Entertainment Festivals

Monday 19 March 2018

Stage: Galway Theatre Festival to offer emerging artists a new home

The WillFredd CARE crew include Eleanor Methven and Sonya Kelly, photo by Sarah Jane Shiels
The WillFredd CARE crew include Eleanor Methven and Sonya Kelly, photo by Sarah Jane Shiels
Director Sophie Motley

Maggie Armstrong

Curse Galwegians and their incessant creativity. People out west get all the fun. The ninth Galway Theatre Festival this May bank holiday weekend makes me realise just how much I have missed in my 31 years on this island. Too much time was spent indoors in Dublin, not nearly enough in that loose and pagan circus town. Though there was that Bob Dylan concert in the field in Salthill, circa 2000. Them were the days.

If one of the best things about theatre is the way groups of strangers end up sharing memories of once-in-a-lifetime plays they saw together, one of the worst things is this envy and regret you feel over the brilliant moments you missed. You know, those historic productions everyone talks about, which will never be seen no more. You can't get catch up on Netflix. They are dust.

Galway, to me, is a great long history of what I missed, time I can't take back.

When young, my Wild Atlantic Way cousins would sometimes turn away from their TVs to describe in wonder the latest Macnas Parade. Macnas, behemoths of street spectacle, have been going strong for 30 years. Later, everyone was talking about those Druid shows you simply had to see in Druid's native theatre (these days, the Mick Lally), otherwise you were missing something. And after 40 years, Druid, the first professional theatre company to form outside of Dublin, are still reinventing classics which other companies quake in reverence at. The list of Galway gems grows longer. An Taibhearc, which you have to admire as the country's only Irish-language theatre. Footsbarn, the touring magic troupe and its special rapport with Galway's trippy, curvy streets.

Where do all these good vibrations end up? They spawn a new generation, apparently. Rising Galway companies like Fregoli, Moonfish and Blue Teapot - who work with people with intellectual disabilities - are fit for a world stage. Latching onto all the live art around them are the annoyingly proactive students on NUI Galway's Drama and Theatre Studies course.

"High-quality work by emerging artists that fuses different forms, that is interesting and socially aware, that isn't necessarily following a traditional play script" - this is what we hope to expose people to, says Máiréad Ní Chróinín, the festival manager who happens to be co-founder of Moonfish.

She explains how the Galway International Arts Festival every July had reached such a "high level in terms of programming" that "there was a need for a Dublin Fringe-style platform for all that raw energy." The Galway Theatre Festival, then, gives a home to emerging artists who are otherwise the urchins of the theatre world, with no place to go. In the 32 shows lined up, it's interesting to see how older companies have overflowed to create younger ones. Macnas Young Ensemble (of 15 to 21-year-olds) have a new immersive storytelling show inside the Connacht Print Works, Pick Your Poison. From Druid's FUEL Emerging Artist Residency arrives My Poet Dark and Slender, adapted by Róisín Stack from a short story by Pádraic Ó Conaire.

From the festival's 'Made in Galway' strand comes The Theatre Room, five one-act "scratch" plays staged in people's living rooms around the city. This event, looking for donations only, was set up by NUIG students. The theatre is as such amateur but their hope is the scripts will go further.

Elsewhere, we have The Washed-Up Spanish Rose Walking Tour by a flamenco-dressed social satirist known as Zocorro; The Green Room, a frightening-sounding eight-minute one-on-one show in a cabinet; storytelling from Moth & Butterfly in a candle-lit Norman tower house; and new shows by women from the #wakingthefeministswest collective.

"For audiences, it's really exciting," says Máiréad. "You're on the edge of the seat, or you're not even on a seat - you're walking around, you're experiencing 360-degree theatre."

The theme is (r)Evolution - a nod to 1916, with a signal to the future. Book-ending the festival come headline acts The Blue Boy by Brokentalkers, and CARE by WillFredd. Undercutting breeziness elsewhere with a sharp gust, The Blue Boy tells stories, through recorded testimony and other imaginative means, of children who grew up in institutions. It comes with a trigger warning: "disturbing" material.

CARE is a brand new piece from WillFredd, their third. This company tends to get under the skin of its subject matter. They have learned horse riding and lived with bee-keepers and farmers. For this show, they inveigled their way into a community of hospice workers. Co-directors Sophie Motley and Sarah Jane Shiels, who both saw relatives die in hospice care, spent 14 months interviewing the remarkable staff at St Francis hospice in Raheny. CARE tells us in vignettes about the people whose "ideal is to add life to days, if not days to life".

Which show will everyone still be talking about in 50 years, you wonder. Who are the next Druid?

See www.galwaytheatrefestival.com, April 27 - May 7

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