Tuesday, December 29, 2015

More Irish Theatre Highlights of 2015

Still a lot of fun to be had at the cutting edge, as evidenced by Dead Centre's Chekhov's First Play. Photo: Jose Miguel Jiminez

Yesterday I posted my top 10 of 2015. Here are other highlights from the year:

  • The raw, exposed surfaces of Dick Walsh’s Newcastlewest, produced by Pan Pan, turned a chapter of Tolstoy’s War and Peace into a paralysing piece about unemployment and adult-child dependency in Ireland. Performers Annabell Rickerby and Una McKevitt were artfully good at appearing artless, playing characters who fail to take shape in the world, as Walsh’s play evoked the meaninglessness of lives unable to move.

  • There’s still a lot of fun to be had at the cutting edge, as Dead Centre’s Chekhov’s First Play provided a fun and poignant romp through the playwright’s abandoned debut.  Directors Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd can pull off one hell of a coup de theatre, testing here the scenery of Andrew Clancy’s set. Passing the infamous Chekhov’s gun around in a game of Russian roulette, this performance conveyed the devastating failure of the artist, while beautiful set pieces confirmed that Chekhov’s later plays are all indebted to his first.

  • In Lian Bell’s ecological design, Louise White’s Mother You transplanted a bogland community into a disused Dublin commercial building. Drawing on the real experiences of a group successful in preserving their local wildlife site from industrial development, this pastoral promenade made a smart case for an individual’s right to recreational space. 

  • Again, transformative new writing this year was to be found in the independent sector: Orla Murphy’s sophisticated story about survival in Remember to Breathe, Stephen Jones’s slow reveal of traumatised figures in modern Ireland in From Eden; Jane Madden’s parable of the economic crisis in the farce The Windstealers; Noelle Brown’s detective drama Foxy exploring ‘gingerism’ and ethnic profiling; and Ross Dungan's dark drama about myth-making, Before Monsters Were Made.

  • The Irish premiere of Frank McGuinness’s The Matchbox featured a storming performance by Cathy Belton.

  • Sarah Bacon is this year’s design superstar, her bold streaks of paint lifting the otherwise realist Everything Between Us into a realm of symbol, exposing our virtual tourism of the Dublin tenements in Wayne Jordan’s staging of The Shadow of a Gunman, and sparking off the otherwise grey settings of The Corn Exchange’s Through a Glass Darkly.

  • Also in design, the visual aspect of Theatre Upstairs and The New Theatre received a boost, thanks to a new wave of set designers: Katie Davenport, Rebekka Duffy and Lisa Krugel.

  • Wayne Jordan’s staging of Romeo and Juliet at the Gate was heartfelt, and slyly political in the run up to the Marriage Equality Referendum. 

  • With new dramas such as Jack Harte’s The Language of the Mute, Gearoid Humphreys’s Lockdown and Ann Matthews’s Madam de Markievicz on Trial, The New Theatre has become a regular playhouse for legacies of the republican past.

  • Before it came under fire by Waking The Feminists, it’s worth remembering the chances the Abbey Theatre took this year: the Brechtian (if bonkers) Shibboleth by Stacey Gregg, the completely un-commercial adaptation of Oedipus by Wayne Jordan, and Gavin Quinn’s radical staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

  • TheatreofplucK’s political installation/performance piece Trouble reminded that the fight continues for Marriage Equality in Northern Ireland.

  • From equine to canine, lots of inspiration from the animal kingdom in dance this year with WillFredd and Emma O’Kane’s Jockey and CoisCĂ©im’s The Wolf and Peter.

  • Keeping with the animal theme, WillFredd’s musical for young audiences, BEES!, drew on ecological concerns with zoological zing. To assist the dwindling bee population, we have to help it grow! 

  • While the Siren Production of George Brant’s Grounded didn't quite take off, it’s hard to argue with Claire Dunne's top class performance.

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