Monday 27 January 2020

Summer's here, so kick up your heels

Emer O'Kelly eagerly looks ahead to Ireland's three major summer arts festivals this year - in Galway, Kilkenny and Cork

Camille O'Sullivan will appear in 'Woyzeck in Winter' at Galway
Camille O'Sullivan will appear in 'Woyzeck in Winter' at Galway

The summer festival season is pretty well upon us, with barely a townland in the country which will not deck itself out with some bunting, and possibly a late bar extension or two.

In truth, many such festivals have little to offer, being aimed merely at rustling up a few quid for the local economy. But for real cultural riches, there are three festivals at least which have established deserved reputations at home and abroad for the diversity and quality of the arts experiences they offer. (I don't exclude Listowel Writers' Week, but that is already behind us.)

Probably the most diverse and ­spectacularly successful festival in the cross-genre compass is Galway International Arts Festival (GIAF), which has been guided firmly into the international canon by Paul Fahy's determinedly high standard of programming.

This year, in just the performance area alone, the prolific Enda Walsh's name - now almost synonymous with GIAF thanks to the Landmark theatre premieres of recent years - crops up twice, as librettist in The Second Violinist, his second opera co-operation with composer Donnacha Dennehy, and in his fourth installation work Bathroom.

Druid will revive Mark O'Rowe's scatological and riveting Crestfall. It will be directed by Annabelle Comyn, and will feature Kate ­Stanley Brennan, Siobhan Cullen and newcomer Amy McElhatton, who has just graduated from The Lir Academy. The interwoven stories of three inner-city women of different ages is likely to pack as much of a punch as it did on its premiere nearly 15 years ago.

Roddy Doyle's Two Pints, which began as a social media joke, has been extended into a play and its two Dublin "characters" will "tour" a number of pubs in the Galway area. Neither the venues nor the cast has been announced, but watch the website.

Patrick O'Kane and Camille O'Sullivan will appear in the festival's own world premiere production of Woyzeck in Winter, while the anarchic Cornish company Kneehigh will make what I think is its first visit to Ireland with Tristan & Yseult, a modernist re-telling of the legend directed by Emma Rice, who is the artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe in London and a long-time collaborator with Kneehigh.

Northern Irish playwright Abbie Spallen will offer Pumpgirl, a black comedy set in the badlands of Armagh's country music scene, with diesel fumes and motorbikes as background. And for those who missed it at the Abbey, there's another chance to see Dublin by Lamplight, the revival of Corn Exchange's magnificent spoof on the founding of the same Abbey Theatre in 1904.

The Kilkenny Arts Festival has become an almost breathtaking success since it was taken over by artistic director Eugene Downes several years ago. He has used his musical expertise as well as his impressive international contacts to turn the festival into a stunning celebration of individual composers - and this year's "featured star" will be Schubert, although the three concerts which will feature the late string quartets, performed by Quatuor Mosaiques, are apparently already fully booked.

But there's plenty more under the banner of Schubert: Dreaming the Sublime, with five concerts featuring the songs and song cycles. For music lovers and theatregoers alike, there will be a grand festival opening performance of Handel's Julius Caesar in Egypt by the Early Opera Company. It will be conducted by Christian Curnyn, with the title role sung by Iestyn Davies. Anna Devin and Rachel Kelly, who both performed to deserved acclaim last year in Mozart's Idomeneo, will sing Cleopatra and Sesten respectively.

Neil Martin has composed a special music score for a production of Oscar Wilde's De Profundis, which will be performed/recited by Stephen Rea accompanied by the Irish Chamber Orchestra, which is the festival's resident orchestra.

Three more concerts will feature Handel, under the composite title Mr Handel's Adventures in Ireland, finishing up with, obviously, Messiah, in the original version as performed in Dublin in 1742.

The final festival of note is Cork Midsummer Festival, for which the programme reads like a contemporary social examination in attitudes and experiences with its varied lectures and expositions.

Theatrically, Lynda Radley's Futureproof, last seen in Scotland in 2011, should offer plenty of interest. It will be an Irish premiere and will be directed by former festival director Tom Creed, who will be more or less fresh from an utterly delightful and musically impressive re-imagining of Handel's opera, Acis and Galatea for OTC.

Local company Corcadorca, always inventive, will take over Spike Island for a promenade production of the late Caryl Churchill's millennium play Far Away. It's a horrifying fable of what happens when we put labels of "enemy" and "friend" on societies and races, and line up the enemy for extermination.

It was last seen in a Bedrock production in Dublin in 2003 and, with the world moving in the direction it seems to be, Churchill's gloomy view of humanity's innate fascist tendencies doesn't show any sign of being disproved.

Sunday Independent

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