THE GALWAY Arts Festival unveiled its 2009 programme last week and, as ever, it’s chock-a-block with top-drawer attractions from both home and abroad. Theatre and dance - as ever,- feature strongly in the line-up and last Friday, over an afternoon coffee, festival director Paul Fahy met up to talk through some of this year’s highlights.
While the festival has attracted some blue-chip overseas companies to perform in this year’s programme, there’s no denying that one of the theatrical highlights will be the reunion of Tom Murphy with Druid Theatre Company for a new staging of his masterpiece, The Gigli Concert, widely acknowledged as one of the great Irish plays of recent decades. This will be the play’s first professional staging in Galway and Paul Fahy is visibly delighted to have it as part of the festival programme.
“It makes complete sense to be reviving it now and it’s part of a perfect festival package from Druid,” he says. “Gigli Concert gives us the reunion of Tom with director Garry Hynes and you also have the venue re-opening as well after its refurbishment. It’s an event that conjures memories of Bailegangaire and Conversations On A Homecoming, etc, when Tom and Druid last worked together. You couldn’t ask for more. And Druid are also presenting two Druid Debuts, showcasing talented new writers, and a Synge commemorative evening at St Nicholas’s so it’s a bit like Druid has a little mini-festival of its own!”
One of the most notable visiting ensembles this year is Edward Hall’s all-male Propeller Theatre Company who will present two of their much-acclaimed Shakespearean productions; A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Merchant of Venice.
“They’re absolutely fantastic productions!” Fahy enthuses. “Edward Hall is a brilliant director. He works with an all male company, which of course Shakespeare himself would have done. The first night I saw Midsummer, I knew within five minutes it was going to be amazing and it was. Funnily enough, within 15 minutes or so of the start you forget that it is male actors in the roles and you just think ‘that’s Titania, that’s Helena’.
“I love the way Hall works, he retains a company of actors as long as he can and you can really see the benefit of that in his productions; the actors know and understand each other so well. Another interesting feature of these two shows is that it’s the same cast in both plays.
They’ll be performing the plays in rep; one night Midsummer, the next Merchant. We don’t often get the chance of seeing high-profile professional Shakespeare productions so Propeller’s visit with these two plays will be a real treat.”
Palace Of The End
Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre Co come to the festival with Judith Thompson’s Palace Of The End, a triptych of monologues set against the backdrop of the Iraq war.
“Judith Thompson is a Canadian playwright and this play is one of the strongest pieces of writing I’ve come across in ages,” Fahy reveals. “The three stories that make up the play, are all based around the conflict in Iraq. One of them is the story of Lynndie England the American female soldier who was photographed mis-treating prisoners in Abu Ghraib; the story is told from her point of view and how and why those things happened.
“Another of the stories is set at the time of the first Gulf War and depicts a woman living in Baghdad whose family has been persecuted by the Saddam Hussein regime. The third character in the play is based on the British scientist David Kelly who leaked the story that the Government’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’ evidence was suspect and then committed suicide following his exposure to the media.
“His story in the play is set during the final hours of his life. Taken together the monologues add up to something that is quite harrowing but is also a brilliant piece of writing. It’s very simply presented and there is just immense power in the performances and the writing. I love that political-edged theatre and it’s also an element we carry through to other elements of the festival such as the talks or the exhibition on child soldiers.”
A real coup for the festival is the visit of renowned choreographer Michael Clark’s company with a new show. Since forming 25 years ago, Clark and his company have changed the face of British dance and he is renowned for legendary collaborations with bands, fashion designers and visual artists.
Critically hailed as “British dance’s true iconoclast,” Clark creates work that combines his classical fluency with a twisted contemporary sensibility. Fahy reveals that the show Clark is taking to Galway has a strong rock-music element to it.
“David Bowie has done the music for it. The show is still in rehearsal but I’ve seen a couple of little bits from it and it looks very exciting. Clark is one the icons of dance; what Baryshnikov or Margot Fonteyn were to ballet he is to contemporary dance. He is a real icon of contemporary dance. His work is very very visual. The new show is a tribute to the kind of glam rock era and the music created by Bowie, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop.
“Clark also has a very interesting designer working with him called Charles Atlas who’s worked with people like Merce Cunningham, Leigh Bowery and Anthony and the Johnsons, he’s a very ‘rock and roll’ kinda designer.”
Fahy is also delighted to welcome back Australian circus-theatre troupe Circa with an all-new production. A physically astonishing show, Furioso explores the shape and form of fury. Explosive encounters, dynamic group scenes and achingly beautiful solos abound in a show the pushes the boundaries of human physicality in a turbulent blend of bodies, skill, and emotion.
“This is a fantastic new show!” Fahy declares. “I love Circa, am a big fan of them, and we have built a strong partnership now between the festival and the company following their earlier visits here. Yaron Lifschitz [Circa director] has a way of working that is very collaborative. There is great co-operation with whoever is doing the music, the design, the performers, and so on. Furioso is a very different show to any we’ve had before. There are very few companies to touch Circa in the way they combine different styles.”
Street theatre and spectacle is always an exciting element of the festival and this year is no exception. The Macnas parade reverts to a night-time slot and director Noeline Kavanagh puts a distinctive stamp on the event.
“Noeline has stripped back the way Macnas have worked and very much put her own vision on it,” Fahy explains. “There won’t be large static floats that don’t permit much in the way of movement. She’s very interested in everything in the parade being able to interact with the audiences, so there’s much more of a kinetic slant to this year’s parade.
“A lot of the elements will be along the lines of the one pictured in the festival brochure where they are lit from within, and a lot of them look like they’re made from scrap or found objects. She has a very clear vision of where she wants to take the company and I think it will make a big impact.”
There’s more zany street antics from Theatre Titanick.
“They’re from Germany,” says Fahy. “Their show features these four machines that are sort of built like bicycles, but with loads of mechanical objects attached. The idea is they’re competing against each other to see who can make their machine fly.”
With the festival also featuring strong work from the likes of Decadent, GYT, Taibhdhearc and Dragonfly, it all adds up to a real feast of theatre and dance. Hurry on July!