Tuesday, December 18, 2018

2019 theatre preview: 10 shows to watch out for

Promotional image for Citysong. A Thomas Kilroy adaptation, two Tennessee Williams dramas, and several new plays are on the way. 

A new year brings bold new challenges. For the first time in recent memory, there’s a combined effort by both the Abbey Theatre and Gate Theatre to present new writing on large stages. I felt it unnecessary to mention some plays that have been around a few times before. I've gone more with homegrown productions than touring shows. 

Ubu the King 
The MAC, Belfast. Opening: Feb 12

In Northern Irish theatre’s funding crisis, only one new production by a long-established independent company is announced for 2019 so far. Fittingly, it’s based on Alfred Jarry’s proto-absurdist play about abuses of power. King Ubu’s appetite for destruction takes on literal meaning in Tinderbox’s new production, which dresses the sociopath as a murderous chef. 

The Ark, Dublin. Opening: Mar 6 

Hard to believe it’s been over five years since we've had a new one from Kate Heffernan, author of the sublime comedy In Dog Years I’m Dead. Her new play for young audiences, directed by the experimental director Tim Crouch, finds two boys burying things in a bog. They dig up artefacts from the past along the way, helping them find their place in the world. 

The Children and Beginning
Gate Theatre, Dublin. Opening: Mar 6

New writing at the Gate hasn’t sold well in who knows how long, which makes this effort all the more admirable. On their own, two recent dramas by British playwrights - The Children by Lucy Kirkwood and Beginning by David Eldridge - show the complexities of relationships in their late and early stages. Presented side-by-side by two ambitious directors, sharing the same design team, both plays might weave one epic. 

It was easy (in the end)
Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Opening: Apr 27

You can understand why the title of THEATREclub’s new coproduction with the Abbey Theatre sounds like a sigh of relief. Founded in 2008, and developing their aesthetic in an era of austerity, the company’s arrival on the stage of the national theatre seems like a belated affirmation by the establishment. The lives of theatre makers are often precarious, and this new docudrama follows a group of artists living off the grid. 

The Glass Menagerie 
Gate Theatre, Dublin. Opening: May 1

American classics do well at the Gate, so this production of Tennessee Williams’s breakout play about an impoverished family could have been conventional enough. Instead, this marks the Dublin debut of Irish director-designer Tom Cairns, celebrated for his fantastical opera productions in the U.K. Perhaps now The Glass Menagerie, a memory play that longs to be something more surreal, will be realised in striking new ways.   

A Streetcar Named Desire
Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Opening: May 8

It’s some coincidence having two Tennessee Williams plays open in the same month. In the hands of someone lesser than Emma Jordan - the rigorous director of Red, John Logan’s drama about Mark Rothko - I’d have given A Streetcar Named Desire a miss. Blanche Dubois, a Southern woman haunted by past trauma, visits her sister and brutish brother-in-law in New Orleans.

The Magic Flute 
National Opera House, Wexford. Opening: May 17 

Last year, the Irish National Opera hired directors from Irish experimental dance and theatre as if there were no contemporary opera directors to be found. But Caroline Staunton, an associate of the Berlin Staatsoper, is returning home to stage Mozart’s supernatural opera about a prince rescuing a princess. Staunton isn’t one to shy from intervention; her staging of the 1930s radio opera The Maid and the Thief used a distancing device to highlight its unfavourable portrayal of women. 

Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Opening: May 29

The Abbey auditorium will receive an intimate new reconfiguration for this award-winning new play by Dylan Coburn Gray. Conceived as a portrayal of Dublin from the perspective of a taxi driver, Citysong uses a chorus of voices to show different generations of the same family. Coburn Gray’s previous plays - Boys and Girls, BlackCatfishMusketeer - mapped human desires and compromises with spellbinding verse. 

The Big Chapel 
Kilkenny Arts Festival. Opening: Aug 2019 

Those who like Thomas Kilroy’s fragmentary and avant-garde plays may be surprised by his fully-atomised novel from 1971. The Big Chapel is based on events in 19th century Kilkenny, when the excommunication of a renegade priest split the town of Callan in two. The town’s streets will host this large-scale adaptation by Asylum Productions, in collaboration with the Abbey Theatre and Kilkenny Arts Festival. 

This Beautiful Village 
Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Opening: Sep 4

Lisa Tierney-Keogh’s last play seen in Ireland was a decade ago. Four Last Things, which received an off-Broadway production in 2014, followed a young woman struggling with depression on her return to the family farm. In This Beautiful Village, which takes to the Abbey stage in a production directed by Emma Jordan, a piece of graffiti on a suburban street tears a group of neighbours apart, forcing them to confront their privilege. 

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