‘We’ve had to be imaginative in the way we present things’

GIAF artistic director Paul Fahey on what the festival has in store for the city and county this autumn

IN 2020, the Galway International Arts Festival declared the autumn programme of events that year would be the only time the festival ever took place outside July.

Covid-19 had other ideas, and forced a re-think on that stance, leading to a second autumn GIAF for 2021 - but it was the right call, for in so doing, Paul Fahy, John Crumlish, et al, will be giving Galway a way to celebrate the end of summer, and a September we can look forward to.

Indeed for a festival taking place when restrictions still demand social distancing, limited numbers indoors, no large crowds, and for a number of shows to take place online, GIAF has assembled a line-up that would be impressive in any year - Domhnaill Gleeson in the new play by Enda Walsh, Nigerian-Irish singer-songwriter Tolü Mackey, indie band NewDad, artists John Gerrard and Ger Sweeney, leading Irish classical pianist Finghin Collins, and shows from Galway companies Druid, Fibín, and Breanar.

“Moving to the autumn was the only way to make the festival happen,” GIAF artistic director Paul Fahy tells me during our Tuesday morning interview. “We knew we wanted to have audiences in the room, and I’m happy we moved the date of the festival so we could present work in person. There will still be restrictions and limitations, but there is nothing like that spark you get, sitting in a venue, waiting for the performer to appear.”


GIAF 2021, which runs from August 28 to September 18, will be a hybrid festival featuring in-person shows, outdoor performances, and streamed events - both live and recorded. “We’ve had to be imaginative in the way we present things,” says Paul, “and we’ve found ways to encompass the county and the city, indoors and outdoors and online.”


Domhnall Gleeson. Photo:- Alex Sapienza

Medicine, written and directed by Enda Walsh, and starring Domhnall Gleeson, will be a major event (Black Box Theatre, live, livestream, view on demand ). “This will be the full bells and whistles production we normally do with Enda,” says Paul. “Knowing there will be people in the room, but also having to prepare this for live streaming is interesting. Enda has to think about camera angles and how viewers on the screen will see it as well.”

Similar approaches will be taken with The Seagull [after Chekhov] by Thomas Kilroy, directed by Garry Hynes, in a Druid production filmed exclusively for GIAF. “It’s almost like a new artform, fusing digital and film,” says Paul, “but steaming the shows means we can reach people in America, Asia, and that will give it a communal experience. I think the digital element of festivals will certainly remain after Covid.”


A theatrical sound experience adaptation of Blindness, the dystopian novel by the Nobel Prize-winner José Saramago, will be presented in The Mick Lally Theatre by the award-winning playwright Simon Stephens.

“This really speaks to the times we are living in, as the novel imagines what would happen if everyone in the world went blind,” says Paul. “People will sit in the Mick Lally, two meters apart, be given headphones, and then experience this immersive installation.”

In the county

Theatre will not only be in the city and online, but it will be in the county and the islands. Excitingly, Company SJ, the Abbey Theatre, the Dublin Theatre Festival, and GIAF will present Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days as Gaeilge live on Inis Oírr. Beckett sa Creig: Leathanta Sona stars Bríd Ní Neachtain and Raymond Keane.


“This will be spectacular,” says Paul. “You’ll be walking up this stony beach, the Atlantic Ocean behind you, and there you’ll come across Winnie’s mound, where the play will take place.”

Branar Theatre will present Sruth na Teanga at the Galway Airport site in Carnmore. Devised by the company and directed by Marc MacLochlainn, it will combine puppetry, music, video mapping, and live performance. “Marc MacLochlainn should be hoisted aloft and declared a national hero,” says Paul. “This work is so imaginative and it’s world class.”


As we come to the end of the centenary of the War of Independence, Fibín Sa Taibhdhearc, will present Cogadh na Saoirse, a play about that war, written and directed by Philip Doherty, and staged in Baile na hAbhann.

