A WEEK and a half into the 40th GIAF and the highlight so far for yours truly, and many others, was Kneehigh Theatre Company’s Tristan & Yseult. Emma Rice’s exuberant, funny, romantic and moving take on the story of a medieval love triangle was a joy from start to finish.
Brilliantly blending Pythonesque comedy, live music, and marvellous ensemble acting the play updated the story of King Mark of Cornwall, his Irish bride Yseult and her knightly lover Tristan to a modern setting where the tale is narrated by a “Chorus of the Unloved” and is as much about the sorrows of romance as its joys. Hannah Vassallo (Iseult ), Mike Shepherd (King Mark ), and Dominic Marsh (Tristan ) led the way amid a wonderful medley of performances which were greeted with a tumultuous standing ovation at the final curtain.
Another highpoint was Brian Wilson at the Big Top performing Pet Sounds and assorted Beach Boys classics. Now aged 75, Brian’s voice is a tad raggy these days and he looked frail, but the superb band – with Al Jardine’s son Matt taking the high vocals - delivered the much-loved Beach Boys repertoire brilliantly and hearing the whole crowd sing along to ‘God Only Knows’ was a memorable moment.
Director Andrew Flynn was at the double with Abbie Spallen’s Pumpgirl for Decadent Theatre Company and David Greig’s Yellow Moon, a co-staging by Galway Youth Theatre and Galway Community Theatre, both in Nuns Island Theatre. Spallen’s monologue-driven play showed a grimier love triangle than Tristan & Yseult, featuring the eponymous garage-worker Pumpgirl, rally driver Hammy and his wife Sinead.
Spallen’s writing was full of rich characterisation, lively shafts of humour and sharp insight into small-town life on the Irish border (she is from Newry ). Given its monologue format, possibly the play would have been better as a 90-minute straight through story rather than its 2-hour, 2-act length. Samantha Heaney, who also played Pumpgirl for the Lyric Theatre and in the film version of the play, again displayed her innate grasp of the character and Seona Tully as Sinead and Patrick Ryan also excelled.
Flynn had previously directed Yellow Moon with GYT for Cúirt in 2010 and revisits it here to good effect. This is a Scottish Bonny & Clyde tale of runaway teens Stag Lee (vividly played by Jarlath Tivnan ) and Silent Leila (a lovely performance from Maria Dillon ). The duo run away to a Highlands hunting estate after Stag fatally stabs his stepfather where they hang out with Stag’s real dad (Frank, played by Mike King ) but tragedy ultimately engulfs their time together. Flynn marshalled and manoeuvred his large cast with his customary skill and there was lovely live musical accompaniment by Emily Donoghue (black mark for omitting her from programme credits GYT! ).
An Taibhdhearc staged Eilis Ni Duibhne’s Dún na Mban Trí Thine directed by Anne McCabe and Marianne Kennedy. A lively, imaginative mix of modern life and ancient lore, it featured fairies invading a present-day family and causing ri ra and rula bula galore. Linda Bhreathnach was wonderful in the central role of meithered housewife Leini and Máire Ni Mhaille as her mother delivering most of her lines from inside a washing machine was equally delightful.
Corn Exchange brought their terrific revival of Dublin By Lamplight to the Town Hall which give an extra GIAF’s week employment to composer/performer Conor Linehan. Having being composer and live pianist for Woyzeck in Winter last week he assumes the same roles for this mightily enjoyable romp. A zesty, hilarious re-imagining of the events and personalities behind the formation of the Abbey Theatre in 1904, Corn Exchange’s trademark commedia dell arte performance style ebulliently revels in theatrical bravura from start to finish. Louis Lovett was a joy to watch in the central role of theatre mogul/writer Willy Hayes and so also were Caitriona Ennis as costumer-come-lead Maggie, Karen Egan as Eva and Paul Reid as Martyn Wallace.
Dublin By Lamplight, Pumpgirl, and Yellow Moon run until the end of this week. #GIAF17