Galway Theatre Festival - round up and review

My Poet Dark and Slender, Drawing Crosses on a Dusty Windowpane, Ghosts, Mary, Mary, Mary

THE GALWAY Theatre Festival concluded last weekend and its array of shows certainly augur well for the upcoming generation of local and national theatre makers.

While the festival is still something of the young kid on the block compared to the arts festival, film fleadh, and Cúirt, it has a burgeoning reputation for showcasing some of the best emergent Irish theatrical talent. This year’s event spanned nine days and featured more than 30 productions ,which is good going in anyone’s books. On top of that, the festival also did a fine job of attracting younger audiences to its well-attended events. With so many shows on offer, this review is restricted to a brief sampling of the festive wares.

Mmm Theatre’s My Poet Dark and Slender, at Druid’s Mick Lally Theatre, was loosely based on a Padraic O’Conaire story in which a woman recalls a passionate affair with an enigmatic poet. Devised by the company and deftly directed by Roisin Stack, this was an imaginative, lively, adaptation that melded words, choreography, music (scored by Aindrias de Staic ), masks and lighting to great effect.

There was also fine ensemble playing from Daniel Guinnane, Jo Lopez, Lucia Smyth, Muirenn Ní Raghallaigh, and Réidín Ní Thuama Stack and co, which ranged far beyond O’Conaire in the course of the play, drawing in snippets from the likes of Joan Didion and John McCormack. The medley of elements and styles could have jarred in less skilful hands but Mmm Theatre carried it off with great verve.

Also at the Mick Lally Theatre was Drawing Crosses on a Dusty Windowpane, written by Dylan Coburn Gray, directed by Liam Halligan and performed by Claire Galvin. This too featured memory as a theme as Galvin’s character evoked a beloved uncle who had passed away. Shoes scattered in clusters around the stage were dipped into and paired off to serve as visual symbols of family members mentioned in the story.

The script was lyrical and poetic and shows Gray to be a writer of real ability. However, as can sometimes happen with monologues, it was also theatrically static and ultimately felt like something better enjoyed on the page. Neither Halligan’s direction nor Galvin’s performance, for all their merits, managed to energize it sufficiently as a piece of fully successful drama.

Dance was much to the fore in the festival in productions like Sonar Theatre’s Ghosts, at An Taibhdhearc, which drew its inspiration from Dante’s Divine Comedy. This production won ‘Best Ensemble’ at last year’s ISDA festival and featured a cast of nine female performers. The white-clad Alison Sheary was the ‘Unknown’ pilgrim who had to contend with a troupe of hooded, black-robed, figures (named for the circles of Hell ) who sought to thwart her progress.

The masked Guide, played by Susan Collins, completed the cast. Fluid movement, dynamic combinations of figures, atmospheric music and lighting all combined in an absorbing production that whet one’s appetite for further work from this company. Kudos also to director Martin Kenny.

Another all-female cast featured in Fregoli Theatre’s beguiling Mary, Mary, Mary, also at An Taibhdhearc. Written by Maria Tivnan, who co-directed with Kate Murray, this was engagingly performed by Tracy Bruen, Eimear Kilmartin, and Eilish McCarthy. Tivnan’s deftly-woven script provided an impressionistic, mosaic-like view of the lives of three generations of women from the same family that was a pleasure from first to last.

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