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Dublin Theatre Festival 2014 - Brigit, Bailegangaire, Our Few And Evil Days, Vardo, The Mariner

It's half-past three on a Sunday afternoon outside the Olympia Theatre
in Dublin's Dame Street, and a scrum of bodies is masquerading as an
orderly queue. Despite all appearances to the contrary, the rammy isn't
a result of some reality TV teen sensation about to appear in concert
on the Olympia stage. It is instead down to the Galway-based Druid
theatre company's brand new productions of two very different plays by
veteran Irish playwright and another kind of legend, Tom Murphy.

Druid's revival of Bailegangaire, which they first presented in 1985,
was a mighty enough proposition by itself for this year's Dublin
Theatre Festival, which ended this weekend. A tale of a senile old
woman telling a story she refuses to finish as her two-grand-daughters
navigate their lives around her has become a modern classic. Paired
with a new play, Brigit, a prequel of sorts featuring the characters
from Bailegangaire thirty years earlier was an even more tantalising
prospect.

The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, thinks so too. A few
minutes before the curtain goes up on Brigit, the crowds part in the
foyer of the Olympia as Higgins arrives for a brief photo-call with
Murphy, DTF director Willie White and other dignitaries.

Such a buzz around Druid's presentations of Murphy's work is
symptomatic of just how much Dublin Theatre Festival has become the
epicentre of a year-round arts and culture programme that brings the
city to such vivid life. Founded in 1957 by impresario Brendan Smith,
DTF is now Europe's longest-running specialised theatre festival, and
has grown to become a major showcase for Ireland's burgeoning theatre
scene as well as featuring international work.

At the Little Museum over the road from St Stephen's Green, an
exhibition curated by White titled Encore! charts DTF's history through
displays of posters, programmes, set models, letters and other
ephemera. The programme for the Field Day company's 1980 debut
production of Brian Friel's Translations is there, as are programmes
for numerous works by Murphy, Druid and a role-call of great Irish
writers and companies.

This year saw more than twenty productions at DTF, including the
Schaubuhne Berlin's production of Hamlet and a mini Australian season,
as well as a family programme. Of the Irish work, one of the hottest
tickets was for The Corn Exchange's stage version of Eimear Mcbride's
novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing.

Both of Murphy's plays, meanwhile, featured towering performances from
Irish acting legend Marie Mullen as Mommo. In Brigit, Mullen played
support to Bosco Hogan as Seamus, who, tasked to carve a statue of
Saint Brigit after the existing one is broken by a young nun, has
something woken in him that goes beyond mere craftsmanship. What
follows is a wry critique of how art can be interfered with by
bureaucrats who would prefer to make their masterpieces more
user-friendly. This in turn sheds some light on the internal
psychological workings of Bailegangaire, in which Mullen plays the now
bed-bound Mommo in a performance that carried Garry Hynes' production.

Over at the Abbey Theatre, Mark O'Rowe's Our Few and Evil Days looked
at even more extreme family tensions in O'Rowe's own production of his
new play. Our Few and Evil Days opens on the night Adele is bringing
her new boyfriend Dennis home to meet her mum and dad, played by Sinead
Cusack and Ciaran Hinds. Adele, alas, is on a rescue mission to provide
emotional support for her best friend. In her absence, initial
conversational niceties seem to reveal nothing. Only later do the
cracks start to show, as a set of revelations that affect the entire
family are laid bare.

O'Rowe's writing is a deadly mix of the ordinary and the frighteningly
strange as it delves deep into notions of truth, lies, love, healing
and what it takes to keep a family together, however damaged. The
text's overlapping rhythms are delivered exquisitely by the entire
cast, with Adele played by rising star Charlie Murphy, who features on
the cover of the current edition of Irish Tatler. Such a glossy  image
is a long way from the troublesome can of worms O'Rowe uncovers in a
work that shocks with the power of the darkest of psychological
thrillers.

Patrick Mason's production of Hugo Hamilton's new play, The Mariner,
over at the Gate Theatre did something similar. The mystery here comes
in the form of a wounded naval officer during World War One who may or
may not have stolen the identity of a dead man. With a welter of World
War One plays around just now, Mason invested Hamilton's script with a
stylistic elegance that took a leap beyond mere elegy to become a far
more intriguing prospect.

As with Brigit, a broken statue was the starting point for Vardo, the
latest site-specific dissection of Dublin's hidden underbelly by Anu
Productions.  Having charted a hundred years of life on the edge of the
city's Foley Street district in Worlds End Lane, Laundry and The Boys
of Foley Street, the company's fourth and final part of the Monto Cycle
looks at the brutal world of enforced prostitution among  east European
migrants.

Having been accosted outside the Oonagh Young Gallery by a young woman
with a chipped and stolen sacred heart statue in her shopping trolley,
an audience of four were led into a pub where the young woman's sister
was celebrating her release from prison. Already accessories to the
apparent crime, we were then taken to the nearby bus station, where a
woman was trying to escape from her pimp. Upstairs, a Nigerian refugee
similarly told his story, before we're bundled into the back of a car
and taken to a flat where young women look us in the eye from across
the kitchen table and tell us what men do to them.

It is this one-to-one intimacy that made the audience so uncomfortably
complicit in such matter-of-fact exchanges in a piece which hid in
plain sight of a passing public who chose not to notice what was
happening under their noses. Such a cutting-edge approach is just one
aspect of a carefully crafted festival that this year was firing on all
cylinders.

Over at Encore!, there's a quote on the wall from Fergus Linehan, who
ran DTF between 2000 and 2004, and has just taken over the artistic
leadership of Edinburgh International Festival. The quote seems to both
sum up the spirit of Dublin while boding well for the future of
Edinburgh.

“Growing a festival or deepening its relationship with the audience,”
it says, “is the result of hundreds of things done well rather than
flashes of bravado.”
www.dublintheatrefestival.com
ends

Dublin Theatre Festival – The Scots Connection

While this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe saw Olwen Fouere's riverrun
play to acclaim following its Dublin run in 2013, the artistic traffic
goes both ways, with this year's Dublin Theatre Festival show-casing
several works from Scotland.

If These Spasms Could Speak – Robert Softley brought his solo
co-production with the Arches to the Project Arts Centre. A funny and
touching study of disabled people and their bodies, Softley's show
mixed autobiographical monologue with filmed interviews in a challenge
to society's perceptions of disabled people.

Ganesh Versus the Third Reich – Part of a mini Australian season, Back
To Back Theatre's multi-award winning show follows a theatre company's
attempts to stage a play about the elephant-headed god Ganesh's
attempts to reclaim the Swastika, and formed part of this year's
Edinburgh International Festival's theatre programme.

Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner – Playing on the
Peacock stage of the Abbey Theatre, Untitled Projects and the National
Theatre of Scotland brought director Stewart Laing and writer Pamela
Carter's look at radicalism, art and unreliable memoirs as performed by
George Anton to Dublin following a run in Sweden.

The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean – Shona Reppe last appeared at
DTF in 2012 with Potato Needs A Bath, and she returned to the
festival's family programme with her award-winning look at a secret
life for audiences aged seven and over.

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

The Herald, October 14th 2014

ends

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