Blog : MAC



From the mouths of babes; the wishes of children in Northern Ireland has proved to be more inspirational than anyone could have anticipated. For the past four weeks, children from across the province have been casting their final 2016 wishes into the Phoenix Wishing Well at the MAC, Belfast. From Obama remaining President, eating pizza every day, making it rain candy, to the selfless wish to give the homeless somewhere safe and warm to stay this Christmas; local children have provided some of the most imaginative and sincere wishes possible.

The Phoenix Wishing Well has received hundreds of wishes to date, with only a few days left to get involved. From all the wishes cast, Phoenix Natural Gas has promised to make one of these festive wishes come true. So, the hunt for a real unicorn might be on!

Geri Wright, Communications Manager at Phoenix Natural Gas said, “We have been overwhelmed by number of funny, wacky and wonderfully innocent wishes received already. Undoubtedly the most popular wish made by children across Northern Ireland so far has been a trip to Disneyland to meet their favourite characters but what struck me particularly was the number of children wishing to help others this Christmas. I’ve also particularly enjoyed some of the more unusual requests – everything from unicorns to super powers.

“The Phoenix Wishing Well is located on the ground floor of the MAC, Belfast, within the Phoenix Wishing Wood. The wood was created by a team of local artists to provide a sensory experience at the MAC for little ones and families alike. We wanted children to be inspired by the magic of the woodland and get creative with their entries, which they have done. It has surpassed all expectations. After 20 years in Northern Ireland, Phoenix Natural Gas is at the heart of many homes and we are looking forward to making one family’s Christmas wish come true this festive season.”

Here are some of the other wishes that children across Northern Ireland have made:

  1. I wish… to make the world nice and to make it snow
  2. I wish… for food for all the people that don’t have any
  3. I wish… that no one is alone on Christmas day, or ever, but especially Christmas day
  4. I wish… to be a superhero
  5. I wish… it could be Christmas everyday
  6. I wish… for the Syrian war to stop
  7. I wish… for 100 dogs
  8. I wish…to be the government
  9. I wish…I could fly
  10. I wish…for a baby sister this Christmas

The MAC’s Christmas show ‘Pinocchio’, which is sponsored by Phoenix Natural Gas, will run until Sunday 1st January 2017 and this will also mark the close of the Phoenix Wishes competition. Full competition details available at: #PhoenixWishes



1505123Leading arts venue, the MAC, is calling upon Lisburn businesses to sign up to its ‘Give the Gift of Theatre’ initiative to enable four local primary schools – Forthill Integrated Primary, Brownlee Primary, Ballycarrickmaddy Primary and Beechlawn School – to experience a special trip to the theatre this year.

Some 3,500 school children will visit the MAC’s Christmas production of Pinocchio, starting in November. However, the cost of travel for these schools can be a burden and many schools simply can’t afford to come. That’s why the MAC launched its innovative ‘Passport to the MAC’ programme, which provides schools, such as Forthill Integrated Primary, Brownlee Primary, Ballycarrickmaddy Primary and Beechlawn Schol, with a bursary towards travel expenditure.  As a charity, the MAC is calling on Lisburn businesses to support the scheme by donating £350 towards travel costs for one of the above nominated schools in their area this Christmas.

Anne McReynolds, Chief Executive at the MAC added: “This scheme was created in order to give schools support with additional costs associated with taking their pupils to the theatre.  We know that often the barriers for schools come down to pounds and pence and as the MAC has been designed for all the people of Northern Ireland, we want to actively enable as many young children as possible to experience the magic and transformative power of the arts.

“I would actively encourage any local business who usually buy Christmas cards or makes a charity donation on behalf of its staff, to this year consider the MAC charity and help us to support school children in their neighbourhood.”

