Monday 20 November 2017

Theatre: A year of revivals and reimaginings

Maggie’s back: Aisling O'Sullivan and Keith Duffy in Druid's Big Maggie, which returns this month.
Maggie’s back: Aisling O'Sullivan and Keith Duffy in Druid's Big Maggie, which returns this month.

Emer O'Kelly

There is a slightly sinking inevitability about what we may expect from the Irish theatre world in the year ahead: there will be a very large number of "reimaginings" of what 1916 meant to our nation, as well as some possibly rather fanciful interpretations of its events in the lives of "small people" who lived in the shadows of what are generally described as "momentous events".

Creative imagination is one thing, but in our enthusiasm to emphasise a connection between the arts and 1916, we may end up with a series of theatrical events that are not so much an artistic piece of impressionism as historical misrepresentation.

For a start, the events of Easter Week in Dublin in 1916 were just that: localised. A truth remains in relation to 1916: the Rebellion's leaders would have been merely a hiccup of history if the government in Whitehall had not made the error (not uncommon worldwide at the time in dealing with disruptive paramilitary elements) of executing them.

With our Irish love of a victim, their cause became widespread, if not universal; and in an unintended manner, Pearse's stomach-churning glorification of blood sacrifice was legitimised and even prescient. (That he also unleashed unnecessary and unwarranted blood-letting that continues to this day, as well as delaying the inevitability of Home Rule, remains a matter of bitterly divided opinion.)

And perhaps the truest representation of that reality, whether from our own era or contemporaneous, comes in O'Casey's masterpiece The Plough and the Stars.

The Abbey is to be congratulated in having the theatrical courage to risk accusations of predictability in staging a new production as the lynchpin of its 2016 programme. It will premiere in March.

Also to be quite eagerly anticipated is a Gate production of Juno and the Paycock next month. This will be interesting chiefly for its comparisons - for older theatregoers - with the seismic production of the play a generation ago, which featured the late Donal McCann and John Kavanagh as Captain Boyle and Joxer.

The cast this time around is led by Declan Conlon, Ingrid Craigie, Derbhle Crotty and Peter Coonan - and they will walk in the shadows of giants.

Joe Dowling directed that memorable Juno at the Gate, but this year it's the Abbey that will feature his work: in May he will direct Othello, with Peter Macon as the Moor and Marty Rea as Iago; it is likely to be one of the highlights of the year in Irish theatre (2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.)

And arguably of almost equal interest will be a world premiere of something that sounds fascinating. Next month, the Peacock will see Cypress Avenue by David Ireland, a co-production between the Abbey and the Royal Court. It's black comedy, and will star Stephen Rea, in which a loyalist grandfather in Northern Ireland believes his newly-born granddaughter is actually Gerry Adams.

A more serious take on the seeds of Northern Ireland's tragedy will be a revival of Frank McGuinness's Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme at the Abbey in August.

In revivals, catch Pan Pan's fascinating and deservedly award-winning production of Beckett's All that Fall, which will go to the Abbey stage next month. It has already been greeted with acclaim in New York, London, Edinburgh and Sydney, and in May this year will also go to the Kennedy Centre in Washington.

Fishamble will have a national and international tour of Pat Kinevane's shattering trio of one-man plays Forgotten, Silent and Underneath, which show no signs of tiring the public. As well as touring nationally, they will go to Oxford, Dundee, Paisley and the Adelaide Fringe Festival in Australia.

And at the end of the month, Druid's 2011 production of John B. Keane's Big Maggie will be revived at the Gaiety, a slight anti-climax after their deservedly acclaimed Druid Shakespeare, but worth seeing. Keane, after all, had his finger on Ireland's nastiness as few other playwrights have had, and his truth is worth restating lest we become complacent about our supposed tolerance.

And tolerance in possibly more metaphysical form will be back at the Abbey in August, when there will be a new production of Tom Murphy's The Wake, a portrayal of a family in the crisis of blindness to reality.

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