Writer: Dominic Montague (pictured above)
Director: Paula McFetridge
Producer: Kabosh at Outburst Queer Arts Festival, Belfast
Festival proceedings kicked off at a brisk walking pace with Quartered, Kabosh’s promenade production, which travels around the small triangle of streets, pubs, bars and gathering places that defines Belfast’s gay quarter.
Quarters, triangles, corners, squares … whatever the geometric definition, Dominic Montague’s wryly personalised narrative travels to places where, regardless of whom they choose to love, people can now dance, socialise, kiss and hold hands without fear of ostracisation or violence.
If you thought you knew Belfast, this beady-eyed take on city life may convince you otherwise. It’s all to do with perspective and perception. Did you ever notice little Alice waving at you from an office window? Did you realise that the bar beside The Call sculpture now has a different clientele? Did you wonder why The Kremlin Bar is called The Kremlin?
Quartered is a love story, written in, for and about Belfast. The starting point is the yard beside the Dark Horse coffee house, resplendent with yellow umbrellas and murals depicting local characters and scenarios. Audience members are fitted with headphones and instantly immersed into Neil Keery’s confiding account of a young man’s double-edged affection for both his home town and his partner, each alternately pushing him to leave and pulling him to stay.
Under Paula McFetridge’s sharp direction, the tour is precisely timed to arrive at a series of significant landmarks, thereby enabling the promenaders to survey the scene, warts and all, through the narrator’s eyes and to nod conspiratorially at his sardonic quips and knowing observations.
Montague has skilfully drawn from a range of experiences contributed by members of the LGBTQ+ community. Mixing dry humour with historical comment and rueful reflection, he powerfully conveys feelings of insecurity and unworthiness bestowed by a society which is quick to condemn but shamefully slow to accommodate a way of life that falls outside its received conventions. The piece demands intense concentration and some judicious editing of the midway segment could help in sharply refocusing the central thread.
This is both an individual and, sadly, a universal story which penetrates deep into the consciousness. It remains lodged there as the days slip away, whispering, niggling, nudging a closer awareness of streets, murals and buildings that one would unthinkingly have passed by.
Like a small pilgrimage, the tour winds through the Cathedral Quarter’s cobbled streets and thoroughfares, down Commercial Court and up Donegall Street, along Hill Street and across Waring Street, past stern religious sites and radical historic monuments, ending up in the hipster Sunflower Bar, whose brightly painted caged entrance thinly disguises memories of perilous days and nights in a troubled city.
In this shared space, we register the voiced hope that attitudes in Belfast are changing – and for the better, though there is still a way to go. Sitting quietly in the autumn sunshine, one last question drills into our ears: “Is it so much to want everything now?” Arcade Fire’s raucous Everything Now blasts through our headphones, provoking a loud, unhesitating thumbs up.