Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Theatre Festival Reminds Us of Ireland's International Standing

Estragon, Vladimir, Pozzo, Lucky and the Boy are back.

The Dublin Theatre Festival (Sept 26-Oct 13) line-up was revealed yesterday.

"Come Out to Play" is the header of this year's programme, and from looking at it you'd think that it's a message meant especially for the international community, as if Festival Director Willie White is saying: "Dublin is ready to play"

Last year's programme was heavily dependent on home-grown artists - a circumstance possibly due to the lack of a replacement sponsor after Ulster Bank. Still, it was a strong festival that put the best of Irish theatre into action (it was great to see The Corn Exchange landing the Gaiety stage and The Company graduating onto a bigger platform) as well as hosting acclaimed international acts such as Elevator Repair Service, Forced Entertainment and the Wooster Group.

There are many more performances being flown in this time around. Richard Maxwell's New York City Players come from the height of NYC's experimental downtown scene with Neutral Hero. Listed as one of the top ten shows of 2012 in the New York Times, this tells the story of a man searching for his father in the wide open landscape of the American Midwest using the company's unique neutral style.

We also have the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of the narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece performed by the sensational Camille O'Sullivan. Pushing the boundaries of contemporary circus, Australian company Circa deliver their "exquisite cabaret of the senses": Wunderkammer. From Portugal comes Mundo Perfeito's Three fingers below the knee - a performance informed by the archives of the censorship commission established during Salazar's dictatorship which exposes the oppression of artistic and political freedom felt during that time. While The Events - the most recent play by Scotland's acclaimed dramatist David Greig - comes to the Abbey's Peacock Stage.

Speaking of which, the Abbey will be the site of the first original Frank McGuinness play there (or anywhere else?) in fourteen years. The Hanging Gardens promises to be a  familiar portrait of the Irish family, centering on a writer and the tensions in his family(*). The original play comes after a lengthy string of adaptations at the Abbey such as John Gabriel Borkman and The Dead, and is directed by Irish director supreme Patrick Mason. While over at the Gate, director Wayne Jordan tackle's Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera - the "epic masterpiece of 20th century musical theatre". Brecht never seems to be performed in Ireland, and it's nice to see the Gate re-introducing him to an Irish audience (considering its historic role as being the Irish hub for the hits of European modernism back in the day) injected with Jordan's fresh and chic vision (Alice in Funderland anyone?). You might also want to drool over the cast lists for both shows

(*) Calling it now: the son character described as "struggling for his father's acceptance" is homosexual. It seems to be McGuinness's go-to insecurity in a male character, as seen in 'The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme' and 'Dolly West's Kitchen'.

Of course, in a time when Brecht was pushing the form and Ireland's dramatists seemed concerned only with insular matters and basic modes of realism, we could claim Samuel Beckett as our proud contribution to the world of European modernism. Waiting for Godot comes to the Gaiety Theatre from acclaimed Beckett interpreters: the Gare St Lazare Players. Continuing to represent Irish theatre's ability to innovate, with their own unique incorporation of international styles, The Corn Exchange turn to Eugene O'Neill's early American masterpiece Desire Under the Elms. Whenever I see that The Corn Exchange are doing an adaptation part of me hopes that they push their commedia dell'arte masks to the max, as they did in their adaptation of Chekov's The Seagull way back when. Commedia's stock characters are locked in specific and extreme emotional states, and so are antithetic to the dominant mode of psychological realism where characters undergo behavioral change. The clash between both performance traditions has wielded fantastic results in the past.

Both members of Operating Theatre (Ireland's seminal avant garde company) are also in here, with Olwen Fouéré's riverrun celebrating the elemental journey of Anna Livia Plurabelle in James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, and an in development showing of Roger Doyle's opera about the Renaissance genius Giordano Bruno.

Unfortunately, Irish Theatre Institute's ReViewed series seems to be missing. This initiative brought back strong productions which were felt deserving of a wider audience.

Also: the ghost of Maeve Brennan returns as Eamon Morrissey reveals how the Irish-born writer for the New Yorker caught up with him in his one-man show Maeve's House; Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 18th century satire The Critic receives a new production by Rough Magic; and Theatre Lovett take on the Brothers Grimm with A Feast of Bones.

Ultimately, this year's Dublin Theatre Festival aims to prove Ireland's abilities to host the cutting edge of international theatre, while simultaneously demonstrating that Irish theatre has a significant part to play.

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