Theatre reviews: Galway Arts Festival

Bongile Mantsai, Hilda Cronje, Thoko Ntshinga, and Tandiwe Nofirst Lungisa in Mies Julie. 
Pic: Murdo MacLeod

Bongile Mantsai, Hilda Cronje, Thoko Ntshinga, and Tandiwe Nofirst Lungisa in Mies Julie. Pic: Murdo MacLeod

The Adventures of Shay Mouse: Galway Youth Theatre and Galway Community Theatre, brings Pat McCabe’s early children’s novel to bustling stage life.

Featuring a cast of more than 30 and a live band (led by Carl Kennedy, who also devised the score ), it brings us to Bornacoola Wood in Longford, where Shay Mouse spends his day regaling folk with tall tales of his mighty deeds.

However when a gang of leather-clad rats move into the area, Shay is revealed to be a total spoofer and he quickly takes to his heels. There follows a meandering journey in which Shay encounters colourful characters and adventures before finally returning home renewed and ready to battle the rats.

Director Andrew Flynn employs a large chorus to back the action and from which emerges the various individuals Shay meets in his escapades. There are engaging animal masks designed by Petra Breathnach and a cheerful set by Mary Doyle.

Yet for all its liveliness, fine score, and witty humour the show does not entirely come off. Aside from Shay Mouse (zestfully played by Jarlath Tivnan ), the other characters have little more than cameos so we can never fully engage with them (unlike, for example, Wind In The Willows, where there are four main characters in Mole, Ratty, Badger, and Toad ).

The show might also benefit from trimming 15 minutes or so from its running time, especially with a view to holding the interest of younger viewers.

Riverrun: I am not one of those hardy souls who have braved the depths of Finnegans Wake but Olwen Fouéré gives us a bracing sampler of Joyce’s daunting novel in Riverrun, at Druid Theatre.

Fouéré takes on the part of Anna Livia Plurabelle that primal river of life which courses its way through the pages of the novel. In a neatly-fitted suit, barefoot, and with her long, luminous, hair tied back in a ponytail, Fouéré brings all her considerable physical, vocal, and imaginative skills to bear as she draws us into Joyce’s heady ‘sound-dance’.

Positioned in front of a standing mic, her voice swoops and whispers and sings and undulates, her body sways and weaves while the torrent of Joyce’s words flow through her. There are times when the viewer can get lost in that torrent, with its punning cascades and eddies, and its bewildering whirlpools, but like any river it also has its passages of clarity and calm.

Fouéré also conveys the sense of both the river and the writing’s powerful life-affirming energies. “It’s about allowing the sound to generate an experience which is beyond the words,” she has said, and this is something she achieves in what is a truly outstanding performance.

Fouéré’s skilled collaborators in Riverrun are co-director Kellie Hughes, Stephen Dodd (lighting ), Alma Kelliher (sound ) and Monica Ennis (costume ). Kudos to one and all.

Mies Julie: This play arrives at the Town Hall laden with superlatives and fully lives up to all the hype and expectation. This is a production of gut-churning, visceral, power whose shattering finale provoked audible gasps and cries from the audience.

Director/author Yael Farber relocates Strindberg’s classic to a modern-day South African farmhouse, where the smouldering Julie (Hilda Cronje ) paces the red-tiled floor, afire with pent-up sexual tension, while Xhosa farm-labourer John (Bongile Mantasi ) tries to focus on his work and somehow avoid the erotic heatwave in the room.

Set against the backdrop of Freedom Day celebration, as the evening unfolds John and Julie are inexorably drawn together into a torrid and turbulent coupling that also ignites a fiery sex-and-race power battle between worker and his white employer.

Farber rewrites much of Strindberg’s play to make this ferocious, feral, struggle between John and Julie an immensely powerful metaphor for the wider South African conflict over claims to land ownership and ancestral rights, the country’s ongoing racial divides and difficulties in delivering on the promise of the end of apartheid.

“Welcome to the new South Africa, Mies Julie where miracles leave us exactly where we began,” John remarks bitterly at one point and the play offers little in the way of hopeful prognosis for a land that both John and Julie fiercely love but have yet to find a way to share peacefully.

This is a superb, unforgettable, production, brilliantly directed, acted, choreographed, and hauntingly scored. Bongile and Cronje are incredible throughout and sterling support comes from Zoleka Helesi as Christine (John’s mother ), Tandiwe Nofirst Lungisa as a musician and ancestor, and musicians Mark Fransman and Brydon Bolton. Set and lighting design is by Patrick Curtis.

Shay Mouse continues at Nuns Island at 5pm daily up until Sunday, with extra 1pm matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday.

Riverrun is at Druid nightly until Saturday, with a Saturday matinee at 2pm.

Mies Julie continues at the Town Hall until Saturday and also has a 2pm Saturday matinee.


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