Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fay Brings Northern Soul to Lyric, Abbey Premieres New Mark O'Rowe Play

The Lyric Theatre's new Executive Producer Jimmy Fay to direct Judith Roddy and Carol Moore in a production of Pentecost.

The Lyric Theatre announced its new season yesterday, the first under the direction of new Executive Producer Jimmy Fay. The Abbey Theatre also revealed a sneak peak of their Autumn/Winter line-up. My thoughts on both after the jump ...

Last September Malcolm Sinclair - the President of the UK's performance industry trade union Equity - was quick to pounce on the Lyric Theatre for its decision to replace outgoing Artistic Director Richard Croxford with an Executive Producer. Croxford, a regular director at the theatre, oversaw its extensive renovation between 2009-2011 and opened the new premises with an imaginative programme of work - from Conall Morrison's award-winning production of The Crucible to Adrian Dunbar's wily portrayal of Brendan Behan in Brendan at the Chelsea. Sinclair assumed that the move to replace the Artistic Director role with an Executive Producer was an indicator that the theatre's priorities leaned towards the financial rather than the artistic. In reality, they were looking for someone who could tend to both.

The appointment of Jimmy Fay was inspiring. On the administrative end, Fay successfully lead his own theatre company Bedrock between 1993-2007, which administered the first Dublin Fringe Festival in 1995. He was also theatre curator for Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2007. Artistically, (and this is to be contested) he directed the most significant play about Northern Ireland in recent years: Owen McCafferty's Quietly

Quietly proved Fay's sensibilities towards staging the complex conflicts in Northern Ireland. His first season leading the Lyric, entitled 'Northern Soul', sees him seeking out some of the country's most gifted playwrights.

First though, we have Selina Cartmell staging a new production of Punk Rock by English playwright Simon Stephens. Stephens' investigations into the uncomfortable truths of English youth and family have recently earned an Olivier Award for his adaptation of best-selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night. Premiered in 2009, Punk Rock sees a group of dysfunctional A-level students dealing with pressures of adolescence and education before being devastated by an atrocity in the school halls.  

Fay himself will be staging a production of Stewart Parker's last play Pentecost, marking the 40th anniversary of the Ulster Workers' Strike. Parker was a leading theatrical voice in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s. Pentecost, last staged by the Lyric in 2007, sees four individuals thrown together in a parlour house during the 1974 Workers' Strike, along with the ghost of the previous occupant. The cast includes Judith Roddy, Carol Moore and Roisin Gallagher.

If there's a playwright who understands comic timing it's Marie Jones, who makes a holiday-themed comedy of Mistletoe & Crime - a new play about two policemen on the beat during Christmas in Belfast. Jones has become a steady contender in the popular theatre - not to undermine the discipline and demonstration demanded of works such as 1999 tragicomedy Stones In His Pockets

Most anticipated is next February's world premiere of a new play by Owen McCafferty. The Death of a Comedian is a Faustian-style drama about a comedian who could gain everything he wants but lose everything he has. Along with the Abbey Theatre, it's produced in association with London's Soho Theatre, whose Artistic Director Simon Marmion directs. It's also worth noting that McCafferty's next play, Unfaithful, about two couples on a collision path towards betrayal will be staged by Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre in August. 

Meanwhile, the Abbey also gave us a glimpse into their upcoming months of programming, albeit with fewer details. Our Few and Evil Days, a new play by Mark O'Rowe, is to be a highlight at this year's Dublin Theatre Festival. No details about the play are revealed other than its whopper cast: Ian Lloyd Anderson, Sinéad Cusack, Ciarán Hinds, Charlie Murphy and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. With Enda Walsh's Ballyturk in July, Tom Murphy's Brigit in September and now O'Rowe's Our Few and Evil Days in October, 2014 may just be a historical year for Irish playwriting.

I was about to give up hope that Lippy would find a home on an Irish stage. Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd's extraordinary meditation on context and suicide for the Dead Centre company tours to Edinburgh in August, while venues at homes seemed set to ignore one of most innovative works of 2013. It will get a run on the Peacock stage sometime this year, as will WillFredd's wonderful FOLLOW.

The Shakespeare trend continues with Gavin Quinn staging A Midsummer Night's Dream. Will directing for the national theatre mean dialling down Quinn's avant garde devices? And if we are to go by Selina Cartmell's King Lear and Wayne Jordan's Twelfth Night, which of the director's regular players will form the cast?

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