Theatre highlights of 2011

AND SO another year winds down and, over a seasonal mince pie and mulled wine, we can reflect on the past 12 months of Galway play-going.

One heartening aspect of the local theatre scene is that it’s showing considerable resilience amidst our recession-hit economy. The Town Hall’s Mike Diskin reports that his venue’s audiences have remained at much the same healthy levels of the past few years while there was strong support this year for the locally produced main-stage shows.

These included Mephisto Theatre’s welcome revival of Bryan McMahon’s very fine, but seldom-staged, play The Honey Spike, two substantial Andrew Flynn-directed productions from Decadent - Brian Friel’s Faith Healer and Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer- and Theatrecorp’s strong staging of The Glass Menagerie, directed by Max Hafler.

There was also great audience response to two new plays written and directed by Mick Donnellan. Sunday Morning Coming Down and Shortcut to Hallelujah both offered grimly humorous depictions of the world of heavy drinkers in rural Ireland and had sell-out runs in the Town Hall followed by national tours.

Touring also featured prominently in what was another hugely successful year for Druid. Three of the company’s productions – Penelope, The Silver Tassie, and Cripple of Inis Maan made much-acclaimed forays to the United States.

Cripple’s five-month Irish and US tour was Druid’s longest single run of a production on tour in the company’s history. Its 17-week coast-to-coast tour of the USA was the biggest US tour undertaken by an Irish company in decades, while the tour ended in June with two performances on Inis Meáin, which was the first time the play was performed on the island.

The year ended on a high note with a stirring production of John B Keane’s Big Maggie featuring a commanding performance from Aisling O’Sullivan in the title role. The production is currently on tour around the country prior to revisiting the Town Hall in January.

Druid also announced their plans for what will certainly be one of the highpoints of next year’s theatre calendar; the epic DruidMurphy project in which they will stage Tom Murphy’s Famine, Conversations on a Homecoming, and Whistle in the Dark. This will be the biggest theatre project in the company’s history, featuring an ensemble cast of 19 actors and a touring company of 32 and it will tour Ireland, Britain, and the USA. All three plays will be directed by Garry Hynes.

There were memorable theatre productions in this year’s Galway Arts Festival line-up, notably Enda Walsh’s Misterman in which Cillian Walsh returned to the stage and delivered a bravura performance in this electrifying one-man show about disturbed evangelist Thomas Magill and his doomed attempts to instil godliness into his local rural community.

Having wowed audiences at the arts festival the play recently opened in New York with similar results, drawing standing ovations at its opening.

Another one-man Artsfest show which made a big impact was Silent, written and performed by Pat Kinevane. The play looks at the troubled life of a homeless man, Tino McGoldrig, who relives the wounds of his past through the romantic world of Rudolph Valentino, in a brave, bleak, beautiful production which also won a Fringe First

Award at Edinburgh and will return to the Town Hall in February.

Edward Hall’s all-male Propeller Theatre Company also earned many Artsfest kudos with their fantastic double-helping of Shakespeare - Richard III and The Comedy of Errors. Comedy of Errors was located in a modern-day Mediterranean holiday resort and every ounce of comic potential in the plot’s tale of lost twins re-united was richly realised in a scintillating staging that fizzed with comic brio and inventiveness.

The sunny brilliance of that play contrasted with the louring darkness of Richard III. Set in some kind of asylum/slaughterhouse with various murderous blades and instruments hanging from the set’s steel gantries and many of the cast attired in long coats and face masks it vividly evoked the bloody and tyrannic atmosphere of Richard’s realm.

Over the course of the year there was a range of impressive touring shows which passed through town. These included Padraic McIntyre’s superb comedy-drama, The Night Joe Dolan’s Car Broke Down, a play that has since become a national smash hit and is about to get a repeat run at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre due to public demand.

Among other visiting productions to impress were Elaine Murphy’s bittersweet comedy Little Gem, Billy Roche’s atmospheric Lay Me Down Softly, Carmel Winters’ award-winning B for Baby (in a touring production by The Abbey ), Mark Ryan’s expressionistic Sean Tyrone, presented by Welsh troupe Company of Swans, and Pan Pan’s wildly inventive and frequently very funny re-imagining and probing of Hamlet in Playing the Dane. Washington’s Keegan Theatre Company made their annual autumn visit with a thoughtful, nuanced, staging of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

The Baboró Festival showed once again that theatre devised for children can be every bit as imaginative, accomplished, and thought-provoking as ‘grown-up’ plays. Among the delights at this year’s festival was Horse and Bamboo’s magical Little Red Riding Hood, French company Velo Theatre There’s A Rabbit In The Moon and, from Spain, Aracaladanza’s dance-theatre piece Nubes/Clouds.

The Galway Theatre Festival entered its fourth year and this year’s festival was the biggest one yet. The event continues to offer a valuable platform for the region’s up and coming theatrical talents.

Tyger, Mephisto, Fregoli and Dragonfly, and Truman theatre companies were among the enterprising troupes to feature in the line up. The burgeoning strength of the festival and genuine quality of its participants suggest that Galway audiences can continue to look forward to seeing fine plays in the months and years ahead – recession or no!

Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie

 

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