As the end of the year approaches, I decided to look forward instead of back and rather than write a review of the year just gone, I wrote a Christmas wish-list for Irish theatre in 2014. If you would like to read a review of theatre in 2013, I recommend Patrick Lonergan’s Irish Theatre Highlights 2013.
In the meantime, here’s my wish list.
1. More plays by female writers, on the big stages and small.
I feel like I’m always banging on about this but it is important! It’s been a pretty good year for female playwrights. Elaine Murphy became the third woman since the 1930s to have a play on the Abbey main stage when Shush opened earlier this year, while Deirdre Kinahan has enjoyed great success at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. At the same time it’s worth remembering that women make up 51% of the population (in the theatre community I think they are more in the majority), but we don’t see their stories onstage and I think that’s wrong. It’s an embarrassing wrong that should be corrected. One way to do that it to programme more plays by women because this will encourage more women to write plays. Role models are important. When Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile in 1954 it was a significant achievement. However, his record lasted less than 2 months because suddenly people knew it was possible and set out to break the record.
2. I’d also like to see more plays by non-Irish writers on our stages. Irish theatre does run the risk of being too inward looking. Let’s expand our repertoire with Irish interpretations of great international plays. Patrick Lonergan made a lot of good points when he wrote about British drama and how we don’t see those plays produced in Ireland during the summer. Let’s see an Irish production of a Lucy Prebble play (Enron) or a Laura Wade play (Colder Than Here, Other Hands, Breathing Corpses), or a Polly Stenham play (That Face, Tusk Tusk). Let us see more great plays by non-Irish writers. I would also love to see some Anthony Neilson, Jez Butterworth and Dennis Kelly plays on Irish stages.
3. More money for the arts. A wish-list doesn’t have to be realistic, and it would be wonderful if there was an increase to Arts Council funding next year but I would settle for no more cuts to funding in 2014. The arts allocation in Budget 2014 was 7% less than the previous year. (Source: Theatre Forum newsletter.) As the cuts keep happening year after year, those who are still struggling on have become “the lucky ones” as so many companies have already gone to the wall. More cuts next year, mean more companies, venues and organisation will be forced to shut up shop and that lose of experience and talent could take years to build back up again.
4. In a related point, I’d like to see more plays with big casts in 2014. Lack of money and more profit-share productions means that small casts make sense, often with only one or two actors. This sort of restriction can and has lead to wonderful bursts of creativity and fantastic performances. I have seen some wonderful one-man shows this year – Man of Valour, Solpadeine is my Boyfriend, Howie the Rookie, Pondling, and the granddaddy of them all Silent – but it was also nice to see a stage filled with actors in the Abbey’s productions of King Lear and Drumbelly or the Gate’s Threepenny Opera. Rough Magic had a big cast in The Critic by enlisting the students from the Gaiety School of Acting and Trinity’s Players and I’m looking forward to seeing their production of The Rise and Fall of The City of Mahagonny.
5. My final wish is for more hopeful and inspirational plays in 2014. This is a bit like putting “a surprise” at the end of your Santa-list. I’m not really sure what I want, I just feel that recently Irish plays have tended to be a bit bleak and miserable. The Hanging Gardens at the Abbey almost ended on a hopeful note and then turned darker and sadder in the last few moments. Fishamble’s Guratanteed! was a fantastic piece of theatre with wonderful performances but the factual story was so hopelessly depressing that I felt reluctant to applaud them at the end. Really what I want is a more hopeful country – I want us to look forward and upwards and I’m hoping if we can manage it on the stage, maybe we can manage it in life in general.