Saturday 17 August 2019

10 must-see events at the Dublin Theatre Festival

Theatre-lovers can expect both established and emerging talent at this year's Dublin Theatre Festival, which runs until October 16. Andrew Lynch chooses his highlights

Owen Roe and Sophie Robinson in ‘The Father’
Owen Roe and Sophie Robinson in ‘The Father’
Michael Collins and his son Johnny (10) in 'Ireland Shed a Tear?'
Stephen Brennan and Derbhle Crotty star in ‘The Seagull
Cillian Ó Gairbhí in 'The Remains of Maisie Duggan'
David Kempster in 'Don Giovanni'

Andrew Lynch

'All the world's a stage." William Shakespeare's famous line from 'As You Like It' would also be a perfect slogan for the 2016 Dublin Theatre Festival, which has a strong international flavour.

As artistic director Willie White writes in the DTF programme, "The festival took shape against a background of brutal and unsettling events that brought global conflicts much closer to home than usual". The cultural climate prompted him to include several overseas shows with a political edge, as well as local productions that reflect Ireland in this year of commemorations.

Here are 10 highlights from the festival, which opened last night and continues until October 16.

Donegal by Frank McGuinness

Abbey Theatre, Oct 12-15 (previews from Oct 6)

Fittingly enough, the national theatre's main offering is a new "musical play" from one of our greatest living playwrights. Set in Frank McGuinness's home county, Donegal takes audiences inside the close-knit world of Irish country music and contains original songs by composer Kevin Doherty.

Rather than an exercise in cosy nostalgia, however, it is a hard-hitting family drama depicting the trauma of a fading star (Siobhan McCarthy) whose commercial throne is threatened by her pushy son (Killian Donnelly).

Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (new translation by Roddy Doyle)

Gaiety Theatre, Oct 1 & 2

David Kempster in 'Don Giovanni'

Roddy Doyle's CV includes novels, plays, film scripts and musicals, so it was only a matter of time before he turned his hand to a full-scale opera. This modern version of 'Don Giovanni' relocates the story in Dublin and aims to present Mozart's notorious libertine "through a uniquely Irish lens".

It features the RTE Concert Orchestra, backing Welsh baritone David Kempster in the title role as well as local stars such as mezzo soprano Tara Erraught. We are a long way from Barrytown here - but Doyle should have the erudition and chutzpah required to carry it off.

The Father by Florian Zeller (translated by Christopher Hampton)

Gate Theatre, until Oct 15

"I feel as if I'm losing all my leaves," cries André, the central figure of Florian Zeller's harrowing drama about an elderly man sliding into dementia. 'The Father' won a 2014 Moliere award for France's best play and has been described as a Gallic version of 'King Lear'. Appropriately enough, then, this production sees Owen Roe give a towering performance that echoes his recent portrayal of Shakespeare's tragic monarch at The Abbey.

First Love by Samuel Beckett

O'Reilly Theatre, Belvedere, Oct 12-16

Barry McGovern has been internationally acclaimed for his one-man shows, which show him to be arguably the world's greatest interpreter of Samuel Beckett's work. Here he tackles one of the master's lesser-known works, a semi-autobiographical short story written in 1946. 'First Love' is narrated by a man who has been evicted from the family home following the death of his father and forms a sordid relationship with a prostitute. Michael Colgan directs a performance that promises to be captivatingly bleak, but also shot through with Beckett's trademark pitch-black humour.

Ireland Shed A Tear? by Michael Collins

The New Theatre, Sept 30-Oct 9

Michael Collins and his son Johnny (10) in 'Ireland Shed a Tear?'

The question mark is all-important. Ireland may have been shocked by the fire that killed 10 Travellers at a halting site in Carrickmines last year, but can such a tragedy make any long-term difference to social attitudes? Written by the well-known campaigner and actor Michael Collins, this new drama uses songs and poetry to depict Traveller culture in a non-confrontational way.

Collins also stars alongside his 10-year-old son Johnny as a man who lives under the threat of eviction and finds that any post-Carrickmines solidarity with the settled community is disappointingly short-lived.

The Seagull by Anton Chekhov (by Michael West and Annie Ryan)

Gaiety Theatre, Oct 6-16 (preview Oct 5)

Stephen Brennan and Derbhle Crotty star in ‘The Seagull

When 'The Seagull' was first performed in St Petersburg 120 years ago, the audience hated it so much that Anton Chekhov decided to give up writing plays altogether. Happily, this country estate drama about unrequited love is now recognised as a timeless masterpiece. Dublin's innovative Corn Exchange Company prides itself on giving old texts a contemporary sheen, so it is no surprise to find their version bending genders and tinkering with settings - but the emotional core of Chekhov's claustrophobic classic remains fully intact.

These Rooms, directed by David Bolger and Louise Lowe

85/86 Upper Dorset St, Sept 30-Oct 16

The North King Street massacre, in which 15 Dubliners were shot or bayoneted to death by trigger-happy British soldiers, is one of Easter 1916's lesser-known atrocities. Now the award-winning dance company CoisCéim and ANU Productions have had the novel idea of recreating it as a site-specific piece of theatre. Based on eye-witness testimonies from 38 women, as well as newly-released military inquiry records, this will be an intensely immersive experience. Space is limited - and audience members are welcome to get involved.

Guerrilla, conceived by El Conde de Torrefiel

Project Arts Centre, Sept 30 and Oct 1

How do European millennials feel about their future? El Conde de Torrefiel is a young Spanish company whose tightly choreographed performance art pieces try to answer this thorny question. Set in three different cities, Guerilla features a noisy electro-pop show, a Tai Chi class and an international conference - all designed to bring out the participants' suppressed fears and deepest fantasies. Not for the faint-hearted, but its avant-garde concept could deliver some intriguing results.

The Remains of Maisie Duggan by Carmel Winters

Abbey Theatre, Peacock Stage, runs until Oct 15

Cillian Ó Gairbhí in 'The Remains of Maisie Duggan'

As its title suggests, 'The Remains of Maisie Duggan' is a play about death. In this case, however, the supposedly dead woman has just had a routine car accident and is deceased only in her own mind. Now she feels liberated to tell her dysfunctional family a few home truths about their abusive behaviour. The Cork playwright Carmel Winters made a real impact with her previous work, 'B for Baby', and fans will hope that this study of generational conflict packs a similar emotional punch.

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Sept 30 & Oct 1

Four hundred years since he died after a drinking bout in Stratford, William Shakespeare's immortal creations are still being twisted into all sorts of colourful new shapes. This anarchic adaptation of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' is irreverent even by 21st-century standards, adding lycra-clad superheroes, Barry White songs and a food fight to the Bard's much-loved Athenian fairy story.

While purists may carp, the show designed by Britain's Filter Theatre received rave reviews in London and should certainly be anything but dull.

Irish Independent

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