Friday, October 18, 2013

Theatre Festival Season is Over but the Best May Still to Come

Production image of Blue Raincoat's upcoming production of First Cosmonaut by Jocelyn Clarke. The best Irish theatre of 2013 may still be on the way.

As usual, the combined mass of Dublin Fringe Festival and Dublin Theatre Festival may have exhausted many theatre goers. But not as normal is the fact that a certain benchmark feels yet to be achieved by this time of the year. The festival season usually produces some of the most powerful productions of the year. For example, at this point last year we had WillFredd's wonderful FARM, Have I No Mouth by Brokentalkers, ANU's The Boys of Foley Street, and the blistering Druid/Murphy cycle. 2013 feels yet to produce something on the same power levels as these works, though LIPPY, Thirteen, and the Gate's A Streetcar Named Desire are definitely up there.

The truth may be that the best plays of 2013 have yet to deliver. And over the next three months several of the country's most exciting companies put on their latest work. So get over your festival fatigue and mark these dates in your calendar:

Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney

Corcadorca, The Big Yum Yum
Half Moon Theatre, Cork (Oct 9-19)

Pat McCabe's first writing venture for the stage (his previous writings have been adaptations of his novels), The Big Yum Yum is the revenge tale of a matriarch (Geraldine Plunkett) Hucklebucked from the showband era who on her 80th birthday inflicts abuse on her children as revenge against her late husband. Five stars from the Irish Times and the first full-scale production by one of the country's leading theatre companies since 2011 is enough to be excited.

Bottom Dog, What Happened Bridgie Cleary
The Victoria Snooker Club, Limerick (Oct 10-19)

At Theatre Forum's annual conference back in 2011, Bottom Dog producer Liam O'Brian voiced his struggles to get reviewers to see his company's work in Limerick. It suggests a critical oversight of one heck of a resourceful theatre scene, which is currently redirecting funding from the defunct Belltable Arts Centre to local companies to stage productions in local venues. Part of this programme is Bottom Dog's staging of Tom MacIntyre's play about the real life tragedy of a seamstress burned to death by her husband in Tipperary. A tidbit of good news from a bruising blow to the Arts sector is the allocation of 6 million euro going into Limerick next year as part of the National City of Culture Programme. Here's hoping Bottom Dog gets thrown a bone.

Red Kettle, Beyond the Brooklyn Sky
Glór Theatre, Ennis (Oct 18-19, and many more nationwide tour dates here)

From one of the country's oldest theatre companies comes their national tour of Beyond the Brooklyn Sky by Michael Hilliard Mulcahy. This play brings Irish emigrants home but with startling secrets from their travels. Directed by Peter Sheridan, this production received positive reviews when it premiered last year.

Blue Raincoat, First Cosmonaut
The Factory, Sligo (Oct 23-Nov 2)

By those in the industry, Jocelyn Clarke may be primarily known for being Theatre Advisor for the Arts Council but we might recall his adaptations for Sligo's Blue Raincoat Company, having retooled furiously technical novels by Lewis Carroll and Flann O'Brien. First Cosmonaut seems to mark his first original play for the company. This presents the story of Yuri Gagarin, the first human to journey into space, told by a Russian theatre troupe touring in the West. With the company's physical flourishes derived from their corporeal mime training, this could be a stunning production to close an adventurous year from the Raincoats that saw their first engagement with Beckett and a staging of Yeats' Purgatory on the site of Queen Maeve's burial site at the summit of Knocknarea.

Fregoli, Dorset Street Toys
Smock Alley, Dublin (Oct 24-26)
Savoy Hotel, Limerick (Nov 1-2)

A company making strides with rich original play-writing and physical storytelling, Dorset Street Toys by Rory O'Sullivan sees Galway's Fregoli continuing their engagement with new Irish plays. Under Maria Tivnan and Rob McFeely's sweetly stark direction, this tale of a child prophet sent down the Liffey in a basket should be an energetic and heartening experience.