Other shows to see

Decadent Theatre will present There Are Little Kingdoms by Kevin Barry, directed by Andrew Flynn, chronicling life in the towns and cities of a changing land (live, Town Hall Theatre ); Luke Murphy’s Attic Projects, will present a new work in four parts, mixing theatre, dance, and sci-fi thriller (Nun's Island Theatre, live and online ).

Fidget Feet Aerial Dance Theatre will present A Handful of Dreams, a heart-warming outdoor show which combines aerial and circus arts (live, Commercial Boat Club, Woodquay ). Also at the Commercial Boat Club will be a virtual reality experience from Brú Theatre that merges dance, song, poetry, and the Connemara landscape.


There will also be an immersive new work from Enda Walsh, Bedsit (Columban Hall, Sea Road ), and After Love, a collaborative project, led by choreographer, dancer, and actor Stephanie Dufresne, and based on the debut poetry collection by Dani Gill.

St Nicholas Concerts

An absolute highlight of GIAF 21 will be the live streamed concerts from St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, presented with Other Voices, and featuring NewDad, Anna Mullarkey, Tolü Makay, and Susan O’Neill and Mick Flannery.

“I’ve been a great admirer of Other Voices, and of Philip King through his work on that programme and Scullion,” says Paul, “and while Other Voices is recorded in St James Church in Dingle, these shows will be coming from our own, beautiful, chuch, St Nicholas’, which is a wonderful, ambient, space. Both NewDad and Anna Mullarkey are Galway, and I think the whole thing will be very special. I think we’ll get a wide audience for it.”



Other festival concerts are Contempo25, celebrating the 25th birthday of the ConTempo Quartet, with special guest Finghin Collins (live at St Nicholas’ ), and ‘e-motions CelloVision’ with the Resurgam choir, Luminosa Orchestra, cellist Adrian Mantu, accordionist Dermot Dunne and guests (Galway Cathedral and online ).

Visual arts and First Though Talks

As with Festival 2020, John Gerrard’s Mirror Pavilion will form a centrepiece event and the key visual arts exhibition of the festival. This year, the structure - three sides and the roof clad in a highly reflective mirror, with the fourth wall a high–resolution LED screen - will bne located in the 4,000 year-old Derrigimlagh Bog in Connemara.


“I’m glad we’re finally able to make this possible, '' says Paul. “It’s quite a challenge to build the Pavillion in the middle of a bog, but it will be something to see there, a work commenting on climate change and the environment, standing in the middle of 4,000 years of history.”

Precarious Freedom: Crowds, Flags, Barriers also speaks to contemporary concerns, and may also prove a memorable exhibition. “This is a really powerful documentation of protest,” says Paul, “drawing on Black Lives Matter and other movements, and there are also a series of pen and ink drawings, it's a very powerful series of work about the human voice. She also has a display of EU flags with the UK flag standing isolated.”

Other exhibitions include Architecture at The Edge’s With House of Memory (Festival Gallery ); Interface, Broken Vessels, featuring Irish and South African artists (Lough Inagh Valley Salmon Hatchery, Connemara ); Decade, spanning 10 years of Ger Sweeney’s work (Galway Arts Centre ); the imPRESSions 2021 fine art printmaking exhibition (online ); Reliquary of Beasts, focussing on animals in art (126 Artist–Run Gallery ); They Heard Her Voice in the Lapping Waters, featuring work by JoJo Hynes inspired by female water deities (Engage Art Studios, Lower Salthill ); and a photo exhibition in Áras Éanna, Inis Oírr, to mark the production of the Irish language version of Happy Days.



Bonnie Greer.

The First Thought series will include a mix of live and online-only events, curated by Catriona Crowe, which will be broadcast across GIAF’s digital platforms. Guests will include Sinéad Burke, Misha Glenny; Bonnie Greer; Fintan O’Toole; Noelle Browne; Diarmaid Ferriter, Peter Lunn, and Teresa Lambe. There will also be the Vinyl Hours talks where Sinead Burke, Niamh Regan, and Brian Kerr will discuss their favourite albums and songs with Tiernan Henry (O’Donoghue Theatre NUI Galway, live and online ).

Tickets go on sale at 10am on Friday July 16 from www.giaf.ie


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