Theatre reviews: Galway Arts Festival

The Propeller cast in Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The Propeller cast in Shakespeare’s Henry V.

EDWARD HALL’S all-male Propeller theatre company have become firm Galway Arts Festival favourites in recent years and they deliver the goods yet again with Henry V at the Black Box in a staging that is brimful of verve and brio.

Propeller’s ensemble flair and imagination sees the company vividly evoke “the vasty fields of France” and the mayhem of combat with clever staging such as the scene where a huddled, swaying, body of troops crouched behind two forward-sloping rectangular wooden panels creates the impression of a landing craft.

The production also catches both the stirring uplift of those moments where Henry (in an energetic and nuanced performance from Dugald Bruce-Lockhart ) rouses his army with inspiring speeches like ‘St Crispin’s Day’ alongside Shakespeare’s clear-eyed sensitivity to the grimmer and bloodier realities of warfare.

The latter aspects are most clearly expressed both in Henry’s chillingly phrased threat to pillage the town of Harfleur if it does not surrender and, later, on the eve of Agincourt in the speech from the lowly soldier Williams who observes that “few die well who die in battle” and vividly details the terror and agony of such a death.

There is also room for some terrific comic scenes, such as those where France’s Princess Kate attempts to learn English and, later, is wooed by Henry where her lack of English and his lack of French provides much laughter.

As always with Propeller, music plays a strong role in the production and here we get everything from The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ to The Pogue’s ‘Pair of Brown Eyes’ to a spellbinding ‘Te Deum’. It is a terrific show.

Henry V is at the Black Box Theatre tonight at 7pm, tomorrow at 1pm, and Saturday at 7.30pm.

ONE OF the definite stand-out shows of this year’s festival is Frank Pig Says Hello, co-produced by Galway Youth Theatre and Galway Arts Centre Community Drama.

When Pat McCabe first scripted this adaptation of his novel The Butcher Boy, it deployed only a cast of two. Here, Andrew Flynn assembles a cast of 35 and creates a full and teeming canvas, aided by Eoin McCarthaigh’s wonderful design, that completely transforms the stage version. It works brilliantly, with great ensemble playing and a riveting central performance from Jarlath Tivnan as Piglet/Francie Brady.

Frank Pig... continues throughout the festival at Nuns Island Theatre at 8pm nightly, and with a 3pm matinee on Saturday.

LIKE PROPELLER, actor John Mahoney has become a welcome and frequent, visitor to the arts festival and this year saw him in Bruce Graham’s The Outgoing Tide from Chicago’s Northlight Theatre Company.

Mahoney played retired union negotiator Gunner, a proud and ageing man who learns he is succumbing to Alzheimer’s and has hit on the idea of ending his own life so that he will no longer be a burden to his family. This sets up a wrenching tug-of-love between himself and his long-suffering wife Peggy (Rondi Reed ) and son Jack (Thomas J Cox ).

Graham’s script skilfully blended sharp pathos with equally sharp humour and, under BJ Jones’ deft and sensitive direction, all three actors turned in totally absorbing performances. A joy from start to finish.

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