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Dublin Theatre Festival 2011 - The Edinburgh Connection

'Strength. Endurance. Tenderness.' Such a legend is one of half a dozen
gracing a series of covers for the 2011 Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre
Festival. 'Power. With some twenty-eight productions on show over three
weeks, and with sixteen produced by Irish companies, such epithets
cover all bases in a festival which, along with the Dublin-based
Absolut Fringe festival, which immediately precedes the Theatre
Festival, appears to bear little resemblance to its Edinburgh
counterpart.

Both are smaller for one thing. Despite the 'Dublin Loves Drama'
banners posted around town, there's little sense of the city-wide
saturation of Edinburgh in August. Unlike the free for all of the
Edinburgh Fringe, its Dublin equivalent is curated, and the care taken
over both the Absolut Fringe and the Theatre Festival programmes is
more akin to Edinburgh International Festival. With Dublin
concentrating solely on theatre, however, and with no crossover between
the two events in terms of timing (the Fringe happens in September, the
Theatre Festival in October), both are more self-contained, with little
chance of major work being swamped by the melee.

Look at the 2011 Theatre Festival itself, however, and the crossover
with Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland's theatre scene in terms of
personnel if not the work itself is vast. There is a significant
presence of Edinburgh Fringe favourites. The Animals and Children take
To The Streets, the second show by the 1927 company, who meld
animation, songs and a subversive take on 1920s aesthetics, was first
seen at the Traverse in January prior to a full August run at the
Pleasance. Also looking to the past for inspiration is diva Camille
O'Sullivan, who in Dublin joins forces with actor Lorcan Cranitch for
The Lulu House, a musical installation inspired by Wedekind's Lulu
Plays.

Pat Kiernan's Corcadorca company announced the arrival of playwright
Enda Walsh and actors Cillian Murphy and Eileen Walsh back in 1997 when
they brought Enda Walsh's blistering debut, Disco Pigs, to Edinburgh.
Fourteen years on, Kiernan directs Eileen Walsh, now resident in
Edinburgh, in Request Programme, German playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz's
wordless close-up of a woman's final hours.

All these works point to some over-riding themes running through this
year's Dublin Theatre Festival, in which women dominate both onstage
and off. So while male directors such as Howard Davies, Patrick Mason
and Dutch wunderkind Ivo van Hove oversee some of the key works on
show, they don't throw their weight around unless the work requires it.

Davies' production of Sean O'Casey's Juno and The Paycock at The Abbey
Theatre, a co-production with the National Theatre in London where it
will transfer, is a case in point. While such a collaboration would
have been considered betrayal when the play first appeared in the
original Abbey in 1924, here O'Casey's tenement-set yarn is delivered
with a confidence and brio that never avoids the underlying seriousness
of a play too often treated as stick rep fare.

Sinead Cusack is a wonder as Juno, keeping body and soul together while
her emasculated spouse Johnny, played by former Citizens Theatre
veteran Ciaran Hinds, self-mythologises himself into the gutter. Cusack
and Hinds bring O'Casey's play to life with a rare confidence that
isn't about grand[-standing, but more lays bare what happens when the
poor are made even poorer.

Dutch director Ivo Van Hove is renowned for reinventing neglected
classics as high-octane portraits of lives in crisis. He did this in
Edinburgh with Caligula and Marguerite Duras' India Song, and he does
it again in the black box space of Trinity University's Beckett Centre.
It would be easy to treat Jean Cocteau's 1930 play, La Voix Humaine, in
which a woman hangs on the telephone for a lover who refuses to
connect, with a fetishistic eye for period detail. Having the fearless
actress Halina Reijn appear behind the glass window of what appears to
be a high-rise flat with her hair scraped back and wearing tracksuit
bottoms and trainers, however, lends what follows a stark and brutal
modernity.

As with Request Programme, La Voix Humaine is a painful study of what
goes on before a suicide. The women in both plays have something
missing from their lives. In La Voix Humaine, soundtracked here by Paul
Simon's Fifty ways To Leave Your Lover, only the voice at the other end
of the telephone keeps her alive. After she's hung up, there's nothing
left.

There are echoes of O'Casey's Juno at the O'Reilly Theatre in
Belvedere College in Arthur Riordan's audacious new version of Ibsen's
Peer Gynt. These can be seen both in the self-aggrandising flights of
fancy Peer embarks on, but especially in the figure of his mother, who
indulges and eventually loses her son. In this instance, Peer travels
to much darker psychic waters in Lynne Parker's production for Rough
Magic, as O'Riordan and Parker place the action in a psychiatric ward.
Here Peer can give full vent to his wanderings without ever going
anywhere.

A cast of eight led by Rory Nolan as a pyjama-clad Peer give a
rollicking run through the first half of the play. Riordan's rhyming
dialogue, punctuated by five-piece band,Tarab's live score, possesses
the sing-song playfulness of Dr Seuss before the fun stops. Time and
again Peer is left in silence, until he too resembles Juno's Johnny,
lost and alone.

A mother's losses find an even greater emotional outpouring over at the
Project Arts Centre in
Testament, Colm Toibin's astonishing dramatic monologue, performed in
Garry Hynes' pitch perfect production by a heart-rending Marie Mullen.
Audiences walk along a path of sand to enter the auditorium, suggesting
we too are on the road to Calvary. When the false ceiling rolls back to
reveal projections of dark clouds with the odd shaft of light piercing
through, one could be fooled into thinking this to be Mary's story,
rather than the bit-part player in the biblical legend it is actually
about.

In a room bare except for a table and an empty chair, Mullen slowly
unleashes a tale of warped miracles, and how the cause that robbed her
of her boy made her look to the old, less dogmatic gods for comfort.
There's something elemental at play here which Mullen captures in the
quiet rhythms of her incantations. When she mimes crucifixion, the
shadows she throws up look like she's protecting her offspring in a
performance so staggering as to be worth the trip to Dublin all by
itself.

Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival runs until October 16th
www.dublintheatrefestival.com

The Herald, October 11th 2011

ends

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