What to book now for Dublin Theatre Festival 2016

Tickets for this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival go on sale for the general public this morning at 10am and I am making plans – what to see, when to see it, what to book now and what to book later. My early booking is financially strategic; if I don’t book my Festival shows now, I’ll spend all my money at the Fringe and by October I’ll be too broke to see anything.

I really like the Dublin Theatre Festival and I want to see as much as I can. It’s a great opportunity to experience theatre from other parts of the world, as well as seeing big shows from Irish companies. It’s also a chance to see a crazy amount of theatre in a short space of time. Following so quickly after Fringe, this can be a bit head-melting. But in a good way.

Here are some of my early booking picks:

These rooms by Anu & Cois Ceim
This one I’ll definitely be grabbing a ticket for. It’s on in a couple of houses in Dorset Street and capacity is limited. Some shows has already sold out, and I’d be surprised if the entire run isn’t fully booked before the Theatre Festival opens on September 29th. It’s a collaboration between Anu Productions and Cois Ceim and focuses on the experiences of the civilians who were caught up in the 1916 Rising.

Guerrilla by El Conde de Torrefiel
I have my eye on this one because I spend a lot of time in Spain but I haven’t actually seen any Spanish theatre, and this sounds a bit odd and interesting. A lot of the international shows have very short runs at the festival – this one is only on for three performances.

The Seagull by Corn Exchange
This is on in the Gaiety so tickets are unlikely to be gone too soon. I really like The Seagull. I’ve seen it a few times in various productions and I read a couple of different translations for an essay in college. It’s very funny and also has lots of fierce, ballsy female characters in it. Though things don’t generally end well for them and their existence tends to revolve around the men, they are still great characters in their own right. I’m also a big fan of Corn Exchange who make visually exciting theatre. I’m also a big fan of the two (female) cast members announced already – Derbhle Crotty and Genevieve Hulme-Beaman – so I think it will be a hot ticket this year. Tickets for the Gaiety are not cheap, but this play by this company – I think it will be worth it.

Alien Documentary by Una McKevitt
I’ve been hearing bits and pieces about this show for the last couple of years so I’ve very excited to see the finished product. It’s on in The Cube in Project for nearly two weeks. Long run but a small venue and I think it will be popular.

Crisis Meeting by Kriðpleir and LÓKAL Performing Arts
This is a show from an Icelandic theatre company about writing an application for arts funding. I’m curious to see if you can make an engaging show about arts admin and if the company do manage to oscillate “anarchy, sitcom and Beckettian gravity” as their blurb claims. If you don’t fancy the risk on that one, there are a couple of other Northern European shows in the programme – you might prefer the “epic and vaudevillesque” style of Wishful Beginnings by VERK Produksjoner from Norway or the “switch between dance and  scattered questioning” is This is Not a Love Story by Swede Gunilla Heilborn.

It’s definitely worth booking something a little bit outside your comfort zone. It’s what festival’s are for!

summerdream

I have mixed feelings about booking a ticket for A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Bord Gais. Again, it’s a play that I like and it looks like a fun, playful production but I’m not a fan of seeing theatre in the grand scale of the Bord Gais. I’ve been spoilt by all our wonderful intimate theatre spaces in Dublin.

I’m also on the fence about It’s Not Over, THEATREclub’s vision of The Plough and The Stars by Sean O’Casey. Do I want to see another production of the The Plough? Can I sit through a four and a half hour production of The Plough? I’m not sure.

I’m willing to be persuaded about both of these, and probably most of the other festival offerings. Is there anything else I should have on my early bird booking list? What’s on your list?

