The Dublin Theatre Festival: unmissable or what?

The Dublin Theatre Festival begins in less than three weeks and booking is well under way for most productions, Irish and international, with a total of 30 on offer, including those aimed at young audiences.

There seems to be a good core of solid work where premieres are concerned, with some flights of fancy around the edges, but without any imports of major stature.

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Instantly enticing is a new work from Nancy Harris, to be produced at the Gate in co-production with Druid, and directed by Garry Hynes. The Beacon stars Jane Brennan, a recommendation in itself. She plays an acclaimed artist who has left her Dublin home for an outlying island, where unexpected events from the past catch up with her.

Harris has been based in London for many years and her work was last seen here with her adaptation of Anderson’s dark fairytale The Red Shoes, which combined fantasy with moral ambiguity in mockingly satisfying work.

Marina Carr has been silent for several years, but Rough Magic will bring her version of Hecuba to the Project. In the devastation of the aftermath of the Trojan Wars, the vanquished Priam’s wife, Hecuba, must come to terms with the cost of defeat. And apparently, Carr and director Lynne Parker will incorporate more than a few resonances of modern Syria in the work.

“Brutally hilarious” is the description given to Oonagh Murphy’s new production of The Playboy of the Western World, from the Lyric in Belfast in co-production with the Festival, and presented at the Gaiety. The phrase itself is a recommendation, as many productions of the classic, from the farcical to the melodramatic, ignore that, at the core, the play is about a woman whose humiliated rage leads her to torture her lover.

And so to the Festival’s “state of the nation” play. At the Abbey, since that’s the national theatre? No. The Alternative, a Fishamble production which won the “play for Ireland” competition will run at the Pavilion in Dun Laoghaire. By Michael Patrick and Oisin Kearney, it puts Ireland on the eve of a referendum in 2019. But it’s a different referendum. Ursula Lysaght, the UK prime minister, is in her native Dublin for the referendum. 1916 has never happened; the War of Independence has never happened; the Civil War has never happened; Ireland is not partitioned. It is still part of the UK, and is to vote on whether it wants to leave. Directed by Jim Culleton, The Alternative has a stellar cast including Lorcan Cranitch, Rory Nolan and Maeve Fitzgerald. Unmissable or what?

And what of the Abbey? It will stage a new Dermot Bolger play, Last Orders at The Dockside, in which a group of dockers gather in their local pub to wake a dead colleague and mourn the passing of their world. Bolger’s work has always celebrated the quiet ordinary of working class Dublin, and this sounds as though it could, like most of his middle-of-the-road work, have been written in the 1950s. Nothing wrong with that, but on the main stage of the national theatre? In an international theatre festival?.

Meanwhile, on the Peacock stage, the Abbey will follow another familiar road with a film adaptation. It’s by the imaginative and talented Dylan Tighe, a live re-dubbing of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 film Salo, or the 120 days of Sodom. The original was notorious, but that was a long time ago.

The name Michael Keegan-Dolan is a recommendation, and the choreographer, in co-production with Teach Damhsa, will bring Mam to the O’Reilly Hall in a “mythic staging of life’s polarities” with music by Cormac Begley; while How to Win Against History, by Seiriol Davies, an account of the 19th-century transvestite Marquis of Anglesey, is at the Civic in Tallaght; and Beckett’s Room, a play without performers, devised by Dead Centre with Mark O’Halloran, is an exploration of Beckett’s empty Paris flat during his and Suzanne’s time with the Resistance during World War II.

In another random selection from the programme, Us/Them explores the psyche of children under siege, based on the 2004 siege in Beslan on the Russian/Chechnyan border when 1,200 were held captive in a schoolhouse. International co-producers include the National in the UK, and the piece won an Edinburgh Fringe First several years ago.

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