean lines and boxy forms of the Modern Movement in art that I’ve tried to capture through my contemporary patchwork. I ended off that same year with a visit to the architectural masterpiece ‘Casa Luis Barragán’, the house and studio of Luis Barragan in Mexico City which is another development of that same aesthetic. Next on my list to visit is the Irish Modernist Eileen Gray’s villa ‘E-1027’ on the French Riviera; that would be a dream to see how an earlier Irish woman designer worked in the Modernist idiom.

Katie’s Heal’s cushions can be seen gracing the front cover of this month’s House Beautiful magazine, and her silk scarf creations feature in Antiques & Home MagazineHer silk scarf cushions are sold exclusively through US vintage and antique website 1st Dibs - see her page by clicking here

http://katielarmourdesign.com

FOLIO | GISELLE - ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET AT GRAND OPERA HOUSE

As a congratulatory mummy-daughter day out for my five year old Valentina doing her Grade One ballet exams, I took her to see Mary Skeaping's Giselle by the English National Ballet at the Grand Opera House. I always thought the Nutcracker, Swan Lake, or even Hansel & Gretel would be her first show with me - as Giselle can be quite sinister, haunting and very definitely grown up in parts - but it sure didn’t disappoint with some of ballet’s most dramatic scenes played out in beautiful costumes and en pointe footwork by the super talented baleros and ballerinas. In short, it was perfectly poised and aesthetically - truly outstanding.

On curtain up, we were immediately impressed by the set, which opens onto the happy and idyllic village scenes at the beginning of the story. The music, by Adolphe Adam, was performed live by English National Ballet Philharmonic, and Act I’s harvest dance introduces the troupe as well as the love interests of the beautiful and innocent Giselle (Jurgita Dronina) and her new love Loys - who is really Albrecht, the Duke of Silesia, disguised as a peasant, (played by Isaac Hernandez) as well as her suitors including manly hunter Hilarion (who suspects the true identity of his rival, and soon finds out that Albrecht is not the peasant he claims to be).

The following scenes, in which the villagers return from the fields to celebrate the grape harvest and join in a dance with Giselle and Albrecht, are full of energy and optimism, peppered only by Giselle’s Mother, Berthe, who is concerned that Giselle’s passion for dancing may be the death of her delicate daughter, and she warns Giselle of the spell of the Wilis, vengeful spirits of virgin-brides who have been abandoned before their wedding night.

Giselle is amused at her mother’s concern, and continues dancing with her friends, until she is finally crowned Queen of the Vine in a fantastic crescendo of dance.

Admittedly, I had to give a bit of a running commentary at times (sotto voce of course), to Miss Valentina, who asked questions like ‘Mummy, why is there no speaking?’ while I explained that love, lies, jealousy and even motherly concern can be expressed through body language and dance, which fascinated her. And she really got it as we moved towards the final scenes in Act I, when the Prince of Courland and his hunting party stop at the village to taste the wine. One of this party, the Prince’s daughter, Bathilde, is engaged to Duke Albrecht. Hilarion takes this opportunity to reveal the truth about Albrecht’s identity. Giselle, destroyed by grief at Albrecht’s duplicity, loses her mind and/or stabs herself with Albrecht’s sword - then dies.

As we moved into Act II, I fell in love once again with the set - much more simple this time in the woods, but it was the lighting in particular which was exquisite - with romantic and sinister shadows cast across the stage to create a wonderfully atmospheric backdrop to the iconic dances of the Wilis. I explained that this moonlit world of mystery and menace was Giselle’s new home after she died, but then got asked questions like “Mummy is that heaven, then?” and had I dared to go into the realms of the supernatural world in my explanations, i could have conjured up ghosts and ghouls in her sleep that night, so it took some tricky and hurried whispering about this being a special story about things which weren’t so real like the lives we lead to get through that. The questions soon dissipated  as the Wilis, (18 of them), came en scène, each reminding me of Dickens’ Miss Havisham in their beautiful blue-white, inky moonlight wedding dresses, and danced a wonderfully hypnotic and really breath-taking dance with perfect footwork and brilliantly precise timing. The corps de ballet floated en masse and en pointe across the stage as they twirled and swirled around unfortunate huntsmen who came to close to their cursed nightly practise. This scene in particular was mesmerising to watch - Valentina was enthralled.

