Sunday 21 January 2018

Welcome to our HOUSE

Aedn Gormley

It's easy to feel a little overwhelmed by all of the arts festivals that are taking place all over the country this summer. But here is a new one, a festival with a difference for the August bank holiday weekend.

Some festivals are set to the backdrop of a period property but unless you are a friend of the 'Lord of the Manor', you usually don't get to go inside. With this festival, it's pretty much access all areas.

BIG HOUSE is Ireland's first site-specific arts festival. We are invited to come along to Castletown House in Kildare for a range of events in and around Ireland's largest and earliest Palladian-style house.

Lounging in the magnificent surroundings of this house and the sprawling parklands as they come alive with hundreds of artists from the worlds of music, theatre, visual art, dance and entertainment certainly sounds appealing.

BIG HOUSE is the brainchild of The Performance Corporation, Ireland's site-specific theatre company which has been based at Castletown House for six years.

Festival director Jo Mangan felt it was time they really used this space and opened it up to the public for an arts festival.

"We are very passionate about bringing people to a space that isn't a theatre or arts space and frankly there is very little in terms of large-scale cultural offerings in this area," says Jo.

The company had more than 300 applications from artists who wanted to take part in the festival and so had a great range of ideas from which to choose. The festival should have broad appeal with family friendly events that will suit a mixed demographic.

Highlights include Julie Feeney, Jerry Fish's Carnivale Show, award-winning comedy dance troupe Ponydance, Trad legends LAPD (Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Liam O'Flynn & Paddy Glackin) and visual art installations from artists such as Oisín Byrne, Almha Roche and Áine Phillips.

"My hope is that you might come for Jerry Fish or Julie Feeney but you might discover an opera, or a piece of theatre, or a fun contemporary dance and you might come back the next day for more," says Jo.

An event that stands out though and is unique to this festival is The Big House Parliament; an alternative citizen's parliament run by Naoise Nunn. Jo feels that it comes from the roots of this house, which was built by William Conolly, who was a speaker at the House of Commons in Dublin.

"Guest speakers such as Mary O'Rourke and Manchán Magan will give an eight-minute talk regarding their big ideas as to how we can sort the country out," says Jo. The debate will then be open to the floor. Local residents will also be invited to speak.

I wonder what Conolly, who built the house between 1722 and 1729, might make of this festival? Jo reminds me that this is a house that has a huge history of entertainment.

"We just came across an extraordinary photograph the other day of Desmond Guinness, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful sitting on the red sofa downstairs, so this house has a history of letting it all hang loose!"

Apart from the top of the house which is used as office space and dressing rooms, there will be no out of bound areas in the house. "The desire is that people will come into the house, feel comfortable and at home and thrilled with everything they see."

The BIG HOUSE Festival takes place in Castletown House, Co Kildare, August 3-5. Tickets are available at Advance day tickets are €22.50, family tickets are €45.

Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals (Sat 1-4pm) and Sunday Matinée (Sun 1-4pm) on RTÉ lyric fm.

Irish Independent

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