Belfast Ensemble preparing for Conor Mitchell premier

What an extraordinary privilege. I am sitting in the rehearsal room when two leading actors meet their orchestra for the very first time to prepare for the world premiere of a piece which has a sense of Edith Sitwell/William Walton’s Façade. It must be a terrifying experience for any actress to be exploring with the composer, orchestrator and director (same person) how to blend her voice with a completely different tribe of beings. Actor meet cello, tymp, piano, woodwind, violin, viola and keys – it is so much more complex than a first reading of a play with actors who have a common language.

This morning Kath and I flew into Belfast to see Conor Mitchell in rehearsal, after a space of three years not seeing this wonderful composer (and now playwright) at work. One of the company just said over tea break how immense it is to be in the room of a genius with so much going on, and coming out in creative bursts, from his head.

Sadly we will miss the premier of his two pieces at the Lyric Belfast on Wednesday, We’ll be back for the first new production of Conor/Ravenhill’s Ten Plagues (which premiered with Marc Almond at the Bridewell some years ago). on Sun Oct 8th

It was in 2002 that Conor handed a small cassette tape through to Kath as we explored with a youth company the finding of a new composer to work on some new projects in Belfast and across Northern Ireland. Kath and Conor ran many workshops over the years, leading to their first major piece together Goblin Market which played Belfast, Edinburgh Festival, London, and is now produced by young companies through licensing.   His later work with Mark Ravenhill has included co-commissions with Aldeburgh Festival with Benjamin Britten and WH Auden as the other two writers !

And now, with his own Belfast Ensemble, support from the City Council, Arts Council and the amazing Lyric Belfast, he is a few days away from the premiere of this new double bill. And the two actors are tackling the Everest climb to reach a summit along with these consummate musicians for Part 2, joined by a solo performer for Part 1.

As we sit in a sunny church hall North of Belfast city for this first sitzprobe it is immediately clear of the mastery of writing, the two performers, the musicians, and the shared wonderful creativity.

If you are in Belfast on Wednesday – grab a ticket if you can.

“All this? All Europe? All undone? And for what… A son?”
The Belfast Ensemble presents a double of cutting edge music theatre firsts.
Written by award-winning composer/playwright Conor Mitchell and with live chamber orchestra and three of Ireland’s LEADING actresses, these unique performances bring EUROPE’s most misremembered sisters to life. This double is a must see event in the city and a first for music-theatre in Ireland and the UK.

The Moot Virginity of Catherine of Aragon (A Solo)
1533. England’s fallen queen sits bereft – her mind trapped between present and past. With contemporary design and delicate score, this poetical cycle muses on Catherine’s divorce, Europe’s division and her first husband – Henry VIII’s brother – Arthur.

The Final Confession Of Juana ‘The Mad’ (A Duet)
1555. Spain’s ‘lunatic’ queen – Catherine’s sister, Juana – succumbs to the Inquisition. Fifty years a prisoner, she prepares a dramatic final confession. A duet between mother and daughter, this high energy premiere unites two of Ireland’s finest acting talents.

Starring STELLA McCUSKER (Game of Thrones), ABIGAIL McGIBBON (Best Supporting Actor,
Irish Times Theatre Awards), JO DONNELLY (Chronicles of Long Kesh)

Thank you Conor for renewing my joy at knowing you and your artistry.  Now the rehearsal starts again and more wonderful sounds waft over me as I put this blog up.

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