Looking back on theatre 2012

By Charlie McBride

As the Renmore Panto prepares to see out 2012 in its usual colourful style, for the rest of Galway’s theatre community it’s time to pack away the greasepaint, well-thumbed scripts, and assorted props and costumes, and reflect upon another year of enterprising and imaginative dramatic activity. It has been a year with some indelible highlights, both from locally-based companies and visiting ensembles, and continuing displays of commitment, energy, and imagination from the city’s smaller and emergent troupes which itself merits a standing ovation given the straitened financial circumstances under which they operate.

While there has been much to delight Galway theatre-goers over the past year, the untimely death of the Town Hall’s Mike Diskin was a great sorrow and continues to be deeply felt. As well as providing imaginative and varied programming and getting large audiences into the venue, above all else Mike hugely helped the careers of numerous emergent theatre groups and individuals through providing them with the platform, resources, guidance, and backing that enabled them to achieve the success their work merited but might not otherwise have found. The many effusive and heartfelt tributes posted on the Town Hall’s Facebook page in the immediate aftermath of Mike’s death testified to the extent of his impact and the esteem in which he was held, he will continue to be missed.

2012 also saw the passing of the great John Arden, one of the foremost playwrights of his generation and one who, with his wife Margaretta d’Arcy, had long been a vivid presence on Galway’s artistic and cultural scene. To both Arden and Diskin one could echo the words with which Shaw once signed off a letter to Sean O’Casey, “Cheerio, Titan.”

Onstage, Druid once again dominated headlines, and justly so, with their monumental and riveting DruidMurphy trilogy bringing together Tom Murphy’s Conversations on a Homecoming, Whistle in the Dark, and Famine to create a theatrical experience of cumulative, shattering, power in which director Garry Hynes, her designers, and outstanding acting ensemble were all at the top of their game. DruidMurphy toured internationally to rapturous reviews and audiences can look forward to seeing Conversations and Whistle returning here next year.

Another highlight of the past year was Andrew Flynn’s exhilarating production of Pat McCabe’s Butcher Boy at the Galway Arts Festival. Staged by GYT and Galway Community Theatre, Flynn radically revised the play from its original two-man version to one featuring a cast of 35 and got wonderful ensemble performances from his company in what was an outstanding piece of work.

Other Artsfest hits were the National Theatre of Scotland’s exuberant, rollicking Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart and Propellers’ pulsating rendition of Henry V, getting its first Irish staging in over a century. The festival also saw the stage debut of Julian Gough, with the adaptation of his prose work The Great Goat Bubble, directed by Mikel Murfi. A razor sharp and often very funny satire on market excesses, for all its comic brilliance the play never fully transcended its prose origins.

Blue Teapot’s sanctuary offered a sensitive, thought-provoking, look at the issue of romantic/sexual relationships between people of intellectual disability. With a nuanced, thoughtful, and witty script by Christian O’Reilly and fine performances from the Teapots, directed by Petal Tilley, this was another play to linger in one’s memory.

Baboró can always be relied upon to bring over great theatre and the festival did not disappoint this year with the highlight being Scottish troupe Visible Fictions’ terrific staging of Jason and the Argonauts. Featuring two actors, an assortment of plastic action man dolls and clever props, this was a hugely imaginative and entertaining romp through one of the enduring classics of Greek myth.

There is a veritable battalion of smaller companies around town doing sterling work throughout the year and, recession or no, they are all sticking manfully (and womanfully ) to their guns. Mephisto gave a mainstage production of Marina Carr’s The Mai at the Town Hall as well as a very welcome revival of Rita Ann Higgins’ Face Licker Come Home. Fregoli impressed with both Home and Sweetshop (both of which may be revived next year ), and Mick Donnellan’s tireless Truman Town Theatre pulled in audiences for Gun Metal Grey, Velvet Revolution, and Shortcut to Hallelujah. Graham Feeley’s Wolf Meets World made waves with The Three Deaths of Eddie and Bernard Field’s visceral play The Juggler marked the debut of his new company Strip Back Theatre. The burgeoning Galway Theatre Festival once again provided a valuable showcase for some of the best upcoming stage talent in the area and it is carving out a definite niche for itself in the national theatre calendar.

Notable visiting shows over the year included Red Kettle with Edna O’Brien’s Country Girls, Blue Raincoat with Ionesco’s Rhinoceros and Pat Kinevane performing his two superb one man shows, Silent and Forgotten. Just a week or so ago, Clive Francis with his captivating one-man recreation of A Christmas Carol was a perfect seasonal offering to see out the theatrical year.

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

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