Guinness and gossip in Dublin
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
Dublin’s Temple Bar district