Separately, Hilarion and Albrecht visit Giselle’s grave, mourning her tragic death. Hilarion is caught by the vengeful spirits and Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, condemns him to dance until he falls dead of exhaustion. Albrecht faces a similar fate, but Giselle’s love and forgiveness protect him through the night.

The Queen of the Wilis tries to get Albrecht away from the cross on Giselle’s grave which is helping to protect him, but her magic Myrtle branch breaks. She makes a desperate effort to maintain her control by commanding the Wilis to attack the cross, but its power is too great.

She commands Giselle to come away from the cross, knowing Albrecht will follow her. However, as dawn breaks over the forest Queen Myrtha loses her power and the Wilis are forced back into their graves.

Giselle and Albrecht are reunited in graceful and sad dance before he falls exhausted as Giselle and the Wilis return to their graves.

This is a classic production of one of the greatest romantic ballets - and one which allowed me to explain that, just like in some fairytales, the path of true love doesn’t always run smoothly - but it was wonderfully expressive and, choreographically, it was a really joyful ballet to watch. Bravo!  

Giselle - Grand Opera House Belfast - until Saturday 24th June 2017

https://www.goh.co.uk/giselle-enb

FOLIO | The Ladykillers at the Lyric Theatre

The Ladykillers is the tale of a chaotic gang with a mastermind plan to perform a robbery at King’s Cross Station. However things soon go south when they are outsmarted by a little old lady - Mrs Wilberforce.

The story was originally created by Canadian writer William Rose when, during breakfast, as he stared incredulously at his wife, egg dripping from his fork, she relayed to him the dream he had told her the night before about an old lady who unwittingly becomes involved in an inventive heist plot when she opens her home to a ‘Professor Marcus’ and his gang of ‘musicians’.

The stage version of the 1955 hit comedy created by Graham Linehan (Father Ted, Black Books, Big Train and The It Crowd,) requires a complex and clever set – making it an excellent choice for The Lyric Theatre and producer Jimmy Fay soon got to work giving the story a brand new twist by introducing an all-female cast – the first time this has been done.

As the audience settled into their seats you could hear the faint noise of an approaching train, before the curtain went up to reveal Stuart Marshall’s superb set – a rickety Victorian house with groaning interiors and behind it, a hazardous King’s Cross railway station - immediately setting the scene of a post-war shattered England, brilliantly lit by Zia Bergin-Holly.

Sitting in the living room of the unstable Victorian house is Mrs Wilberforce (Stella McCusker) who is telling Constable MacDonald (Nuala McKeever) of her concern about the local newsagent who she believes to be a Nazi seeking revenge. As the conversation comes to an acquitted end, it soon becomes clear that the bemused policeman is a regular visitor to the home of the ‘silly old bird’ as she calls to relay her latest suspicions of the towns (mostly) innocent folk. Despite the constable’s reservations, it is Mrs Wilberforce’s prying nature that ensures nothing in this plot concerning the unhinged robbers passes by the landlady.

Jimmy Fay’s cast excelled – bringing to life the wicked hilarity that this play needs but so often lacks and leaving the audience erupting in laughter. At one point as the gang spot Mrs Wilberforce and a policeman arriving at the house, they scramble into a tiny cupboard, fearing that their masterplan has been infiltrated only to be located by a shocked and confused Mrs Wilberforce. As the door opens to reveal the many heads inside, almost giving a Medusa-like appearance, Professor Marcus easily explains their whereabouts by stating “Mrs Wilberforce we are artists” - an excuse that is lapped up without question.

