Galway theatre in 2013 review

Kelly McAuley and Marie Mullen in The Colleen Bawn.

Kelly McAuley and Marie Mullen in The Colleen Bawn.

SO THE curtain comes down on another 12 months of theatre-going and there was no shortage of exciting shows to hold and captivate audiences’ imaginations throughout 2013.

Druid saw the year out with a spirited and entertaining staging of Dion Boucicault’s 19th century comedy-melodrama, The Colleen Bawn, Garry Hynes’ fine ensemble taking to their roles with relish a-plenty. A zestful mix of villainy, intrigue, romance, and humour (plus a sprinkling of blarney ) it also works in some pointed observations on Irish class divisions and prejudices.

The performances are hugely enjoyable throughout, including Aisling O’Sullivan’s hilarious heiress Anne Chute; Marty Rea’s flustered and conflicted Hardress Cregan, Maeliosa Stafford’s oleaginous Corrigan, Marie Mullen’s two maternal roles, and Aaron Monaghan’s slavish lackey Danny Mann. A real crowd pleaser for the season that’s in it.

And it was a nice to see Druid recently rename their theatre the Mick Lally Theatre in honour of the much-loved actor. A fitting memorial.

Another seasonal crowd pleaser was the recent return of leading English actor Clive Francis with his own one man adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Brilliantly bringing to life Scrooge and all the other characters in Dickens’ ageless classic, this was a virtuoso performance that captivated the Town Hall audience.

Indeed one-actor plays provided some of the most memorable highlights of the past year, and two of them were from the Galway Arts Festival, Olwen Foueré’s take on Finnegan’s Wake in Riverrun and Tom Vaughan Lawlor in Howie the Rookie.

In Riverrun, Foueré took on the part of Anna Livia Plurabelle, the primal river of life that courses mightily through Joyce’s novel. Positioned in front of a standing mic, her voice swooped and whispered and sang while her body swayed and weaved as the torrent of Joyce’s words flowed through her.

Certainly there are times when one can get lost in that torrent, with its punning cascades and eddies, its bewildering whirlpools, but like any river it also has its passages of clarity and calm and Foueré conveyed the sense of both the river and the writing’s powerful life-affirming energies in what was a truly outstanding performance.

Equally remarkable was Tom Vaughan Lawlor’s bravura performance of both roles in Mark O’Rowe’s Howie the Rookie (directed by the author ). He was electrifying as he conjured O’Rowe’s two marginal figures, Howie Lee and Rookie Lee, and their assorted sidekicks and nemeses in a drama fizzing with brio and élan from first minute to the last.

Another truly memorable play from the Galway Arts Festival was Yael Farber’s Mies Julie, a production of gut-churning, visceral power whose shattering finale provoked gasps from the audience. Farber relocated Strindberg’s classic to a modern-day South African farmhouse, where the smouldering Julie (Hilda Cronje ) paced the red-tiled floor afire with pent-up sexual tension while Xhosa farm-labourer John (Bongile Mantasi ) tried to focus on his work and avoid the erotic heatwave in the room.

John and Julie were inexorably drawn together into a torrid coupling that also ignites a fiery sex-and-race power battle between worker and his white employer.

Farber made this fierce struggle a 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 remarked bitterly at one point.

The arts festival also offered a welcome return run for Blue Teapot’s Sanctuary by Christian O’Reilly, a sensitive and warm drama about the difficulties for people with intellectual disabilities to have romantic relationships. First seen at last year’s Galway Theatre Festival, the play’s appearance at the arts festival, and subsequent visit to the Dublin Fringe, got glowing reviews, all richly deserved. A terrific year for Blue Teapot was crowned in November when the company received an Arts and Culture Award from the Galway County Council.

Both the Galway Fringe and Galway Theatre festivals continued to offer platforms to small and upcoming companies from both the city and farther afield. With the Fringe now having grown to a two week event it certainly bears out that there is no shortage of eager and talented theatre makers coming through the ranks. Both festivals are welcome presences on the city’s arts scene.

Mephisto graced the Galway Theatre Festival with David Harrower’s Blackbird and the Town Hall with an excellent, and timely, revival of Patricia Burke Brogan’s Eclipsed. Decadent Theatre Company kept up its reputation for compelling work with Eden and A Skull in Connemara. Irish language drama enjoyed Macdara O’Fatharta’s Tom Murphy adaptationof An Tioranach Drogallach and Fibín’s lively updating of Irish myth with Setanta by Paul Mercier.

Aside from the three solo plays mentioned already, there were a string of others sprinkled throughout the year that afforded much pleasure, including Rob Crouch’s affectionate evocation of the rollicking life of Oliver Reed, Wild Thing; Peter Duffy’s fine rendition of Kavanagh’s The Great Hunger at the Galway Fringe; and Mirjana Rendulic’s Broken Promise Land about the life of an exotic dancer.

It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues into next year. We shall soon find out!


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