Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Saturday 18 January 2020

The theatre, spoken word, and classical music of the decade

Foil, Arms and Hog.
Foil, Arms and Hog.
Tara Flynn
US conductor Marin Alsop conducts the orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall
Daniil Trifonov won the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition at just 20 years of age
Sheku Kanneh-Mason was the first black musician to win the BBC's Young Musician of the Year
Stephen James Smith.

Katy Hayes and George Hamilton

Spoken word always seemed to be the domain of open-mic nights and poetry slams, where talented wordsmiths gave air to the rhymes and riffs they'd been scribbling after work hours. Flash forward to today, we see extraordinary homegrown poets who clock up six-figure viewerships on YouTube and open for stadium rock bands.

The latter is not a recent a development (John Cooper Clarke began life hissing out irreverent sizzlers to warm up Sex Pistols to Joy Division audiences) but the potent reach of online clips is a modern revolution that cannot be understated. In what is traditionally the hardest of all performance arts to turn an income from, the poet can now fabricate performances for mass consumption in a medium more digestible and immediate than print.

Stephen James Smith gave us Dublin You Are and My Ireland, the latter lovingly assembled as part of the 2017 St Patrick's Festival and one of many commissions the Dubliner has been handed by parties looking for an edge. Emmet Kirwan arguably got the ball rolling with Just Saying in 2012, followed by Heartbreak's call for "awe of all mná". Elsewhere, Tony Walsh's This Is The Place soothed broken spirits at a Manchester attack vigil, and Hollie McNish's Mathematics took a baseball bat to anti-immigrant sentiment. Even without the much-missed Dublin festival Lingo, spoken word not only has a presence but something of a social function too.

Comedy also had a great deal to contribute in an era of rapid change on this island. Both the Marriage and Eighth Amendment referendums were bolstered by a variety of wits who knew that laughter can provide backdoor access to changing attitudes, distilling issues with crystal clarity. (Tommy Tiernan saying homosexuals should not only be allowed to marry and have children, they should be forced to because he was tired of how much fun they were having - that kind of thing). A group calling themselves "Irish Comedians Abroad: Be Our Yes" (including rising superstars Sharon Horgan, Aisling Bea and Chris O'Dowd, as well as champion podcaster Jarlath Regan) campaigned for Repeal via a viral video for repeal. The mighty Tara Flynn was everywhere.

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

With the changing times came both the realisation that comedians couldn't quite get away with some of the things they used to, and had to watch what they said for fear of online retribution through camera-phone culture. While the jury is still out on whether this is entirely healthy for a medium that as far back as the court jester was granted immunity to take whatever pot-shots it liked, the signs are it may have come full circle now, and that audiences are looking to live comedy precisely to find some irreverence and danger of an evening.

Success stories abounded. Sketch trio Foil, Arms and Hog were a major one that again exploited that great marketing tool of the viral video to become a feverishly subscribed live draw here and abroad.

Roll your eyes all you like but reality contests gave comics' profiles a leg-up on primetime TV (Fred Cooke is still dining out on his Dancing With The Stars sojourn, while Deirdre O'Kane has never felt more ubiquitous). At the same time, a mob of new female stand-ups - Alison Spittle, Joanne McNally, Enya Martin - found a landscape more welcoming and receptive than before.

A final thought from the great Sean Hughes, who died all too young at 51 in 2017: "I want to have my ashes scattered in a bar, on the floor, mingle with sawdust, a bar where beautiful trendy people will trample over me… again."


by Katy Hayes

The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre opens; March 2010

The Daniel Libeskind-designed landmark building on Grand Canal Square was a purpose built commercial theatre with state-of-the-art scene docking facilities. As the decade progressed it has provided Dublin audiences with access to top quality international touring shows. We recently got to see Mary Poppins, featuring Irishman Bob Crowley’s Tony Award-winning design, complete with Nanny flying high over the audience.

The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane; October 2010

Presented as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival, this Pan Pan show put Gavin Quinn and Aedín Cosgrove’s company at the core of Irish theatrical innovation. Their disruptive approach has upended traditional expectations of narrative in the theatre and groomed an audience as well as a critical response for younger emerging companies like Anu, Brokentalkers and Dead Centre.

DruidMurphy; May 2012

Garry Hynes continued developing Druid’s practice of large-scale ensemble presentations of plays by a single writer, for a local, national and international audience. Three of playwright Tom Murphy’s core works: Conversations on a Homecoming; A Whistle in the Dark; and Famine were presented first in Galway, then in locations as far flung as the Aran Islands, Tuam, Washington and New York, garnering awards as they went.

Ballyturk by Enda Walsh; July 2014

Writer/directer Enda Walsh’s talent has dominated the decade. A restless, enquiring artist, he constantly challenges himself, tackling and dismantling new forms. Ballyturk, a compelling play about confinement and story, presented by Landmark and the Galway International Arts Festival, became a word-of-mouth sensation, featuring outstanding performances by Cillian Murphy, Stephen Rea and Mikel Murphy.

Waking The Feminists mass meeting in Abbey theatre; November 2015

When the Abbey announced its programme for the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, with its near invisibility of women artists, little did it know what a mass movement it would rouse. Set designer and theatre maker Lian Bell led a rebellion of female theatre artists who demanded fundamental change in attitudes to gender and inclusivity.