The cast, nattily dressed by Erin Charteris, including; Abigail McGibbon as the unhinged mastermind professor Marcus; Julie Maxwell as Harry, a young drug addict;, Jo Donnelly as Major Courtney – who squeals with delight at the sight of Mrs Wilberforce’s empty pink dress; Cheryl Ferison as One Round - a punch-drunk ex-boxer and Maria Connelly as Louis, a cutthroat word-babbling immigrant, delivered their lines with perfect precision, leaving me along with the rest of the audience with fat tears rolling down our newly pinked cheeks.

As the story evolves and Mrs Wilberforce threatens to call the police, it becomes clear that if they gang want to successfully pull off the robbery, they must kill the old lady – however, as each try and fail to do so, Mrs Wilberforce’s words run true that even bad men have a little good in them and instead, one by one, each member of the gang end up on an unplanned train journey north.

Although done many times before Jimmy Fay gives this play a whole new lease of life and the all-female cast was an ingenious concept that worked beautifully. With its hilarious quips and startling plot, The Ladykillers has all the ingredients for an exuberantly entertaining evening.

The play continues until 8TH July 2017. To book:  https://lyrictheatre.co.uk/event/the-ladykillers/

My verdict 10/10

FOLIO | ‘SINNERS’ AT THE LYRIC THEATRE

A religious comedy seems a befitting choice for a country renowned for its own religious segregations, but although this version of Marie Jones’ brand new comedy is set in Northern Ireland, with strong local accents and some fab acting (as well as a few panto-like characters thrown in), the story could really have taken place anywhere. In this very funny play, Jones - who wrote Stones in His Pockets and A Night in November, among others - tells the story of a small town that comes under the spell of a charismatic con man guised as an American preacher.

The play reminds me of (and was apparently also inspired by) Moliere’s satirical play, Tartuffe, which ridiculed religious hypocrisy. When this was originally premiered at the Palace of Versailles, it was quickly banned as viewers shuddered behind the startling, dark humour of the play. But here, although the humour is at times close to the bone, it is not ban-worthy, even for the local zealots.  

The play begins with Pastor O’Hare (played brilliantly by Michael Condron) entering the stage, illuminated by the brightly lit curtain behind him. Immediately he captivates the audience with his flamboyant American façade, tailored suit and mesmerising smile; [and on that note, Michael he told me his gleaming teeth are naturally that shiny, I asked him in the bar afterwards!] It is not long before Pastor O’Hare unleashes these weapons on the vulnerable small town which immediately falls under his spell, moulding the congregation (bar the cynics in one family) like putty in his hands.

One of his captives is the unassuming Stanley Simpson (Charlie Bonner), a local farmer who eagerly agrees for O’Hare’s mission tent to be unveiled on his land – complete with gospel choir. As O’Hare’s unorthodox and electric sermons see the gullible town empty their pockets, Stanley's increasing obsession with the pastor sees him pitted against his family, who view the Pastor’s invasion (and their father/brother/husband’s obsession) as a threat to their inheritance.  

The super-talented Seáinín Brennan plays Sidney’s wife Tania, who is not convinced of the eccentric pastor’s righteous intentions and, in a hilarious show of strength, leads the Simpson family as they fight to take back what is rightfully theirs.

Alyson Cummins’ simple yet striking set hypnotises the audience with its effective lighting and clever design, including pretty modern projection techniques, as the intrusive mission tent takes centre stage. Behind the tent, the engrossed audience catches a glimpse of the domestic life that is under threat by the Pastor’s impromptu arrival.

Director Mick Gordan and producer Jimmy Fay successfully anchor the play to what it is – an entertaining satire that gives viewers a deep belly laugh whilst simultaneously raising a few eyebrows.

The superbly cast cast portray their characters flawlessly and their perfectly timed one-liners, actions and expressions exude the relevant response from  charmed audience. Christina Nelson is at first completely unrecognisable in her gullible male role, and hats off to Roma Tomelty, Alan McKee and Louise Matthews for delivering some of the best lines.

The play is ultimately about materialism and blind faith with an underlying warning to viewers. Full of unexpected twists and turns, ‘Sinners’ is a guaranteed evening of easy-viewing, great theatre.

