ensemble makes theatre top 10 of 2017

Taken from https://theevenhand.com/2017/12/27/the-even-hands-top-ten-theatre-dance-events-of-2017-in-northern-ireland/

'Rarely, if ever, does one leave a Conor Mitchell/Belfast Ensemble show humming one of the tunes.  The ‘tunes’ are just too complex, too challenging, too discordant for that. But in the immediacy of a live performance situation, that music feels fresh, energising and so, so original.

Mitchell’s 2011 collaboration with English writer Mark Ravenhill and the iconic singer Marc Almond produced Ten Plagues, a dramatic song cycle, which was premiered at the Traverse Theatre during the Edinburgh Festival and won a Fringe First Award.

In November, the Outburst Queer Arts Festival hosted a single performance of TenPlagues. Ravenhill travelled from London to the Lyric to see it and was reportedly as thrilled as the rest of us by Belfast cabaret artist Matthew Cavan, who shouldered the daunting burden of stepping into Almond’s sparkly stilettos and gave one of the performances of the year.

Ten Plagues draws its inspiration partly from Schubert and Schumann’s classical cycles and partly from the edgy European torch song tradition.  Ravenhill’s vivid score makes only tangential reference to AIDS, opting instead for overt images from the Great Plague of London in 1665 and the Biblical plagues of Egypt. But there is no escaping its resonances to the epidemic labelled in tabloid newspapers as ‘the gay plague.’ When the wan-faced Cavan sings, almost in a whisper, the line “I wanted to kiss you but you stopped me”, we are left in no doubt about its contemporary relevance.

A chilling story of survival is narrated via a libretto containing horrific word pictures – a child at the graveyard gates, the heaps of rotting bodies, the tolling of the death bell, the pit of corpses, the stench of fever. They emanate from the blighted, diseased landscape which this despairing, tormented survivor is doomed to navigate.

At the piano, Mitchell is an integral element of the performance, injecting emotion and alchemy and living every second of a plaintive, outraged rant against a society which rejects and isolates the victims of this cruel illness.

There is general agreement by all who were present on the night that this is a piece of work which absolutely must be seen by a wider audience, at home and abroad. Here’s hoping that 2018 will bring it to international attention.'