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Dublin Theatre Festival 2018 review – ‘rich, exciting and form-stretching programme’

Sarah Morris in The Lost O'Casey. Photo: Patrick Redmond

The Dublin Theatre Festival, now in its 61st year, takes place over 18 days in venues all around the city. This is Willie White’s seventh year as artistic director and though the festival has faced some challenges, including a reduced Arts Council grant, the 2018 line-up is an exciting one, the city a backdrop to a rich array of work.

This year’s high-profile productions include Everybody’s Fine With Virginia Woolf by US innovators Elevator Repair Service (creators of the mesmeric Gatz), and Yael Farber’s production of Hamlet at the Gate Theatre, starring Ruth Negga – an inspired casting choice that really pays off.

White has spoken candidly about the challenges faced in programming the festival – the dwindling number of available performance spaces in the city, the changing terrain for theatremakers – as well as the positive shifts, including new leadership at two of Dublin’s biggest venues. When we speak, over coffee at a cafe and arts space in the centre of the city, he also stresses that he believes very strongly that theatre is capable of creating change.

Hamlet starring Ruth Negga review at Gate Theatre, Dublin – ‘Negga is an inspired choice’

Alongside new Irish work, including the Fishamble production of Rathmines Road by Deirdre Kinahan, one of two new Irish plays at the festival, and DruidShakespeare’s Richard III, this year’s festival features several international pieces, from Belgium and Poland.

One of these is Mining Stories (★★★) by Belgium-based theatremakers Silke Huysmans and Hannes Dereere, is a piece of documentary performance about the emotional, economic and environmental aftermath of a dam collapse in Minas Gerais in southern Brazil in 2015 and the devastating floods that followed. A series of interviews with people living in the region are intertwined with expert opinions, from neurologists and economists, as well as excerpts from the mining company’s efforts to repair its reputation and reframe the narrative.

Huysmans coordinates the audio material via a series of loop pedals, while the text is projected on to a series of wooden boards that she places at different points around the room. She never speaks, but her presence, as editor and interviewer, is central to the piece. There are times when she merges the samples of recorded dialogue with music to become a kind of invisible chorus, an aural collage.

Staged at the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar, Dublin’s home for experimental work, Mining Stories is a formally intriguing piece existing at the midpoint between installation, performance, document and composition that tells an overlooked story of the human and ecological cost of the disaster, one of a dismayingly large number of similar disasters to happen around the world, the consequences of which are soon forgotten – though not by those whose lives have been swept away.

The cast of The Misfits at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin. Photo: Ste Murray

At Smock Alley Theatre, Annie Ryan re-imagines The Misfits (★★★), John Huston’s melancholic classic, famed for being the last film of two of its stars, Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable; the third, Montgomery Clift, did not live much longer. Written by Arthur Miller for his then wife, Monroe – their marriage would collapse during the shoot – the film was a notoriously troubled production, though this has become part of its legend.

Aoibhinn McGinnity plays Roslyn, the young divorcee who becomes entangled with ageing cowboy Gay (Aidan Kelly) and destructive young rodeo rider Perce (Emmet Byrne). They’re all damaged in some way, all lost. For a while they form a kind of family of the broken, but the symbolic weight of the fate of the wild horses they set out to capture – destined to become animal feed– is too much for Roslyn.

Zia Bergin-Holly’s set, with its corrugated iron backdrop and sand-strewn floor, conveys a sense of life lived on the edges of America, under dream-like desert skies. Sporadic movement sequences are used to depict the rodeo, while roping scenes brings dynamism to what is an intentionally slow-burning, almost too low-key piece amid which Byrne’s sad, damaged rodeo rider burns the brightest.

The Lost O'Casey at Dublin Theatre Festival. Photo: Patrick Redmond
Thomas O’Reilly in The Lost O’Casey at the Dublin Theatre Festival. Photo: Patrick Redmond

Anu Production’s astonishingly intense, immersive piece The Lost O’Casey (★★★★★) presents a vivid and unsettling portrait of marginalised lives. Taking its inspiration from a Sean O’Casey rarity, Nannie’s Night Out, written in the 1920s about the life of a desperate young woman from the tenements, Louise Lowe’s production is experienced by just four people at a time. It takes place in the streets around the Gate Theatre. Each audience member goes on a separate journey, having first encountered a loquacious old man who points out his favourite buildings and explains that a city’s stories reside not in its museums but in its streets.

The group is then split up and some of us are taken into a run-down block of flats, due for demolition. A trio of lads, all facing eviction, are in the process of getting blitzed off their tits. There’s an echo of their friend, a talented young boxer whose death may have been suicide, still in the building with them. The piece talks about mental illness, particularly among men, addiction, and the ease in which people can fall through the cracks – especially as the cracks continue to grow in size. It also makes you look these things in the face.

Movement sequences, choreographed by Sue Mythen, are used to disrupt the naturalism: a druggy, fuggy, slow-motion dance and an uncanny and upsetting duet are made all the more potent by being performed in a cramped bedroom to an audience of one.

The acting is phenomenal, particularly Sarah Morris – who plays a modern-day Nannie, a chaotic homeless young alcoholic, raucous, desperate and volatile – but the precision of all involved is immense. You find yourself wanting to comfort and console these characters; you feel like a guilty interloper in these people’s lives.

There’s an undercurrent of anger to the piece, a river of rage at a city intent on excluding more and more of its inhabitants, where housing has become so unaffordable that even the kindly young doctor in the mobile health clinic stands little chance of securing a mortgage.

This is immersive theatre at its most powerful. It’s disorientating, unflinching, encompassing anger and compassion. It shakes you up and spits you out into a city still going about its business. It leaves you dazed amid the stones and ghosts of Dublin – and even changed.

The Stage’s travel and accommodation at the Dublin Theatre Festival was supported by TourismIreland. 

Dublin Theatre Festival: ‘We put the world’s best artists on Dublin’s stages’

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Verdict
Rich, exciting and frequently form-stretching programme at this year's Dublin Theatre Festival
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