The 39th Belfast Festival at Queen's opens on 25 October 2001, with Grid Iron, Tinderbox, Kneehigh and Ridiculusmus among the theatre highlights. Leading up to the 40th celebrations, and in the year that Belfast has bid for European City of Culture 2008, the theme for this year's programme is Let There be Light.

Tinderbox Theatre Company from Northern Ireland, winners of the Irish Times Best Production 2000, will present a site-specific piece entitled No Place Like Home. A collaborative drama featuring some of Ireland's major theatre practitioners, the performances will take place in the former Northern Bank building. The story concerns people on the move, cast adrift and left to wander, with Archimedes appearing in the thick of things.

Grid Iron's Edinburgh Fringe First winner Decky Does a Bronco will be presented in open playground areas. The story portrays four young children on one momentous day in the park, and the Edinburgh company last appeared in Belfast with The Bloody Chamber. Kneehigh's The Red Shoes appears as part of a major British tour and is a free adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fable.

A specially commissioned new work will see acclaimed offbeat troupe Ridiculusmus return to the Festival. Farce and tragedy combine in Paranoid Household, in which the living hell of other people in a shared accommodation is revealed. Set in the ground floor of a building which has contained many households, a small select audience are promised 'an experience that makes Big Brother look tame'.

Other theatre highlights include The Theft of Sita, presented by LIFT (London International Festival of Theatre). Appearing in Belfast for its only Irish dates, the show combines traditional Indonesian shadow play with the contemporary mediums of computer animation and film. Nigel Jamieson, producer of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, is the director.

Acclaimed Lithuanian director Oskaras Korsunovas presents A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed in Lithuanian with English surtitles. Korsunovas, a winner of the prestigious Taormina Prize for Best Director, brings his inventive and physical ensemble over for their Irish premiere. Elsewhere, contemporary dance offerings come from Irish Modern Dance Theatre, Les Ballets Trockadero and the Monte Carlo Ballet will perform Cinderella at the Grand Opera House.

This year’s Festival Director is Stella Hall, who was Director of the Barclays New Stages Festival at London’s Royal Court between 1993-1996. In 1997 she became Director of Warwick Arts Centre, and has been resident in Belfast since last year. Hall claims her key aims for the Festival are to raise Belfast’s profile and cultural heritage, and to build partnerships across voluntary, private and public sectors. Over 370 performances spanning more than 50 venues will comprise this year's Festival. The theme of Let There Be Light takes its inspiration from Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. Also, a new initiative in conjunction with the British Council will bring international presenters to Belfast to witness the regional talent on offer. Alongside the theatre works, the Festival will present music, film, comedy, debates and outreach opportunities.

- by Gareth Thompson