First Thought Talks at GIAF

I wish I could have spent more time in Galway during last month’s GIAF but all I managed was a couple of day trips. I saw Arlington (a love song), which was dark and twisty and very Enda Walsh, and Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, a high-energy belter of a show with a fantastic cast and great songs. I also went to one of the First Thought Talks in Aula Maxima: “All the World’s A Stage – Can Theatre Define a Nation“, a big topic which I thought was particularly relevant in our big centenary year. I liked that the people on the panel were from different nations – The Guardian‘s theatre critic Michael Billington, Neil Murray – a Welsh man who was Artistic Director of the Scottish National Theatre until he took up his new position at the Abbey this summer and Cathy Leeney, the token Irish woman, who teaches drama at UCD. The panel was chaired by Cathy Belton. It was a really interesting, wide-ranging discussion that touched on loads of topics and I think she did an excellent job facilitating that.

There were copies of Michael Billington’s book 101 Greatest Plays available to buy after the talk and they talked a little bit about the book, particularly about the plays that he had left out. He said that a lot of people were very upset with him for leaving out King Lear. He also left out Waiting for Godot, instead choosing to include Beckett’s All That Fall. He was however, very complementary about Druid’s production of Godot, crediting it with making him see the play in a new way. (Sidenote: I didn’t even try to get a ticket to Waiting for Godot. Partly because I feel like I only just saw in the Dublin Theatre Festival but also because of my embarrassing tendency to fall asleep during Beckett plays. I knew I wouldn’t be able to doze off undetected in the Mick Lally Theatre, it’s too small to the potential for embarrassing myself too high to risk! If there is another run I will try and get a ticket because I’ve heard such good things about this production that I feel confident that it will keep me awake!)

There was also some discussion on the plays Billington did include, particularly where they were from. As a proud Welshman, Neil Murray was disappointed that there were no Welsh plays in the book, though Ireland was reasonably well represented. Nobody mentioned of the number plays by women on the list but I did a bit of research afterwards and found that the 101 plays included only five by female playwrights, which is not a great ratio. There were more plays by Shakespeare on the list than by women. The five plays written by women were The Verge by Susan Glaspell, Machinal by Sophie Treadwell, Men Should Weep by Ena Lamont Stewart, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry and Top Girls by Caryl Churchill. Billington does write a little about the lack of women and how he made his choices here.

The discussion about how to represent the nation on stage began by asking how theatre in the UK can reflect the nation after the Brexit Referendum. Michael’s suggestion was that it should become more European; bringing European countries to British stages, saying to those companies and to the UK audiences – we are still part of Europe. There was also the flip-side of that, which was the Scottish National Theatre taking show into communities, 10 SNT shows premiering on the same night on 10 different stages in various locations around Scotland, and how this gave the communities and the audiences a more tangible sense of connection with their national theatre. I wonder if theatre is always outwards looking and aspirational, does it lose that connection?

I was eager to hear what one of the incoming directors would have to say about our National Theatre. Murray described the Abbey stage as being “highly charged” and that he was interested in seeing new companies bring work to that space. He also seemed interested in seeing lots more new work and new writing on the Abbey stage, which would be a break from tradition. This is a theatre that has staged three different productions of The Plough And The Stars in the last seven years. As Neil Murray said that’s “not a criticism, just a fact.”

WTFatAbbey

Once talk turned to the Abbey, the WakingTheFeminists movement was not far behind. There was praise for all the work they have done in drawing attention to the sexist bias that exists in theatre so we can start working to change it. Someone else pointed out the other types of diversity that disappeared through funding cuts in the last few years, namely theatre companies representing cultural minorities that lost their funding during the recession and now no longer exist. Pan Pan’s 2006 production of The Playboy of the Western World, in Mandarin with an all Chinese cast was mentioned as a show that brought a non-white, non-Irish audience to the Project. If theatre is attempting to define or even just reflect a nation, it should reflect all parts of that nation.

There was also some discussion about ways to get young people into the theatre. Partly by changing what is on the stage, but also by offering cheaper tickets or free tickets or pay what you can tickets. All of which I am very much in favour of! I particularly liked the suggestion of selling last minute tickets at a greatly reduced price. The Abbey do this for Cameo Club members – €10 Standby tickets, Monday – Friday only, 30 minutes prior to the start of any Abbey Theatre show. Sadly it’s not available to everyone because you must be a student or aged 26 or under to join the Cameo Club.

