Friday 20 April 2018

Top 10 Dublin Theatre Festival highlights on its 60th anniversary

The Suppliant Women by Aeschylus
The Suppliant Women by Aeschylus
We Come From Far Far Away
Willie White
Owen Roe
The Suppliant Women by Aeschylus

Chris Wasser

It's 60 years since the first Dublin Theatre Festival set up shop in the capital. That's a lot of history: thousands of performances, hundreds of productions, countless memories.

The inaugural DTF, which kicked off in May 1957, was part of An Tóstal, a series of celebratory events nationwide, inspired by a new wave of post-war festivals across Europe.

Tourism was the name of the game, and DTF was initially established to attract international audiences during the off-season. Some things have changed. DTF is now a major autumn soiree. The programme is bigger. The artists now lead the way. The ideas are growing. But, then, some things haven't: DTF still gets people talking. It's still all about the stage. It's still all about theatre.

"People ask me, 'What's the theme?" explains DTF's artistic director, Willie White. "And I say, 'The theme is theatre'. This is a festival of contemporary theatre and people create contemporary theatre in many different ways".

There were 20 productions on the first DTF bill, back in '57. Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock was in there - so, too, was Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

"It was existing work," says White, "gathered together for the purpose of creating a festival, whereas nowadays, with the Irish work, it very strongly leans on world premieres. Obviously, King of the Castle is not brand new - it's the first time it's been seen in quite a long time, and it's a new production - but with the artists making their own work, this is absolutely the first time ever, in the world, that most of these will be seen."

Indeed, King of the Castle (opening at the Gaiety Theatre on October 11) is quite the exception. Eugene McCabe's classic, small-town drama, about a wealthy farmer who cannot father a child, caused a stir back in 1964. Produced by Galway's acclaimed Druid Performing Arts Company, Seán McGinley and Seána Kerslake star.


Elsewhere, we have Aeschylus' The Suppliant Women (written 2,500 years ago - opening at the Gaiety tonight). This boasts a recently-recruited ensemble of more than 50 trained volunteers, performing alongside a professional cast. Ambitious? We're just getting started.

DTF 2017 officially opened its doors last night. Eighteen days. Thirty-one full-scale productions. Seventeen stages, citywide. Yep, it's quite the anniversary billing.

But, as White explains, celebrating the past is one thing. Dwelling on it, is another.

"We want to invite people to the festival that's happening this year. It's not about past glories - that feels a bit exclusive. It's great that we find ourselves, 60 years later, still existing as a festival.

"We're one of the longest running festivals in the country - one of the oldest theatre organisations of one kind or another. But theatre is about the future, and theatre has changed so much, what would be the point of going backwards?"

Hence, the shiny new work. Talking Shop Ensemble and Shaun Dunne's Rapids at Project Arts Centre. Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh's The Second Violinist at the O'Reilly Theatre, Belvedere College. Keith A Wallace's The Bitter Game at axis: Ballymun. This is a room… at Project Arts Centre. The list goes on.

"I am excited and motivated to try and both enjoy and respect the accomplished theatre artists and theatre practice," offers White, "but also to try and give a platform to the next generation, because without the next generation, there won't be a 120th Dublin Theatre Festival."

Wise words. This is White's sixth year as DTF's artistic director. He has programmed the best. There are still several artists on his wish list, and he knows just how risky a process it is to stage new work in Ireland. The competition is real; the resources are finite.

"Resources are the challenge. We've had great support throughout the six years from the Arts Council - the challenge is finding other sources of income to augment the programme".

"Competition is healthy - the competition is good," he continues. "It would be great, let's say, if our Taoiseach was able to deliver on his promise of doubling arts funding in five years that [the artists] can make their work.

"That's one of the, if you like, injustices or frustrations: that there is a new generation that is arriving to a funding system that's quite saturated, and they are as entitled as anybody else to expect to someday succeed; if they establish a track record, to have the resources to make work of their own, and to present to an audience. Hopefully, that will come in time."

For now, the focus is on engaging, provoking and entertaining audiences with DTF 2017.

White is looking forward to welcoming a few long-time friends of the festival (some of whom attended the inaugural outing), alongside the newcomers. So, does he have another six years in him?

He smiles: "The answer always is if I'm doing a good job, hopefully there'll be a reason to be here for however long."

Dublin Theatre Festival 2017 opened last night, running citywide until October 15. For a full programme of events, visit

Top 10 highlights:

∆ King of the Castle

Eugene McCabe's 1964 classic undergoes its first major revival in more than 30 years. Garry Hynes directs. Sean McGinley, Seana Kerslake and Marty Rea feature. Unmissable. Gaiety Theatre, Oct 11-15. Tickets: €16-€46.

∆ Fruits of Labor

Belgium's Miet Warlop presents a "trippy crossover between theatre and concert". There is a drum set involved. It promises to be wild and crazy. We're in. Samuel Beckett Theatre, Oct 13-15. Tickets: €25.

∆ We Come From Far Far Away

An acclaimed theatre show for children, courtesy of New International Encounter (NIE), We Come From Far Far Away incorporates storytelling, shadow puppetry, comedy and live music, and is inspired by true stories. It also takes place inside a traditional Mongolian Yurt. The Ark, Oct 12-15 (Ages 10+). Tickets: €12.

∆ The Suppliant Women

One of the world's oldest plays - a blistering tale about "the plight of refugees, moral and human rights, civil war, democracy and ultimately the triumph of love" - finally comes to Dublin. It'll knock your socks off. Gaiety Theatre, until Oct 1. Tickets: €16-€46.

∆ Girl Song

Dance-theatre artist and creator, Emma Martin, invites us to lose ourselves in an "ode to the extraordinary details of an ordinary existence." Samuel Beckett Theatre, Oct 4-8. Tickets: €15-€25.

∆ Nora

Belinda McKeon and Annie Ryan's new work, inspired by Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, receives its world premiere. Ryan co-stars, alongside Venetia Bowe and Clare Perkins. Project Arts Centre (Space Upstairs), Sept 27-Oct 1/Oct 3-8. Tickets: €20-€30.

∆ The Sin Eaters

The award-winning ANU company present a "searingly intimate investigation into the corrupting force of the Irish family." Louise Lowe directs. Katie Honan and Una Kavanagh feature. Pigeon House Lab, Poolbeg, Sept 28-Oct 1 /Oct 3-8/Oct 10-15. Tickets: €15-€25.

∆ Melt Shane Mac an Bhaird and Rough Magic's highly-anticipated 'fairytale', set in the Antarctic, starring the great Owen Roe as a "pioneering Irish ecologist gone rogue." Lynne Parker directs. Smock Alley Theatre, Main Space. Sept 28-Oct 1/Oct 3-8. Tickets: €20-€30.

∆ Ulysses

No introduction required. Dermot Bolger adapts James Joyce's classic novel for the stage. Janet Moran and Garrett Lombard feature. Abbey Theatre, Oct 2-28. Tickets: €13-€45.



A parent-teacher meeting goes sideways in Iseult Golden and David Horan's brand new, classroom-set dramedy. Stephen Jones, Sarah Morris and Will O'Connell co-star. Civic Theatre, until Sept 30. Tickets: €12-€16/The New Theatre, Oct 3-8, 10-14.Tickets: €14-€20.


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