13th Feb 2020 in Arts

Cathedral Quarter pub magnate Willie Jack has been described as “the perfect host” for an innovative piece of theatre coming to the Cathedral Quarter next week.

Across The Threshold is an immersive, atmospheric theatre experience put together by Big Telly Theatre Company which comes to the Dark Horse on 18th and 19th February during a small tour. The piece is comprised of two scripts from a longer performance, Bog People, which was inspired by Seamus Heaney’s poems Kinship and Bogland and toured in 2008.

Scene from Bog Peopleand Bogland and toured in 2008.

Fran Porter, Manager of Big Telly Theatre Company says, “They’re beautiful scripts and we wanted to bring them back again without having to do a massive tour. We knew we wanted to do something small scale and tour for about a week but we didn’t want it to be in theatres – we wanted it to be site-specific and go to more unusual places; really atmospheric, nice places.”

On Tuesday and Wednesday night, the bar at The Dark Horse will be open during the performances of Across The Threshold, so you can order yourself a pint to enjoy during the show. Like Worst Cafe, it’s not a full-length piece of theatre, so audiences can enjoy it as part of a night out, without committing to an entire evening at the theatre.

“We’ve got a brilliant cast – Nicky Harley, John Mulkeen and Carol Moore,” says Fran, “Nicky and John will perform one script which is really dark and atmospheric. Carol will then perform a monologue and Gareth McConaghey is composing the music for it.

“The performances will take place in and around the tables, we won’t be moving things around that much so the audiences will be close to the action. The idea is that once you’re in there, you are just fully immersed in the experience – it will be very sensory.”

Big Telly brought a successful piece of pop-up theatre to the Cathedral Quarter for the 2019 Belfast International Arts Festival when ‘The Worst Cafe in the World’ opened its doors on Hill Street for a chaotic piece of reality theatre.

Supported with funding from the Cathedral Quarter BID and Arts and Business NI, the show gave the Portstewart-based theatre company the opportunity to forge new relationships with Belfast traders in the Cathedral Quarter. As Fran explains, these relationships led directly to the show coming to the Dark Horse next week.

“Because we had done Worst Cafe In the World in the CQ, when we came to think about bringing it to Belfast, we instantly thought of Willie Jack,” explains Fran.

Worst Cafe in The World came to Hill Street during BIAF 2019

“He’s a massive Heaney fan, he loves words and poetry and anything that’s authentically Northern Ireland or Belfast, he’s just completely passionate about. And obviously he has the poetry garden too. He just wants things like this to happen in the Cathedral Quarter, so he became the perfect host for it really.”

The Cathedral Quarter has a long history of offering arts and culture in new contexts – the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival began with performances in disused buildings, Culture Night brings performances and creative experiences into non-typical venues every year, and the Festival of Fools turns the streets of CQ Belfast into an outdoor circus every Springtime, to name but a few.

This dovetails nicely with Big Telly’s ethos of bringing theatre outside of traditional venues, in order to allow more people to discover it. “People like Willie Jack enable theatre to live outside of theatres,” as Fran says.

“We have a long history of touring theatres – over thirty years – and those venues will always exist and always do fantastic work. But the way people consume culture is changing, so we are looking at ways to bring theatre into everyday life and places so that more people have the opportunity to engage with it.”

Big Telly hopes to explore more partnerships like these in the future and would love to hear from any organisations and businesses in the Cathedral Quarter who may wish to collaborate on future site-specific performances.


Across The Threshold comes to the Dark Horse on Tuesday 18th February at 8pm and Wednesday 19th February at 8pm and tickets are £8. If you attend either show we would love for you to tag us in any content you share on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or use the #CQBelfast hashtag.

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