Lyric Theatre, Brendan at the Chelsea
Project Arts Centre, Dublin (Nov 12-16)

Belfast's landmark Lyric Theatre company bring their internationally-toured portrayal of barbed playwright Brendan Behan to the Project Arts Centre. It sees Adrian Dunbar in the role of the author of theatrical milestones The Quare Fellow and The Hostage during his stay at New York's Chelsea Hotel in the 1960s, astronomically past the deadline for his new book and struggling with alcoholism.

DEAD CENTRE, Souvenir 
Project Arts Centre, Dublin (Dec 4-14)

A timely revival of the inaugural production by the creators of the harrowing LIPPY at this year's Dublin Fringe Festival. Bush Moukarzel's Souvenir may riff off an immense body of literary sources such as Marcel Proust, Charlie Kaufman, TS Eliot and Orson Welles but if we are to go by LIPPY its use of material and postdramatic devices could be completely accessible and compelling. Souvenir turns the longest book ever written into a 56 minute performance.

Abbey Theatre, The Risen People
Dec 5-Feb 1

A year marking the centenary of the 1913 Lockout ends with a production of James Plunkett's 1958 play The Risen People - a text that would form the nucleus of his novel Strumpet City. A close collaboration between director Jimmy Fay, composer Conor Linehan and choreographer Colin Dunne sees its scenes from the Lockout played out through music, song and dance. The cast includes Ian Lloyd Anderson (Major Barbara, Alice in Funderland), Simon Boyle (FARM), Kate Brennan (The Plough and the Stars, The Making of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore), Lloyd Cooney (Thirteen, Living the Lockout), Phelim Drew (Drum Belly, The Making of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore) and Hilda Fay (The Threepenny Opera).

Druid, The Coleen Bawn
Black Box Theatre, Galway (Dec 5-21)

On paper a production of a play from 19th century theatrical tycoon Dion Boucicault immediately reads as a commercial bet for Druid to fund their exciting line-up for the next two years. But it could be interesting to see what Garry Hynes does with the vastness of the Black Box Theatre. Cast includes Druid regulars Marie Mullen, Aaron Monaghan and John Olohan.

Rough Magic SEEDS, Assassins and Way to Heaven
Project Arts Centre, Dublin (Dec 8-14)

Directors Rosemary McKenna, Ronan Phelan and designer Zia Holly showcase their work to conclude their placements on Rough Magic's SEEDS artist training programme. The three are very promising talents. Phelan directed past Dublin Fringe hits Broadening and LAMBO (written by fellow SEED Hugh Travers) and McKenna has delivered razor sharp productions of Disco Pigs and Philip Stokes' Heroin(e) for Breakfast. And you might remember Holly's imaginative design in Collapsing Horse's Human Child earlier this year. Assassins (directed by Phelan), the killer musical by Stephen Sondheim about individuals who have tried to kill American presidents over the years, resounds on the upcoming 50th anniversary of JFK's death, while McKenna directs an adaptation of Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga's Way to Heaven - a play about the real life deception conducted by international inspectors at the Theresienstadt concentration camp during WWII.

Project Arts Centre, Dublin (Dec 18-22)

It's been billed as 'A Story about Ireland in Three Parts'. Three years on from the acclaimed and unforgiving Heroin, and succeeding last year's polemic The Family comes the final chapter of this trilogy about the social history of Ireland. HISTORY has been developed by the company while in residence at St Michael's estate in Inchicore - a hot point for historical developments such as the housing of 1916 revolutionaries, the first construction of Irish social housing back in the 1960s, and a developing hub of creative activists amidst continuing economic and drug problems to this day. This production directed by Grace Dyas sees the return of designer Doireann Coady and ensemble members Louise Lewis, Barry O'Connor, Gerard Kelly and Lauren Larken (who's playing the role of 'Mother Ireland'). For those looking for a last minute catch-up, Heroin and The Family are on in the Axis in Ballymun tonight.


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  2. We lifted off last night, you will not be disappointed :)
    Joe: Sound and Projection design.