I saw a lot of theatre this year, through college in the first half of the year and volunteering at the festivals in the autumn, but I still feel like there’s a lot that I missed. This is not a list of the ‘best of Irish theatre’ in 2012. This is a list of my personal favourites from the year.
Silent, Pat Kinevane and Fishamble
I’ve already written about some of the things I love about Silent but this 90-minute one-man play really is a complete tour de force. The LA Times described it as “Krapp’s Last Tape performed by Madonna” which is a pretty accurate description! A lot of the joy in this piece is found in Pat Kinevane’s performance. His portrayal of homeless McGoldrick, who once had splendid things, is so enthusiastic and full of fun. You don’t expect a story of homelessness and helplessness to be so funny, and this surprise adds another layer of joy to the piece.
Silent was Fishamble’s original Show in a Bag and the minimalist approach to set and props serve the story well. The story is engaging and well-told and touching without being sentimental. I saw it for the first time in the Town Hall Theatre in Galway early last year. Immediately after the show, I was eager to see it again and wanted to bring so many people to see it with me. I haven’t managed to do that yet. I missed it in the Peacock during the summer and in Smock Alley a couple of weeks ago, but I’m hoping to see it again before the year is out. The show is off to Australia this month but will be back touring Ireland in March.
Tiny Plays for Ireland, Fishamble
This is another Fishamble production and it was a fantastically ambitious project that was wonderfully executed. It started this time last year when Fishamble sent out a call in September 2011 for “tiny plays”, no more than 600 words. The response was huge and Fishamble received over 1,700 entries. The final production – twenty-five tiny plays in the space of an hour, on the same set with the same actors – was done so beautifully and so simply that it actually did create a snap-shot of the Ireland. With a clever use of costume and a few wigs, the cast manage to play teenagers, married couples and elder statesmen convincingly. Seeing the quick changes and multiple characters was part of the enjoyment of the production. There was a wonderful mix of comedy and heart-break in the production as a whole, and sometimes even in the same short play.
Because of the huge numbers of entries received and the high quality of the writing, Fishamble put together a second collection of plays and Tiny Plays 2 opens in the Project Arts Centre in March. It’s something worth seeing even if you are not a regular theatre goer or know someone who you want to encourage into the theatre! The little snippets mean that if you don’t like what’s going on onstage right now, there’ll be something different along in a minute. I’m looking forward to the next instalment.
The Mothers Arms, Little John Nee
I saw this show last January in the Town Hall Theatre. It was the first play we went to see as part of our reviewing class and so it was the first thing I had to review for that class. It was a tricky review to write because I really loved the show but found it difficult to find words to describe what happened on stage or why I enjoyed it so much.
I went in to the show knowing nothing at all about Little John Nee and came out a life-long fan. It was a joyous piece of theatre set in a the public house of the title, somewhere in the wilds of Donegal and involved lots of music and a far amount of silliness. Little John Nee is another wonderful performer and a joy to watch as he switched between seven or eight different characters. I laughed my head off and had a wonderful evening. I have yet to see his follow-up show Sparkplug but I am keeping an eye out for it and reccommend you do the same. (It is also nominated for an Irish Theatre Award for great Sound Design.)
Alice in Funderland, thisispopbaby and the Abbey Theatre
I’ll keep this brief because I’ve already written loads about Alice on this blog but it really was one of my favourite things of 2012. I often think of it when I’m sitting in the Abbey before a show, wishing there were twinkling glitter balls on the ceiling. (I’m very partial to a bit of disco ball action.) It was unlike anything else I’ve seen on the Irish stage. It really had more in common with a West End musical in the brash, brightness of the production and the slick song and dance routines. But at the same time there was a very Irish sense of humour running through and some truly beautiful songs.
Boys of Foley Street, ANU Productions
I didn’t find Boys of Foley Street quite as harrowing as last year’s Laundry, perhaps I’d been working in the Lab for two days before I saw the show so I had some idea of what to expect. However it was a visceral and heart-breaking piece of theatre, with fantastic performances.
The time spent in the flat was particularly terrifying. Much of the piece took place out on the street, so suddenly finding yourself trapped in the small flat was a bit of a shock. Seeing the hidden, private lives of people trapped by drugs and poverty made me feel helpless. The performers so in your face that you felt trapped. It was completely immersive and left me feeling sakend and disjointed.
The final piece of ANU’s Foley Street project Vardo Corner will be in Gypsy Rose’s caravan, which I imagine will have a similar terrifying claustrophobia to it!
A Doll House, Pan Pan
This was the first production I saw in the newly renovated Smock Alley main stage. I thought the round, almost Shakespearean sitting suited it beautifully. I’d read A Doll’s House for the first time last year so it was fresh in my mind. Though it’s one of those plays that I’d been aware of for years. I really enjoyed Judith Roddy’s Nora – her manic energy and childish glee in the early scenes of the play were wonderful to watch and captured Nora’s character beautiful. Pan Pan manage to be both playful and academic in their interruption of classic texts and this was no exception. The nanny takes on the role of academic analysing the play but also plays games with Nora instead of her small children.
Pan Pan have a gift for putting their own unique and memorable stamp on classical plays. For example when I think of Hamlet, I think of a Great Dane called Toby and their production of Everyone is King Lear in Their Own Home means that when I see King Lear at the Abbey next month, I’ll probably walk out with a song about “a little mouse with clogs on” stuck in head. And I will probably always hear some of the lines from A Doll’s House in the Batman voice. In a glorious twist, Torvald goes to neighbour’s costume party as Batman and when he has his confrontation with Nora, he is still in full Batman mode. No matter how familiar you are with a text, PanPan force you to see it in a fresh way. But despite this playfulness, they also have a devotion to and respect for the text. And this was seen in the climax of the play when the actors lay in separate pools of light, on opposite sides of the stage and said their lines slowly and carefully, so that all the meaning had time to sink in and we could see their relationship slowly folding itself up and disappearing. It was beautifully done.
That’s my short (and very late) wrap up of my favourite 2012 theatre. I’ve been lucky enough to see some wonderful work already this year and I will be writing about that here soon.