The play continues until 3rd June 2017. To book: https://lyrictheatre.co.uk/event/sinners/

My Verdict 8.5/10

FOLIO | HARP 'PURE HERE' GRAFFITI IN BELFAST

‘THE JACKAL’ CHAMPIONS NEW MURAL ILLUSTRATING EVERYTHING THAT’S ‘PURE HERE’ ABOUT BELFAST

HARP commissions local graffiti artist to create street art celebrating the people, sights and humour unique to the city.

Carl ‘The Jackal’ Frampton was back in Belfast this week to unveil a brand new work of art on Hill Street in the city’s bustling Cathedral Quarter. Created by Dean Kane from Visual Waste - AKA ‘The Banksy of Belfast’, as part of HARP’s ‘Pure Here’ campaign, the mural showcases some of the best-loved bits of Belfast including The Balls on the Falls, Titanic Building, The Big Fish, The Albert Clock, the H&W cranes, and some of the city’s legendary characters and local celebrities.

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With the mural featuring a nod to The Jackal’s impact on Belfast, the man himself was only too happy to get behind the campaign. Carl said: “Everybody knows I love Belfast so to be involved with something that’s really positive in the heart of the town, it was a no-brainer for me. HARP’s ‘Pure Here’ is a lot of fun, a really upbeat campaign that’s celebrating lots of great things that are unique to Northern Ireland.”

The Cathedral Quarter mural is the first of its kind by HARP and Brand Manager Jeanette Levis said: “HARP is one of NI’s most-loved lagers and this is our way of celebrating all that is magical about Belfast – the unique sense of humour and the quirks that make it so special.”

The mural was created by Dean Kane from Visual Waste. He said: “Belfast has been famous for murals for a long time. This one is a bit different because it’s very tongue in cheek. I hope it cheers people up when they’re dandering along Hill Street and take a look up at it.”

The ongoing ‘Pure Here’ campaign will see HARP continuing to work with local talent and consumers to champion the best bits of Northern Ireland.

FOLIO | RED AT THE LYRIC THEATRE

Mark Rothko famously painted massive abstracts. And, to quote The Stage, as a Russian Jewish emigre to America in the early 1900s, he knew what it was to be a social outcast - going so far as to change his own name to hide his Jewish roots - so by painting on this scale, he engaged organically with his work, thereby acquiring a strong sense of belonging.

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In the Lyric’s version of this play, written by John Logan (2009) and directed by Emma Jordan for Prime Cut Productions, we see actor Patrick O’Kane deliver a passionate, insular, serious and, it has to be said, mega-culturally intelligent Rothko. The play is set in 1958, during a period of the artist’s life in which he was commissioned - quite lucratively - to make art for the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York - and it bounces around ideas of commercialism in art and integrity in commercially produced art, as well as human perceptions of art, especially as it is framed around the arrival of the pop-art scene with Warhol et al coming to ‘take over’ Rothko’s art world.

Thomas Finnegan plays a blinder as the fiery artist’s nervous but smart assistant Ken - an aspiring artist himself, although we never get to see his work (such is the self-centeredness of Rothko) - and as the play goes on we learn of his traumatic life experiences, which match - if not surpass - his master’s traumatic early life as an immigrant.

Their relationship is a difficult one to say the least - peppered with explosive, visceral and at times cruel, outbursts - but there are some really cracking lines and poignant intellectual insights into life, art, self-awareness and the world at large, for both characters. This is definitely a play that I would like to sit down and read the script of; again and again.

SPOILER ALERT: There’s no real ‘happy ever after’ ending - unless you’re the anti-establishment artist type who champions the poor artist staying poor. But with creative integrity of course. [Insert winky emoji here] And I suppose Rothko, in his own way, encourages (read: chases) his assistant off to discover the world and deliver art which is meaningful - and that in itself shows that some kind of respect, and even affection, had grown while they worked together. As for the questions that the play raises around art itself - well, they always say art should be challenging, and this play certainly challenges the audience to think about how they view art. And this art form was as a fantastic cultural experience. Bravo!

My verdict 9/10

To book: https://lyrictheatre.co.uk/event/red/