Monday, August 22, 2011

A Guide to Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival 2011

Finally diving into the programme for this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival. Last year, as evidenced by the reviews I wrote, I took a particular interest in the postdramatic segment of the schedule, seeing Ontroerend Goed, Tim Crouch, Pan Pan.  It probably was a gamble on festival director Loughlin Deegan’s part to give weight to such unconventional theatre. Not only were many of these productions deemed popular and critical successes, but the gesture of programming them shows that Deegan would sooner overestimate the ‘performance’ of the Irish audience before underestimating, as members of the public were made sit and chat with neighbours and whisked away into booths with strangers.

What is of most interest to me in this year’s festival, and what you’ll see written about around here, is the strong Irish involvement. In his fifth and final instalment, Deegan is focusing on our home-grown artists. Many past participants of Theatre Forum’s ‘The Next Stage’ development programme, which runs in tangent to the festival, are now featured artists. If this year’s festival is to be remembered for anything it will probably be for opening the golden gates to the next wave of Irish theatre makers.

But for now let’s focus on the present and dive right in. Find below my thoughts on this year’s programme and observe as I – like in my guide to the Fringe – try to narrow these choices down to my six must-gos.

A complex and considerable Irish line-up aligns dream teams on projects such as Testament (Colm Tóibín, Gary Hynes, Marie Mullen) and Trade (Mark O’Halloran, Tom Creed, THISISPOPBABY, Ciarán O’Melia), puts ANU Productions to work on 240 performances (see Peter Crawley’s breakdown of the figures), brings Fabulous Beast back from limbo, reopens the dormant Peacock stage with a new play by Marina Carr, and shepherding the flock is the long anticipated arrival of Rough Magic’s portrait of Peer Gynt.

Frequent readers already know that the Irish play I have been waiting for all year is Brokentalkers’ The Blue Boy. Unsurprising, the younger acts are the more socio-political of the bunch. THEATREclub bring back the harrowing Heroin while The Company have an in development showing of their upcoming Politik.  

We can’t ignore the international addition to the festival, ferociously led here by German/British pop superheroes Gob Squad (pictured above) and Berlin utopians She She Pop. Tony nominees Kneehigh ride in from Cornwall with The Wild Bride – a fierce tale of what happens when a man accidentally sells his daughter to the devil. Dutch superstar director Ivo van Hove brings La Voix Humaine – “a celebrated story of abandonment centres on a desperate woman’s last phone call to an ex-lover” – to the Samuel Beckett while Cirque du Soleil director Daniele Finzi Pasca brings the presumably sensational Chekov-inspired soiree of acrobatics and circus magic that is Donka, A letter to Chekov to the Gaiety.   

The line-up is so vast and varied here that my hitlist changes on a daily basis. With the Fringe I’m letting familiarity dictate, meaning I’ll see artists I’ve seen before and am very much a fan of. I’ll have to give into reverse logic here, as several of these acts I have yet to see and have been wanting to for the last few years.

Brokentalkers, The Blue Boy

Equipped with utmost ingenuity, Brokentalkers have gone on to make some of the most imaginative and socially resonant work in the past few years. Giving voice to those in society we don’t often hear, the company’s work includes Track  an audio-guided tour of Dublin from an Asian immigrant’s perspective; the Dublin Youth Theatre collaboration This Is Still Life, which implored the melodramatics of youth with video cameras and sweet sentiment; and the gorgeous Silver Stars from the 2009 festival, which featured a male choir that sang of the real-life experiences of gay men in Ireland. With The Blue Boy, the company are using music and movement to looks at the experiences of children incarcerated at Catholic residential care institutions (trailer:

Gob Squad, Revolution Now!

Appropriately, it was Feidlim Cannon of Brokentalkers who directed me towards the existence of Gob Squad when he gave a talk to my class in college. Since then I’ve heard stories of their shows ride like legends on the wind, hearing tales of performers trying to survive through the night in lonely hotel rooms, incorporating audiences into scenes from Andy Warhol movies, and running through the evening streets as heroes, as if eternally navigating through pop culture in search of ‘true’ experiences in contemporary life. Now they want to incite a revolution. I’m so there.

Rough Magic, Peer Gynt

Another school story: I remember being a Drama student in NUIG in 2009 and regretfully missing a conference at which Lynne Parker and Arthur O’Riordan discussed their plans to visit Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. As much as I want to investigate their charms for myself, some timely curse has always made me allusive to Rough Magic. My plans to see last year’s The Importance of Being Earnest and last month’s Plaza Suite all fell through the roof. In a year when the Abbey, the Gate and Druid are all playing it cautious and displaced from contemporary life, Rough Magic may well end up triumphant. And I want to be there to see it happen.