Pat Kinevane’s Silent wins Olivier Award; April 2016

Pat Kinevane’s one-man-show won the Olivier for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre for himself and producers Fishamble, the New Play Company. Silent is part of a trilogy of plays Kinevane wrote, performed, and successfully toured during the decade. He has had a huge influence on other performers who have followed this path to create work by and for themselves.

Swan Lake/Loch na hEala; October 2016

Michael Keegan-Dolan’s vision, which combines both purity and popular appeal, has pushed contemporary dance into the mainstream. This Fabulous Beast (now Teach Damhsa) take on Swan Lake was a major hit of the Dublin Theatre Festival and an enduring influence on both dance and theatre with its rejuvenation of the theatrical possibilities of the body.

Postcards from the Ledge; October 2017

This was the fourth Ross O’Carroll-Kelly play by Paul Howard, with Rory Nolan playing the legend. Producer Anne Clarke’s Landmark company has made an impressive impact this decade, working both ends of the market. Landmark produces challenging literary plays, but has also pioneered a form of indigenous commercial theatre. Ross O’Carroll-Kelly has been more of a hit with the theatre crowd than even with the ladies.

Revival of On Raftery’s Hill by Marina Carr; May 2018

Abbey Associate director Caitríona McLaughlin directed this spellbinding revival of Carr’s play for the Abbey. The difficult subject matter of incest and abuse was perceived as over-the-top on its first production in 2000. Two decades of revelations of crimes against women and children under cover of church and family later, this lyrical, brutal play could finally be seen in a more realistic way.

Ruth Negga playing Hamlet at the Gate; September 2018

Academy Award nominee Negga cut her acting teeth on the Dublin stage in the Project and the Peacock. She returned in triumph for the 2018 Dublin Theatre Festival, in a brilliantly nuanced production of Hamlet by South African director Yaël Farber. This Gate production opens in New York in February 2020. A female playing the iconic male role, directed by a woman, in a theatre that has its first female artistic director in Selina Cartmell; a decade-defining moment of change.


by George Hamilton

Daniil Trifonov won the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition at just 20 years of age

Across the broad sweep of any 10-year span, a selection of standout moments is bound to be subjective. That said, in my defence, it may come as no surprise that the pianist in me has plumped for a virtuoso of the keyboard, who has blazed a trail through the 20-teens.

It was in 2011 that Daniil Trifonov, just 20 years of age, won the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, and with it the Grand Prix as the outstanding performer across the five disciplines contested - piano, violin, cello, and male and female voice.

His victory in Moscow crowned a magnificent season in which he'd taken the bronze medal in the Chopin competition in Warsaw before winning the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master outright in Tel Aviv.

Trifonov's blistering performance in the Moscow Final, performing concertos by Tchaikovsky and Chopin, deserves its place as a standout of the decade.

The first winner of the Tchaikovsky competition, back at the height of the Cold War in 1958, was an American, Val Cliburn. He, like Trifonov went on to worldwide success. Sadly his place in the decade is marked by his passing. Val Cliburn died in February 2013, aged 78.

Neville Marriner - synonymous with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields - was another the world of music lost in the course of the ten years. He co-founded the group and was its only director until the American virtuoso Joshua Bell took up the reins at the start of the Teens. Sadly Neville Marriner died in October 2016, but his ensemble is in great shape, and underlined that at a sparkling anniversary concert in London just a month ago.

A programme of Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven, was complemented by the premiere performance of a work by the Academy's Composer in Residence, Sally Beamish, celebrated 60 glorious years.

The decade proved mightily significant for women in music. The American conductor Marin Alsop had already made history when she became the Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony in 2007, the first female to lead a major American orchestra. In 2013, she took to the podium in the Royal Albert Hall in London to conduct the Last Night of the Proms, Land of Hope and Glory and all. No woman had ever done that before.

The following year, the Scottish composer Judith Weir was appointed to classical's equivalent of the Poet Laureate, Master of the Queen's Music.

In a decade marked by a growing interest in works by women, such as Clara Schumann, Louise Farrenc, and Amy Beach, this was hugely significant, again a first.

The 20-teens will be remembered, too, for the emergence of an astonishingly gifted musical family from Nottingham in England. It was the cellist among the seven siblings who first came to prominence. In 2016, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, then 17, became the first black musician to win the BBC's Young Musician of the Year in its 38-year history.

But it was at one of Britain's great state occasions that he really shot to prominence, when he (very nearly) stole the show at the wedding in 2018 of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

Another female composer featured in his choice of music at St George's Chapel in Windsor - Maria Theresia von Paradis, the "Blind Enchantress" of Vienna for whom Mozart wrote one of his piano concertos. Kanneh-Mason's performance of her captivating Sicilienne, coupled with Gabriel Fauré's Après un Rêve, and Schubert's Ave Maria had everybody talking. It was most certainly one of music's standout moments of the decade.

And another followed just a matter of weeks ago at the Royal Variety Performance in London. Vittorio Monti's exhilarating Csárdás was delivered with flamboyant confidence by the seven Kanneh-Masons - Isata (the eldest at 23), her brothers Braimah (21), Sheku (now 20), and sisters Konya (18), Jeneba (16), Aminata (13), and Mariatu (who's just 9) - standout performers all.

George Hamilton presents 'The Hamilton Scores' on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday and Sunday.

Indo Review

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top