To take part in the ‘Give the Gift of Theatre’ initiative businesses are invited to sign up to make their donation by contacting Melissa McMinn at the MAC on 028 90892966 or email

For all press enquiries, please contact Samantha Livingstone at Rumour Mill PR on 028 90682185 or email

Notes to Editors:

  • Businesses are asked to donate £350 (or more!) towards the school’s transport costs.
  • The MAC will match the business with a school
  • There will be a PR opportunity for each business to promote the story on their website and social media channels
  • The following schools require support:
    1. The Thompson PS, Ballyrobert
    2. Ballyvester PS, Donaghadee
    3. Forthill PS, Lisburn
    4. Brownlee PS, Lisburn
    5. Tir Na Nog, Ballyclare
    6. Beechlawn School, Hillsborough
    7. Ballycarrickmaddy PS, Lisburn
    8. Fairview PS, Ballyclare
    9. Recarson PS, Omagh
    10. Rathmore PS, Bangor
    11. Kings Park PS, Newtownabbey
    12. Culnady PS, Maghera


actor-dominic-mchale-as-michael-collins-on-stage-in-the-great-arrangement-pic-2From the 22-24 September, the MAC will transport audiences to pre-treaty Ireland as the forging of a nation is retold from the perspective of Michael Collins, as his romance blossoms with the woman who became his fiancé, Kitty Kiernan.

In a post-Brexit Northern Ireland, where the question of borders is ever-more prevalent, this is certainly a play for today.  The action takes place in a country in turmoil, as Collins and the Irish delegation negotiate what would become the Anglo Ireland Treaty of 1921, a treaty that would shape the future of 20th century Ireland.

Patrick Talbot’s play, A Great Arrangement, which he also directs, opened this week in Dublin, and comes to the MAC in Belfast for just three nights.  The show has been celebrated for its historical accuracy, while drawing on the illuminating love letters between Collins and Kiernan, alongside Collins’ inspirational speeches, and newspaper reports from the time. It is packed full of drama and judging by the audience response so far, Belfast audiences will not be disappointed.

Actor Dominic McHale rises to the challenge of reprising the formidable Michael Collins, bringing to the stage an impassioned performance with intensity, vigour and power. While Irene Kelleher portrays the love of his life, Kitty, in a show full of drama, rich history and emotion.

Writer and Director Patrick Talbot says: “I was interested in presenting a fresh perspective on Collins. Traditionally he is presented as the soldier and the man of action but in this play I focus on Collins the political leader and budding statesman, but also the young man falling very much in love and imagining what it might be like to have a somewhat normal settled existence, something that eluded him for all of his short adult life.’   

In preparation for bringing these characters to life on the stage, the cast visited Béal na Bláth, the site of the ambush where Michael Collins was killed by anti-Treaty forces.

“That was an incredibly powerful and poignant visit. It really helped us both to establish a connection with the lives of both Michael (Collins) and Kitty (Kiernan),” explained Dominic McHale who plays the lead role.

“What I find particularly moving about the Kiernan-Collins relationship is that amid incredible pressure, essentially carrying the weight of a nation, both found the time to write these endearing and revealing letters to one another providing comfort and support to the other.

“While obviously it was a very testing time, there are moments of humour and light too, like Kitty reminding Collins to go to Mass.  They could perhaps be described as Ireland’s first power couple,” added Kelleher.

Witness Collins as you’ve never seen him portrayed before – with words of uncertainty, fear for the future and talk of daily life and love.

A Great Arrangement is playing the MAC in Belfast from 22-24 September, the only dates in Northern Ireland. For more information or to book your tickets, visit or call the MAC on (028) 9023 5053.


Notes to Editors:

  • Writer/Director – Patrick Talbot: Patrick Talbot is the adaptor / director of the critically acclaimed ‘God Bless the Child”, based on stories by Frank O’Connor, which toured Ireland in 2015 and 2016, including visits to the Gaiety Theatre Dublin, the Cork Opera House and the Lyric Theatre Belfast. He was Artistic Director/CEO of The Everyman Cork between 2001 and 2011.


Beechlawn School, based in Hillsborough, is the first school to take part in the MAC’s Arts Award and one of the first groups of people through the doors for an exclusive preview of the newly refurbished Tate Modern.

Arts Award is an accredited programme run by the MAC offering a range of qualifications open to those aged up to 25 yrs to develop creativity, leadership and communication skills through arts, culture and media. The Arts Award assesses a young person’s development and encourages independent learning, confidence building and transferable skills.