There are interesting times ahead for theatre in Dublin. The change of personnel at the Abbey and at The Gate will shake things up a bit. WakingTheFeminists is already shaking things up, read this article to see what they’ve done so far. There will be lots of interesting repercussions coming out of that movement and I’m looking forward to them. In terms of Brexit we don’t know what the repercussions of that will be. Right now, the main effect it’s had to bring a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds – will it be harder for Irish theatre makers to go to the UK, long-term or just to tour? I studied drama in the UK, will that become more difficult for Irish people to do? The only concrete change is that the pounds is currently really weak against the euro, which I’m sure Irish artists in Edinburgh this year are pleased about! I don’t think the rest of it will be so positive.

Why I give blood

Last week I went to the blood donor clinic. You have to wait three months between each blood donation, but it’s probably been about 12 months since I’d last donated. Last time I went it was really busy and I left without even signing in. The time before that my iron was too low and I was told to go see my doctor and wait six months before donating again. I’m not great at giving blood regularly and I definitely haven’t given as much as I could. I’ve been doing it for about 15 years and last week was my 19th donation. (I think I get a prize for my 20th which is exciting!) But despite my patchy record, one of the nurses we looked at my chart asked me why I’d donated so much and why I kept coming back. I didn’t really want to tell him that I just did it for the free biscuits – though that is a big part of it – so I told him I did it because I know lots of people who can’t donate and it’s easy for me, so I do it.

That’s just one of the reasons. There are lots of others:

  1. Free biscuits. I can’t lie, they are part of why I go there. When I started there used to be free mini-rolls. Now it’s custard creams and blue ribbon wafer bars, but they’re still free!
  2. There’s a great view from the canteen in the Blood Donor Clinic on D’Olier Street. It looks down over O’Connell Bridge and you have to hang out there after you donate and enjoy the view.
  3. It’s a really easy way to do something good. There are so many reasons why people can’t give blood, varying from where they’d lived or the medication they’re on, to whether they’ve just had a baby or a tattoo. I feel like if I’m able to give blood, I should. I have no problems with needles and generally don’t have any problems after donating. I can’t say never because I nearly fainted in the canteen once. Thankfully the nurse behind the counter spotted me losing conciseness and had me lying on the ground with my legs raised before I actually fell out of the chair! They even have a pillow in the canteen for just this reason, which makes it seem almost normal and helped me feel less of a tit!
  4. The lovely staff. Everyone is really nice to you in the blood donor clinic. They thank you so many times for coming in, even when your blood is rejected! And my blood has been rejected many times. Mostly for low iron and once because I’d just had the mumps vaccine and it’s one of the few live vaccines that you can’t donate after.
  5. Giving blood is a sneaky way to get my iron checked. You are not supposed to give blood for this reason and it’s probably not even a particularly accurate way to test it because I think it only gives a tiny snapshot. I’m prone to low iron so I do find it useful to get a quickie look at my iron levels every now and again.

I give blood because it makes me feel good. It’s easy, it doesn’t hurt and it costs me nothing. I just hang out in the clinic for an hour, where everyone is really nice to me and gives me free biscuits. I do it because someone else needs that blood more than I do. While I’m munching on my free biscuits and enjoying the view, someone else is fighting for their life. Why wouldn’t I give blood if it can help? It’s so easy to make more that I don’t even feel like I’ve lost anything afterwards.

There’s a lot of scary things happening in the world at the moment – Trump, terrorism, Brexit – and it’s easy to feel helpless. Giving blood makes me feel less helpless.

If you’re interested in donating, for the first or fifth or fourteenth time – visit giveblood.ie to find out if you are able to give blood and where your nearest clinic is.