St George’s Parish Church in Belfast is the oldest Anglican church in the city in use and was a very appropriate setting for Carlo Gébler’s new play, looking back over 400 years of the city.
It’s called Belfast by Moonlight but tonight unfortunately there was no sign of the moon. However the lighting effects (including candles) inside the church provided a suitable atmosphere for the dialogue and the accompanying music, provided by an eight-strong female choir who come from areas as far apart as Dungannon and Donegal. They were conducted by Nigel McClintock, Director of Music at St Peter’s Cathedral in Belfast and have been rehearsing under Emma Gibbins, Director of Music at St George’s.
The play began with six spirits (all female) appearing out of the darkness, as if resurrected from the tomb. Each was from a different period, starting from 1613 when Belfast received its Royal Charter from King James I granting it the right to form a Corporation and extending up to the present day. The six are Bernadette Brown, Maria Connolly, Roisin Gallagher, Laura Hughes, Carol Moore and Kerri Quinn, all members of the Kabosh theatre company under the artistic direction of Paula McFetridge. Each spirit is connected in some way to St George’s: one got married there; the spirit from the 1960s has a two year-old son who was given away for adoption at an office said to be in the church.
Around 40% of the play is sung by the main actors and the choir, with original music composed by cellist Neil Martin. Where the River Farset joins the mouth of the Lagan rests the chapel of the sandy ford; an inhospitable place for a city. As the full moon rises, the six spirits congregate to offer a haunting lament for Béal Feirste and explore the rich past of the city.
St George’s is on High Street, where the River Farset used to flow. In the play, the rivers of Belfast are a recurring theme presented in song by the choir and the actors. The small rivers flow into the big rivers and the big rivers flow into the sea. Gébler has produced a chorus from their names: “the River Knock, the Connswater, the Purdysburn, the Ligoniel, Derriaghy, Colin, Blackstaff, Forth, Milewater, Cregagh, Farset, Lagan Navigation, the Ravernet”. For vimeo footage by NvTv of the Kabosh production at the rehearsal stage, see here. There is a great picture of the stained glass window behind the main altar of the church, which contains the Bible verses from 1Corinthians 15:55-56 : “O Death Where is Thy Sting/O Grave Where is Thy Victory”. Again, very appropriate when the six spirits are gathered at the altar steps.
There will be post-show talks on 23rd and 26th October with matinee performances on Saturday 26th and Wednesday 30th October at 3pm. There are no Sunday performances. This event runs after the Festival until All Hallows’ Eve on Thursday 31st October (Halloween). Tickets are £14 (concession £10) and can be booked here.