Guin­ness and gos­sip in Dublin

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Europe - ROSS CAREY

What a de­light it is to toy with a wooden news­pa­per­holder rather than a smart­phone, tucked away in the cosy cor­ner by the tall, sun­lit win­dows of a Vic­to­rian ho­tel. My com­pan­ion sips her Bai­leys cof­fee while I hide be­hind my broad­sheet, ear­wig­ging as a nov­el­ist is be­ing in­ter­viewed — pos­si­bly for the news­pa­per I’m read­ing.

Dublin is still spon­sored by Guin­ness, and af­ter I’ve drunk a sec­ond pint in the charm­ing Li­brary Bar of the Cen­tral Ho­tel we head across to the great bookshop Hodges Figgis. We pass Davy Byrnes, where you can still get a gor­gonzola sand­wich and glass of wine as did James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom in 1904. Hodges Figgis is on the charm­ing Daw­son Street, which links St Stephen’s Green to Trin­ity Col­lege. This is a great shop to me­an­der about: it has three floors and 250 years of book­selling; some time passes be­fore we emerge, laden with pur­chases.

Dublin has re­gained a sense of it­self again since the Celtic tiger crawled back into its cage; there’s a re­stored air of con­ge­nial­ity and come­li­ness that can be felt in restau­rants and shops and on street corners. Af­ter some fine food at the Tro­cadero, we head across to the Gate Theatre, set up in 1928 in the old ro­tunda hos­pi­tal at the top of O’Con­nell Street, its orig­i­nal agenda to pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive to the cab­bage and ba­con of the parochial Abbey Theatre and to pro­duce the work of Euro­pean drama­tists such as Ib­sen and Chekhov. We’re here to see The Gigli Con­cert, a 1983 play by Tom Mur­phy.

Mur­phy’s plays are usu­ally re­strained med­i­ta­tions on lo­cal themes. But this piece edges to­wards a Stop­par­dian in­ge­nu­ity, in a timely story about an over­wrought Ir­ish prop­erty devel­oper seek­ing coun­sel from a downon-his-luck, hard-drink­ing English dy­nam­a­tol­o­gist and pur­su­ing avant-garde ther­apy through singing the opera of Be­ni­amino Gigli. This is the first time a Mur­phy play has been pro­duced at the Gate, and the Dublin theatre com­mu­nity con­sid­ered it a won­der the play got pro­duced at all, given he and the long-time di­rec­tor of the Gate, Michael Colgan, ap­par­ently had a run-in at a party 10 years ago. The story goes that, af­ter many drinks, Colgan called Mur­phy a “pro­vin­cial play­wright” and Mur­phy then ac­cused Colgan of be­ing “the keeper of a mu­seum” and dumped a plate of lasagne on his head.

This stag­ing of Mur­phy’s play is beau­ti­ful and par­tic­u­larly well suited to the Gate, and is back for a short run from Oc­to­ber 28. I en­joyed the first act so much that I didn’t want the in­ter­val to ar­rive. When it did, I was de­lighted to see the nov­el­ist from the Cen­tral Ho­tel head­ing out to the bar. Af­ter rush­ing back to my seat to pick up my newly bought book, I squeezed through to the bar and saw the au­thor sip­ping tea from a china cup. He was very friendly in sign­ing my copy; we had a wee chat and he told me he was a friend of Mur­phy’s and re­galed me with the story of the lasagne.

And that is what’s re­ally to be liked about Dublin, be­cause wrapped in this great city is a small town with very much craic (fun) to be had. • ire­land.com/en-au

THE SPEC­TA­TOR

Dublin’s Tem­ple Bar dis­trict

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