Whether we realise it or not, we all have a personal map of Belfast, certain buildings and public spaces reminding us of particular experiences, both good and bad. As a result, there are many more perspectives from which to view the city and this is exactly what Kabosh is inviting audiences to do with its audio theatre journey, Quartered.
Featuring in the Imagine Festival of Ideas and Politics this month, Quartered is a love story set in Belfast and is unlike anything else around at the moment in the theatrical arts. Directed by Paula McFetridge and written by Dominic Montague, who is also project facilitator at Kabosh, the story unfolds not on the stage, but out on the city streets.
Small groups of no more than six people at a time are led around Belfast for about an hour as the narrator, voiced by Neil Keery, shares his story via headphones. The result is a truly immersive experience that will give audiences fresh perspectives on the city and in particular, of what it’s like to live in Belfast as someone from the LGBTQ+ community.
'I wanted to create something that gives a true insight into the LGBTQ+ community in Belfast,' says Montague. 'We don’t have the same freedom or privacy here as other places. If you hold hands for example, there’s a thought process you have to go through – is this appropriate or safe here? What are the consequences of that?
'I’m a big headphones fan and I think it gives you a really unique way to experience the story as an audio theatre journey. It’s a very personal experience as you can effectively listen in on somebody’s thoughts and see things from their point of view. I thought it was an interesting way to create a conversation between the audience and the narrator that’s really novel.'
Having sold out when it premiered at the Outburst Queer Arts Festival in November 2017, Montague assures Quartered delivers a unique experience which audiences have really connected. Indeed, feedback from November was that people, both within and outside the LGBTQ+ community, related to the story a great deal and saw themselves within it.
'I really wanted people to ‘get’ it and connect with it, and everyone seemed to really take it to heart. It’s very much about things that are universal – things people in Belfast can particularly relate to. For example, we might not feel safe in certain areas. It’s about bridging that divide.'
With the narrator closely linked to the environment, the city becomes very much part of the audience’s journey, and everyone will subsequently have a different experience of the show, he adds. Each group follows a guide, who ensures they’re at the right location when the narrator is talking about that place, allowing them to explore Belfast with new eyes and ears.
Although inspired by his own experiences, Montague has incorporated feedback and stories from a variety of people within Belfast’s LGBTQ+ community into Quartered. The goal, he says, was to create something which was universal and to remove labels from the story.
'The more personal you make it the more universal it is,' he says. 'But I didn’t want to have just my voice so it was really important to speak to other people. I drafted the script and then reflected on what they said. Obviously no show can represent everybody, but everything within the audio theatre journey echoes other people and gives a sense of time and place.
'One of the nice things for me was people saying that within five minutes they were laughing or crying. A lot of them said they didn’t realise that’s how people in the LGBTQ+ community felt. People are hungry for that experience. They want to know.'
Delivered like a stream of consciousness as the narrator recalls memories walking around the city, Quartered is a contemporary love story which is about a LGBTQ+ person, but ultimately it's a simple love story.
Writer Dominic Montague
'Relationships are relationships,' says Montague. 'I wanted to present a gay love story and remove the word ‘gay’ from it. To normalise that so people don’t think like that anymore. There’s no actor to look at so you don’t project the story onto another person, which makes it more intimate.'
Montague has seen big changes to Belfast and increased visibility for the LGBTQ+ community since moving to the city when he was 18. He stresses however, that although things might be moving forward, it doesn’t mean people should stop pushing that progress.
'Even with things changing we still don’t see LGBTQ+ people walking down the street holding hands here,' he says. 'People are still not affectionate with each other in public. There’s also a perceived ‘gay quarter’, and that’s not on. It shouldn’t be about drawing divisions. We walk around the gay quarter in the last few minutes of Quartered and it’s literally just three bars.'
With humour also running throughout the audio theatre journey, Montague says that for anyone who wouldn’t normally consider going to the theatre, Quartered is an interesting way to experience this.
He adds: 'It’s not about changing people’s views, but changing their hearts. Inviting them to experience something new. At the end there’s also a bit of a call to arms as it opens up a dialogue about how much power each of us have, as individuals, to affect the city and to help craft the future Belfast. How much power do we give ourselves to do this?
'It’s really about how you live your life in the day-to-day – that’s how you change the city.'
Quartered features in the Imagine Festival of Ideas and Politics, and runs from March 12-16. It lasts approx. one hour and begins at the Dark Horse, Hill Street, ending at the Sunflower, Union Street. Audience capacity is limited to six people per session. You are encouraged to bring your own headphones but additional will be available on site. Contains some strong language.
To book a place go to www.imaginebelfast.com/events/quartered/.