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Dublin Theatre Festival 2012

There are many Irelands in this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival. Yet in 
a two-week programme that mixes up the international and the 
experimental with bold approaches to Ireland’s literary and dramatic 
canon, there are hints of Scotland too. This isn’t just to do with the 
appearance of Catherine Wheels’ hit show White and puppeteer Shona 
Reppe’s Potato Needs A Bath in the festival’s family programme. Nor is 
it solely about the presence of New York’s Elevator Repair Service with 
their impressionistic Ernest Hemingway adaptation, The Select (The Sun
Also Rises), which was a wow at Edinburgh International Festival in 
2010.

It isn’t even to do with the Tron Theatre, Glasgow’s forthcoming 
non-festival appearance in Dublin with its co-production of Dermot 
Bolger’s stage version of James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, with the
Project Arts Centre.  Rather, there’s a sense of ambition and 
confidence in new artistic director Willie White’s first – and very 
good - Dublin programme that suggests that a two-way traffic between 
the two nations may be ongoing in even more interesting ways.

The trio of Tom Murphy plays presented by the Galway-based Druid 
company is a case in point. Works by both Murphy and Druid have been 
seen in EIF, and, following Druid Synge in 2006, Garry Hynes’ big, 
stately productions of 1985’s Conversations on a Homecoming, Murphy’s
1961 breakthrough piece, A Whistle in the Dark, and his 1977 historical 
epic, Famine could be tailor-made for Edinburgh. All indifferent ways 
are about exile, with that exile's roots in the Irish potato famine, 
colonial rule and the history-changing sense of emotional displacement 
it fostered.

Even more displaced is American avant-garde icons The Wooster Group's 
rake on Hamlet, which takes its cue from a rarely seen film of Richard 
Burton's performance of the haunted Dane  in John Gielgud's 1964  
Broadway production. What director Elizabeth Lecompte, actor Scott 
Shepherd and the company do by recreating the production as it plays is 
more than a form of three-dimensional mimesis. As the grainy footage is 
fast-forwarded, with figures erased or blurring in and out of view, it 
becomes a bravura post-modern meditation on identity, reality and 
artifice that would make a fine addition to any international arts 
festival.

There are more intimations of identity in Bird With Boy, a lovely piece 
of dance-theatre performed in a grand tenement town-house by junk 
ensemble. Created by Jessica and Megan Kennedy and Edinburgh-based Jo 
Timmins, Bird with Boy is an astonishing melding of professional and 
child performers to make something that takes flight almost as 
brilliantly as Dublin-born New Yorker writer Maeve Brennan does in The 
Talk of the Town, Emma Donoghue's impressionistic biography of a woman 
who lived physically in New York, but whose roots, as displayed by an 
emotional whirlwind of a performance from Catherine Walker as Maeve, 
could never escape her.

Also in search of escape in Dublin was Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde's 
doomed narcissist as reimagined by Neil Bartlett at the Abbey theatre 
in a sumptuous portrait of decadence worthy of the Citizens theatre of 
old. Most thrilling of all at Dublin Theatre Festival this year, 
however, was The Boys of Foley Street, a thrillingly scary promenade 
through 1980s street-culture, which thrust its audience of four down 
back-alleys, in cars and housing estate shooting galleries in a 
site-specific performance that cuts to the corrupted heart of Dublin.

While there's no obvious theme running through all these shows, the 
historical and umbilical links are plain to see. If the characters in 
Famine begat those in Murphy’s other two plays, their descendants are 
even more evident, not just in Dubliners, but also in Maeve Brennan’s 
flight from her home town and her burning ambition to make it in New 
York, where, like all literary exiles, she rediscovers that home 
through her writing. Famine’s descendants are there too in the London 
drug dens frequented by Bartlett and Wilde’s Dorian Gray, whose 
habitués pre-date the feral waifs of Bird With Boy and the 1980s 
housing estate smack-heads in The Boys of Foley Street.

Without the resourceful drive of Maeve Brennan, and disenfranchised 
economically and socially, the strung-out teens in the Boys of Foley 
Street can only escape internally. Theirs is an emotional and 
ultimately self-destructive exile. Like Maeve, Dorian and Murphy’s 
battling brothers, they are the ghosts in the machine of The Wooster 
Group’s Hamlet. They are what keep Dublin’s theatrical soul alive.

Dublin Theatre Festival runs until October 14th

http://www.dublintheatrefestival.com/

The Herald, October 11th 2012

ends

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