Theatre preview for the year ahead
Our national theatre has so far been fairly coy about what it has on offer for us in 2023, with Conor McPherson’s less than festive The Weir continuing its Abbey run over Christmas and the new year.
However, there will be what promises to be a lavish production of Frank McGuinness’s new adaptation of Molière’s Tartuffe, a fairly scabrous comic attack on religious hypocrisy in 17th century France.
Some things never change, admittedly, and McGuinness has apparently harnessed, Hibernicised and modernised it linguistically. That may prove to be something of an insular, navel-gazing pity from such an accomplished playwright. But it will also go on tour, which is to be welcomed.
The angle may have something to do with the Abbey’s fairly new artistic director Caitríona McLaughlin, whose introductory statement to her reign spoke of investigating the “classical canon and curiosity about what makes it speak to this moment.”
This could translate as an inability or unwillingness to trust the work to speak for itself.
Theatre is not an inadequate art form with a need to borrow from other forms to become comprehensible. Yet McLaughlin added extraneous music and dancing to her recent production of Translations, which I suspect might have appalled Brian Friel, and did the same with her production of The Weir – although in that case McPherson is alive and presumably didn’t feel the need to object.
Across the Liffey, Róisín McBrinn is settling into her role as artistic director at the Gate after some years in the same role with Clean Break in the UK.
Her first production was Pam Gems’s Piaf from the 1970s; rather poor as to playwriting, but a sublime display of the cabaret genius of Edith Piaf through her music.
Next up at the Gate will be a new production of Enda Walsh’s The New Electric Ballroom, which will be directed by Emma Jordan, with the undoubted attraction of Jane Brennan and Barbara Brennan (real-life sisters, and long-time shining beacons of theatre).
It will be followed by Arthur Miller’s The Price, with Conleth Hill directing. Miller is the passionate voice of disillusioned liberal America post World War II, while Walsh could be called Ireland’s outsider who invests his view in a grimly lopsided context.
That will take us to July, when McBrinn will take the director’s chair herself for a production of the American musical Fun Home.
But with the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre concentrating almost solely on large-scale imported musicals, it seems to be a degree of overkill. And allied to Piaf, it seems to herald a dependence on musical theatre for the Gate’s much-heralded new direction.
Theatre can only flounder if its practitioners don’t have faith in its own power.
In other companies there are some interesting offerings already indicated. Close to the top is Fishamble’s relationship with actor/playwright Pat Kinevane, which began with Forgotten in 2006. In February the fifth play in the saga, King, will begin a national tour in Ennis.
The solo work, dealing with yet another aspect of deprivation through supremely stylised yet convincing playing and staging, will as usual be directed by Jim Culleton.
Livin’ Dred’s director Aaron Monaghan will offer a new production of Gina Moxley’s Danti-Dan (from 1995). Set in the gloomy 1970s, it depicts a group of youngsters trying to deal with stifling lives in rural Ireland.
It has already been tried out, and director Monaghan says in advance of the planned tour of the north-west, that the play is one of the greatest Irish plays of decades. It’s good, but...
As is the norm, the cast is identified by listing the characters they have played in TV soap operas beside their programme credits. That can surely only devalue the unique magic of live theatre. Such lack of trust in audiences shouldn’t come from within their own profession.
I recall some years ago sitting behind a group of women in a Cork venue who were having a loud conversation about the fact that they were about to see “George”.
George was a character in Glenroe. Then one of their number pointed out that George wasn’t in it, he was “only” the producer (director).
Huge, loud disappointment. They even discussed leaving. The play was Oedipus with Stephen Brennan and the late Susan Fitzgerald, and I had an entertaining few minutes eavesdropping on their interval conversation.