The young people from Beechlawn have successfully completed the Entry Level 3 ‘Explore’ award, making them the first cohort in Northern Ireland to graduate on the scheme.  There are four levels starting at Entry Level and progressing to Level 3, a Gold award which is worth 35 UCAS points. Delighted with the result, teachers at the school are hoping many of the young people will continue on to the next level, to achieve their Bronze award.

As the first school to take part in this award, Caroline Harris, Music Co-ordinator at Beechlawn School remarked: “As a school catering for pupils with multiple learning difficulties, which can range from Autism, ADHD, anxiety and behavioural issues to more complex problems, it is just amazing for our pupils, some of whom find reading tricky, to come away with a qualification in Year 9. It is clear to see that our pupils’ confidence has increased and parents are so proud of what their children have achieved.

“The MAC Arts Award provides a fantastic platform for our pupils and the MAC has been mindful of our pupils’ challenges and unique requirements throughout.”

To achieve an Arts Award, young people complete challenges and take part in a range of arts activities. As part of their qualification with the MAC, the pupils of Beechlawn took part in African drumming workshops and a singing workshop with MAC Artist in Residence and local star, Katie Richardson. They learned to create beats, control rhythms and play together.  They also got to experience a theatre production, completed independent research and took part in a music workshop, creating a video of themselves singing and playing drums as part of their final presentation.

With the introduction of the MAC’s signature MACtile tours in 2015 (the initiative which introduces children with Autism Sensory Disorders (ASD) to theatre in a relaxed atmosphere), the accredited Arts Award is another addition to the MAC’s superb education and outreach programme.

Speaking about her role in delivering the Arts Award, MAC Learning and Participation Officer, Clare Lawlor said:

“I am absolutely delighted that our Beechlawn pupils have completed the first Arts Award at the MAC.  I was involved with the group throughout and was lucky enough to accompany them on our special visit to the Tate, which was just amazing. Their response to the art works was a pleasure and I can see how they have grown in confidence and life skills throughout the course.

“The fact that a mixed ability group are the first to successfully graduate and can add this excellent qualification to their CVs is testament to how great Arts Award is. I would encourage other schools and community groups who are thinking about a different route to qualifications to get in touch with us.”

To round off the project, last week some of the Beechlawn pupils accompanied Clare and other staff from the MAC to visit the newly reopened Tate Modern for an exclusive preview. As a Plus Tate partner, the MAC was invited to nominate a local school in the region to be among the first to visit the new Tate and it was only fitting that Beechlawn were chosen.

The 26 pupils from Hillsborough were among 3000 other schoolchildren from across the UK to be the first to experience and explore the Tate Modern’s four new floors comprising a staggering 250 artists.

For more information on the MAC’s Arts Award and Learning and Participation programme, please visit or contact Clare Lawlor at the MAC on 028 9023 5053.



The MAC, Belfast’s award-winning arts venue, and Phoenix Natural Gas, are delighted to announce the details of the MAC’s s comprehensive Christmas programme; the first events programme to be supported by the new title sponsor. The programme this year proves to be even more popular than ever and has already got off to a flying start with a number of dates for the MAC’s family show, Pinocchio, already sold out.

Each year the MAC presents a host of family events for the festive season, that has been one of the key drivers in its increased visitor figures which rose to an impressive 311,000 last year alone, more than 60% of what was forecast for the venue*.

Likewise, Phoenix is marking a milestone year as the company celebrates its 20th anniversary, so the partnership between two of Northern Ireland’s leading brands seemed fitting.

Visitors to the MAC travel from across Northern Ireland and beyond, either as part of the MAC’s learning and outreach programme or as independent gallery visitors and theatre goers.

It seems mad to think about Christmas in June but that’s exactly what the MAC and Phoenix are planning towards.  Now celebrating its fifth Christmas, the MAC has become a place where new family traditions are created.  Many visitors have and will come to see the light switch-on, the unveiling of the magical Phoenix Natural Gas Christmas window and to watch the MAC’s anchor show, Pinocchio co-produced with award-winning theatre company Cahoots NI.

