Celebrating 60 years. That is the proud boast of the organisers of this year’s Belfast International Arts Festival, which runs for just over a month.

If you have never before been to the festival, or indeed have not had the pleasure of visiting the city, then I would wholeheartedly recommend you make a trip to both. Not interested in theatre or dance? Don’t worry, there is music of every genre, visual arts and film, and a variety of talks, walking tours and more. You are certain to find something to interest you.

The season opened on Wednesday 5 October at The MAC with Dinner With Groucho, a new work by Frank McGuinness, and this happens a week after it has its world premiere at the Dublin Theatre Festival.

In a strange restaurant, two American giants who revere each other, Groucho Marx and T.S. Eliot, meet for dinner. Both in their own ways great defiant spirits, they create magic and anarchy, revealing secrets and sorrows. The evening is presided over by the Proprietor, who seems to control the workings of the universe. Or does she? In Dinner with Groucho all is revealed, or nearly so.

In addition to having a fine cast and team in production, you can revel at the work of costume designer Joan Bergin. If her name is not so familiar, just consider the following. She is a multiple award-winning designer, best known for her acclaimed work on The Tudors, as well as on landmark Irish films such as My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father and Dancing at Lughnasa.

Other well-known works include The Boxer, Veronica Guerin, David Copperfield, Laws of Attraction, The Prestige and Vikings. We are talking theatre royalty.

There are a number of premieres, a fascinating one being Another Lover’s Discourse, a Palestinian work by Riham Isaac. Created and performed by the author, and combining video, music, performance and original film, it encourages a more open conversation about how we understand romantic relationships. This piece was commissioned for the festival.

A visit to the Ulster Museum anytime from 14 October until the end of the year will bring you into contact with the 141st Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition, and this free event can also be enjoyed online if you are unable to travel. However, there is nothing to replace being physically present to view the paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and videos.


Those who love literature are in for a couple of treats. Tish Delaney (Before My Actual Heart Breaks) and Donal Ryan, whose latest work is The Queen of Dirt Island, appear together on 19 October, and 10 days later two of Britain’s most exciting writers, Benjamin Wood and Ross Raisin, will give readings.

I have been especially impressed with the early works of Raisin, especially his 2017 novel, A Natural. Thirteen years ago he was the winner of the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, and his latest work, published in August, A Hunger, is a novel about love and sacrifice, and how illness and duty affect ordinary lives.

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The Front Row: a theatrical treat to return

Theatre, music, visual art, literature all at the biggest arts festivals