Sunday 4 December 2016

Get in shape for a marathon of theatre

Published 11/09/2010 | 05:00

Two-and-a-half hours into a seven-hour play, in Polish, about Andy Warhol, Loughlin Deegan ran out of the auditorium. Deegan is director of the Dublin Theatre Festival. His life, thus, is the artsy equivalent of the CIA's rendition programme.

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He spends much of his year being flown across the globe. Bundled from plane to plane, he lands in the dark at obscure airports in unknown countries, where he is exposed to short bursts of intense and sometimes painful theatre.

So seven hours of pop-art pretension in Polish should be nothing to him. This is the kind of thing festival directors boast about when boozed up in late-night dives.

One imagines them huddled over the vodka in the corner of a bar in war-time Grozny, after the close of the Theatre Festival of Free Chechnya.

"Seven hours in Polish?" growls the director of the Melbourne Festival of Avant Garde Aboriginal Performance. "You think that's hard? I once sat through a literal retelling of the Bhagavad-Gita in Hindi. I lost all sensation in my left buttock. It never came back."

"Pah," rasps the chairman of the Nunavut Festival of Documentary Theatre. "Midway through the seven-day North Korean production of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, I got gangrene. They amputated my leg. But damn, it was worth it."

Loughlin Deegan, however, wasn't running out in panic. He was running to find the producer of the show before any other festival director did.

"It was sublime. I knew immediately I wanted to bring it to Dublin."

The show was called Factory 2 (after Andy Warhol's New York base, the Factory), and had been directed by the Polish master, Krystian Lupa.

Lupa, a 67-year-old theatre director, has the status of a rock star in Poland, where theatre is heavily resourced and directors are key figures in the national culture. He is recognised as one of the great directors of modern theatre history.

His plays can take a year to rehearse, and he refuses to commit to a premiere date, only opening a show when he believes it is ready.

Factory 2 is Lupa's exploration of the bohemian environment of Andy Warhol's Manhattan artistic commune, juxtaposing Warhol's video works with improvisation and scripted performance to recreate two days in the life of the Factory.

Deegan has made Lupa's play the cornerstone of a showcase of Polish theatre at the heart of this year's festival. Not only is this testament to the strength of the internationally renowned Polish theatre, but Deegan sees it as a nod from the festival to the changed demographics of Dublin. With a number of Polish cultural organisations active in the city, and given the celebrity status of Poland's leading directors, he believes the showcase will bring a new, young Polish audience to the theatre festival.

Some of my most rewarding theatre experiences have been at such marathons. From Australia, Company B's adaptation of Tin Winton's novel, Cloudstreet (five-and-a-half-hours) was the hit of the 1999 theatre festival. Druid's 2005 Synge Cycle (eight-and-a-half-hours) was a joy.

The RSC Histories, comprising eight of Shakespeare's history plays, staged back-to-back over one weekend (24 hours), was extraordinary.

So-called "durational" theatre isn't for everybody, however. When Tom Murphy's 1983 premiere of The Gigli Concert ran later than the normal time at the Abbey, audiences complained that they missed the bus home.

For those who like their theatre no longer than a movie, and preferably in English, the stand-out show of this year's festival is Lucy Prebble's Enron, the Olivier-winning musical portrait of the "smartest men in the room".

I'll return to that in a later column -- but don't wait to book your tickets.

From Australia, Yaron Lifschitz brings his circus theatre to Dublin, having cultivated audiences at the Galway Arts Festival in recent years. Lifschitz himself can't touch his toes, but his performers blend audacious acrobatics with poetic style and inventive multimedia in something like a more intimate version of the wildly popular Cirque du Soleil.

A very strong Irish selection includes the treat of seeing elite actors Alan Rickman and Fiona Shaw together on the Abbey stage, in Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman.

Though if you prefer your theatre more democratic than elitist, you should enjoy a new version of Hamlet by the ever-inventive company Pan Pan.

Called The Rehearsal, the audience gets to vote for their favourite Hamlet amidst competing actors.

Ulster Bank have been title sponsors of the festival for four years now, staying the course as their own industry has foundered around them.

It's not fashionable to acknowledge bankers as anything other than market-crazed philistines, but the steady hand of their sponsorship has enabled Loughlin Deegan to bring the festival to new levels of audience and critical success.

colinmurphy@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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