This year is anticipated to be the venue’s biggest year to date regards visitor numbers with the MAC set to welcome over 3,500 school children through its doors and over 10,000 families. Having already achieved 30% of its Christmas ticket sales in May, including seven sell-out school performances, the MAC has developed exceedingly strong relationships with local schools – some of whom are returning for their fifth Christmas visit in the MAC’s short, yet thriving, history.

Anne McReynolds, Chief Executive at the MAC, said:

“We are absolutely delighted to be working with our partners, Phoenix Natural Gas, who are supporting our Christmas programme. A MAC Christmas is something very special and has quickly become a firm tradition for many schools and families across Northern Ireland. 

Just like Phoenix, we share a commitment to providing exceptional service to our customers from Northern Ireland and we look forward to announcing some very exciting plans together very soon.”


Michael McKinstry, Chief Executive for Phoenix Natural Gas, said:

“We are very excited about this partnership with the MAC, and as we approach our 20th anniversary this Christmas it gives us a real opportunity to celebrate our commitment to the community that we serve.

“We are very proud of our strong corporate social responsibility programme and we believe that the MAC’s additional programmes of support for communities and schools during the festive period are reflective of our vision and ideals. We look forward to a strong and creative partnership together.”

As part of that partnership, thanks to support from Phoenix, visitors to the MAC can expect to find the enchanting ‘Wishing Wood’ where families will be encouraged to make a wish. Just in time for Christmas, Phoenix Natural Gas will help to make one extra-special wish come true for at least one lucky family.  More details coming soon.

For more information on the MAC or to enquire about the Christmas programme, including the upcoming production of Pinocchio, please visit


*From targets set in the Benefits Realisation Plan in 2011.



Recreating the dramatic scenes of the 2000 Tour de France, the MAC Belfast is set to welcome 2Magpies Theatre, for a uniquely dramatic show Ventoux that recreates the gruelling contest between Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani during the punishing Mont Ventoux stage of the historical race.  The timing is fitting as the second edition of the Gran Fondo Giro D’Italia takes places on the city this Sunday.

Starring two actors, two bikes, and a battle that captured the world, Ventoux charts the illustrious sporting and personal lives of both Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong who’s highly publicised doping allegations ultimately led to the end of both former champions’ sporting careers; Armstrong having his Tour de France championship victories revoked and Pantani losing his life to substance abuse in 2004.

Utilising stationary road bicycles, stunning visuals of the taxing Mont Ventoux and in-race audio from the actual 2000 Tour de France, the unmissable Ventoux restages the momentous race unlike you have ever seen before.

Speaking of the physical challenges in the production, Tom Barnes, one of the actors starring in Ventoux, said:

“The Tour de France is physically and mentally demanding, and we’ve translated that mentality into Ventoux. The show is the same length as it took Pantani and Armstrong to ascend Mont Ventoux in 2000, and is testing of us as the performers. The show includes the tough training regimes it takes to become a professional cyclist, so the front rows might see or smell the sweat. It’s physically demanding beyond most productions you will have seen before.”

“The tour for us has been brilliant so far. It started the same day as the Tour de Yorkshire finished in Scarborough and ends on the last day of the Tour de France. In a way this is like our very own Tour de France. It’s great seeing new audiences coming for the love of cycling.”

“But that is also an important aspect of what our production is about. Yes, both men fell victim to doping scandals, one even losing his life to substance abuse, but both were incredibly focused and determined to succeed – pushing their bodies to their limits.”

The Mont Ventoux stage of the 2000 Tour de France was once regarded as one of the greatest races the cycling community had ever witnessed. Pantani, winner of the 1998 Tour de France, and Armstrong, winner in 1999, were neck-and-neck against each other as nail-biting spectators the world over watched on, unaware that both athletes were leading a drug-fuelled charge toward the finish line.

The MAC will host two showings of Ventoux on June 9th and 10th.  Online tickets are sold out but a limited number of restricted view seats will be available on the door each night.

To complement the show, the MAC’s Book Club on June 9th will be cycling inspired. The latest read, over a glass of wine, is Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh, the Sunday Times journalist who was one of a small group during Lance Armstrong’s so-called ‘Tour of Renewal’, prepared to raise awkward questions about his seemingly superhuman feats.

For more information on Ventoux or the MAC Book Club, visit or contact the box office on 028 9023 5053.