AND SO the curtain falls on another year of playgoing and diverse theatrical activity; a year that saw much impressive work from both visiting and locally based companies.
Among highlights of the former were productions from the ‘big three’ Dublin companies, the Abbey, the Gate, and Rough Magic.
Rough Magic brought their rambunctious, innovative, and hugely entertaining staging of Taming Of The Shrew, which relocated the action to 1950s Ireland and featured terrific ensemble performances, including from Owen Roe and Pauline McLynn as the play’s central couple Petrucio and Katherina.
The Abbey and the Gate also brought memorable productions; the Abbey with Conor McPherson’s bleakly funny, booze-soaked drama The Seafarer (the cast of which featured Galway’s Maeliosa Stafford ) and the Gate with their classic staging of Waiting for Godot.
The Association of Regional Theatres brought an outstanding production of Juno and the Paycock with Garret Keogh as Captain Boyle, Brid Ní Neachtain as Juno, and fine direction by Galway Youth Theatre’s Andrew Flynn.
Other stand-out visiting work over the year included the Galway Arts Festival shows, Giselle and Molora. The former saw Fabulous Beast - just as Rough Magic did with Shrew - daringly and utterly successfully relocate the classic ballet of Giselle to rural Ireland. By turns funny, violent, and tender, it was a riveting experience.
Yael Farber’s Molora also relocated a classic text to powerful effect; in this case using Aeschylus’s Greek tragedy Oresteia as a prism through which to explore South Africa’s attempts to come to terms with its apartheid past.
It was a good year for local companies also. Druid staged Enda Walsh’s New Electric Ballroom. Directed by the author, this was an emotionally intense, poignant, and funny tale of fragile hopes and broken dreams. Rosaleen Linehan, Val Lilley, Catherine Walsh and Mikel Murfi comprised the fine cast.
The play was the centrepiece of a Walsh season done during the Galway Arts Festival which saw the company present two of his one acts and, in a busy programme, revive the Druid Debut showcasing works from promising emergent writers.
Druid also renewed their successful association with Martin McDonagh to present The Cripple of Inishmaan and had a busy and successful touring programme with a number of productions travelling around Ireland, Britain, and the US.
The clutch of talented young theatre companies which have emerged in Galway over recent years were given a much-deserved and well-received showcase for their work with the inaugural Galway Theatre Festival, staged by Galway Arts Centre. This saw fine productions from Moonfish, Dragonfly, Selkie, Mephisto, and Zelig theatre companies and amply demonstrated the level of talent and energy currently animating the local theatre scene.
There was good news too for locally-based Decadent Theatre Co with the award of an Arts Council grant of €40, 000 to facilitate their world premiere staging of Mark Dillon’s London-Irish drama Character, a Faustian drama of ageing men coming to terms with criminal pasts.
While the awarding of the Arts Council funding is to be applauded, it also raises the broader question of how the sort of lively young companies cited above will fare in the long run.
Decadent’s award came after eight years of presenting work; which suggests the likes of Moonfish, Dragonfly, Theatrecorp, et al, may have to battle on with their own resources for some time to come. We will watch developments on this front with interest.
Finally, 2008 also proved to be a bumper year for the city’s main theatre venue, the Town Hall. Attendances there - and the Black Box - increased by a whopping 33 per cent over the previous year. Recession? What recession!