This marks Parker and O’Riordan’s reunion since 2007’s epic collaboration Improbable Frequency, and features Hilary O’Shaughnessy (Berlin Love Tour) and Peter Daly (Hamlet).

Abbey Theatre, 16 Possible Glimpses

There are two things that are making this play increasingly exciting to me. First is the notion of Wayne Jordan working with Marina Carr. Carr has always depended on a grand scale of realism and Jordan has such a range of different aesthetics under his belt that I’m very curious as to how he will bring Chekov’s world of snow and champagne to the stage. Second is the relationship between Carr and Chekov. With death and tragedy the black heart of her work, the only thing immortal seems to be whichever myth that has floated from an ancient world and now underlies events. Chekov since falls into that timeless realm of ‘myth’ where figures are considered as personified abstractions and divinized heroes. How Marina Carr chooses to recover him from it could be truly fascinating.

ANU Productions, World’s End Lane and Laundry

Last year ANU’s World’s End Lane was nominated for Best Production at the Irish Times Theatre Awards and I felt stupid for not seeing it. Thankfully, I have a chance to correct my mistake as the play has been brought back as part of Irish Theatre Institute’s ReViewed showcase, now perched beside its follow-up – Laundry. ANU are actually undertaking what is perhaps the most ambitious social-theatre project in the current theatre scene: a four part site-specific series (presumably executed over four years) that explores the Monto area of Dublin, with each production focusing on a period of major regeneration between 1925-2013. World’s End Lane documents the time in which the area was a red-light district littered with brothels, leading into Laundry’s excavation of women’s stories in the Magdalene asylum.

Siren Productions, The Lulu House/THISISPOPBABY Trade

When the Irish Times Theatre Awards nominations were announced in January there was one production that had stormed its way into most categories – Medea by Selina Cartmel’s Siren Productions. I heard it was fantastic, and Cartmel has since become seen as such a valuable asset to our theatre community that the Arts Council has rewarded her through every round of the Project Awards. Now she’s been given James Joyce House to stage The Lulu House – an audience-engaged detective story that is part theatre, part musical, and part installation.

Though if I am shopping for a show by a good director then there’s also the option of Mark O’Halloran’s (Adam & Paul, Garage) new stage-play Trade, produced by THISISPOPBABY, designed by Ciarán O’Melia (The Year of Magical Wanking, As You Are Now So Once Were We, Silver Stars) and directed by Tom Creed (Berlin Love Tour, Mimic). Staged in a bed and breakfast, O’Halloran’s play is about a vulnerable and confused young rent boy who sits with a middle aged client who has blood on his shirt. Both have met before and a lot has happened since they last seen each other. I’ve had remarkable experiences at Creed’s shows in the past.

Anybody have a coin?   

Substitute Bench: She She Pop, She She Pop and Their Fathers: Testament

Receiving several urgings to go see She She Pop and Their Fathers: Testament. I’ve put it on the bench for now. If I do get to the above shows (or even get through the Fringe) and still have a cent to my name I will put it towards this. Drawing on Shakespeare’s King Lear, performers take to the stage with their real-life fathers and tackle the painful realities of aging and parenthood that affect us all.

So, what are you going to in Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival 2011?


  1. Think we're on the same page re: shows, Chris, though I'm still unsure about whether to commit to 16 Possible Glimpses yet. The plan so far is to turn up to the box office on spec. whilst in Dublin and let whatever's left guide me! Any plans for the talks and discussions?

  2. I hear you on the box office plan. It would nearly be easier to let fate slip tickets into our hands based on whatever's left available as opposed to narrowing this lot down.

    What I forgot to mention above in relation to '16 Possible Glimpses' is that I can easily get excited about theatre that is about theatre. I really adore work that inputs great consideration and technique in taking our art-form and its fathers as its subject and shining a whole new light on it. Hardcore theatre-enthusiasts can feel privileged without excluding those who are non-familiar with the pretexts (think last year's 'The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane').

    As for discussions, I personally would choose:

    'Behind Closed Doors' - in which ANU and the artists behind 'Trade' and 'Request Programme' discuss issues of intimacy, secrecy, and marginalisation within Irish society.

    'Access All Areas' - in which artists involved in the site-specific productions join planners and developers to investigate if they can access empty buildings lying idle since the boom.

    'Questioning the Future' - in which influential Irish theatre artists, critics, and government officials discuss the future of Irish theatre.

    'The International Critics' Forum' - in which Patrick Lonergan chairs a panel of critics from home and abroad that discuss and analyse this year's festival.

    'Curating Contemporary Performance: Making a Scene?' - in which artists, curators and critics try to characterise 'alternative (postdramatic?) theatre' and discuss the balance between theory and practice in the approach to it.