Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Dublin Theatre Festival 2013 - The Edinburgh Connection

Just like the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Dublin Theatre Festival forms part of a burgeoning festival season in Dublin, and the two-way traffic between Edinburgh and Dublin seems to be increasing every year.

While The Wooster Group's Hamlet formed part of EIF's programme this year following a stint at DTF in 2012, singer and performer Camille O'Sullivan brought her Herald Angel winning solo take on Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece for a run at Dublin's O'Reilly Theatre following its Edinburgh premiere the previous year. This was a major turning point for O'Sullivan, whose career began on the Fringe, and it's significant that two shows from this year's Edinburgh Fringe appeared at DTF. Actors Touring Company's production of David Greig's play, The Events, which opened at the Traverse, appeared at the Peacock, while Australian company CIRCA's Wunderkammer, which also picked up a Herald Angel during it's Edinburgh run at the Underbelly, wowed audiences in a similar fashion at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre.

These made up part of DTF's programme of some twenty-four productions, which, as well as a family programme, also featured several Irish companies familiar to Scottish audiences. This began from touching down at Dublin Airport, where maverick producers Fuel, regularly praised in these pages, presented While You Wait, a series of nine ten-minute podcasts by Fuel regulars on the theme of waiting in a purpose built listening station for the duration of DTF.

This initiative may have been inspired by Waiting For Godot, Samuel Beckett's classic piece of existential vaudeville, which was presented by Cork-based Beckett specialists, Gare St Lazare Players. Gare St Lazare have been Edinburgh regulars with their solo stage versions of Beckett's prose works for several years now, and this was the company's biggest show to date.

This year's EIF programme was dominated by stage versions of Beckett's non-dramatic works in a Herald Angel winning programme presented by Dublin's Gate Theatre alongside the Pan Pan company. While the Gate was very much in evidence at DTF, it was on a much grander scale than the solo pieces seen at EIF. Their new production of Brecht and Weill's junkyard musical, The Threepenny Opera, was a raucous and sexy take on the pair's fantastical Weimar-era romp. In its bow-tied and posh frocked finery and black and white staging, it looked not unlike something that Glasgow's Citizens Theatre might have had decadent fun with during its 1970s excesses.

Wayne Jordan's production opened with the coyest of stripteases before the audience were led into the underworld by David Shannon's matinee idol-like Street Singer. Here David Ganly's potty-mouthed Mac The Knife held court in a ribald version of the play that made liberal use of a street-smart Irish demotic. With a cast of nineteen onstage, plus an eight-piece band, this is a contemporary take on the play that chimed perfectly with these recessionary times.

Over at the Culture Box, an intimate cafe environment was created for Rough Magic's radical new take on Richard Brinsley Sheridan's eighteenth century satire of theatrical types, The Critic. Relocating the action from London to Sheridan's native Dublin, the audience are given an insight into the city's theatrical history, as Karl Shiels' crazed man of letters, Puff, inveigled a coterie of wannabes and theatrical groupies into his rehearsal room. This involved the audience being led onto the streets and taken round the corner to children's theatre, The Ark, where a large ensemble of student performers ripped into Puff's self-styled masterpiece.

In Lynne Parker's production, this invokes the spirit and philosophy of Peter Brook and other theatrical gurus. In the magnificent coup de theatre that ended the show with the theatre wall opening out onto the Temple Bar streets as the names of a multitude of Irish theatre companies are projected above, it became a love letter to the country's rich theatrical tapestry that owes much to the past while looking firmly towards the future.

As with The Threepenny Opera and The Critic, Annie Ryan's new production of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under The Elms for regular Edinburgh visitors The Corn Exchange transplanted the action of O'Neill's most pungent tragedy from rural America to somewhere a lot closer to home. This worked supremely well in the Smock Alley Theatre, where the full brooding intensity of the tragedy can be watched in close-up.

In Maeve's House, seen at the Peacock, veteran actor Eamon Morrissey recounted his fascination for ex-pat Irish writer Maeve Brennan, who blazed a trail writing for the New Yorker before tragedy got the better of her. Morrissey grew up in the Dublin house where Brennan had once lived, and recognised his former home while reading one of Brennan's short stories on the subway when a young actor touring New York. As Morrissey told of his sole meeting with the mercurial author, he relayed a sense of warmth and endless fascination with one of Ireland's most iconic talents with considerable charm.

One of the most anticipated events in the final week of DTF was The Hanging Gardens, the world premiere of a new play by Frank McGuinness, directed by Patrick Mason at The Abbey. McGuinness' first play for Ireland's national theatre in fourteen years was a big, grown-up family saga concerning ageing writer Sam Grant's loss of his creative faculties and the responses of those around him. As the messed-up family he sired comes together, they seek sanctuary in the place where Sam authored his own mythology. The garden may appear idyllic, but the black cloud above it spoke volumes about the emotional explosion that followed. Niall Buggy gave a heartfelt performance as Sam in a work riddled with classical allusions but which remained rooted in human experience.

By far the biggest talking point of this year's DTF was riverrun, Olwen Fouere's impressionistic look at James Joyce's epic novel, Finnegan's Wake. Presented by TheEmergencyRoom and Galway Arts Festival at the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar, riverrun tapped into the evocative musicality of a near wordless text, performed by Fouere in something that leant towards elements of sound installation in a piece which anyone who saw it declared must have another life. If that life is in Edinburgh, it would further the artistic links between these two great cities even more.

Neil Cooper's visit to Dublin Theatre Festival was supported by Tourism Ireland and Failte Ireland.

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Dublin Theatre Festival In Brief

Dublin Theatre Festival was founded in 1957 by impresario Brendan Smith, and is now Europe's oldest specialised theatre festival. Since then, DTF has presented a mix of home-grown and international work, focusing on classics by Sean O' Casey, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Brian Friel and Tom Murphy, as well as a younger generation of writers including Mark O' Rowe, Enda Walsh, Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson.

Smith continued as DTF director until 1983, when he was succeeded by Tony O' Dalaigh. In 2000, Fergus Linehan took over for four years, followed by Don Shipley and Loughlin Deegan. Since 2011, former director of the Project Arts Centre, Willie White, has been in charge of DTF. This year's Dublin Theatre Festival formed a major part of The Gathering, a year-long celebration of Ireland's culture, which features more than 2500 events nationwide. Furthering links between Edinburgh and Dublin, former DTF boss Fergus Linehan will shortly take over from Jonathan Mills as artistic director of Edinburgh International Festival. Linehan's first programme will take place in 2015.

The Herald, October 15th 2013


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