LOOK­ING BACK IN ANGER

Feel­ings of rage, in­jus­tice, grief and, ul­ti­mately, heal­ing per­vaded the theatre is year. But there were some great mo­ments of es­capism too

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - YEAR IN REVIEW - PETER CRAW­LEY

When the first ma­jor shows of the year were a hand­somely re­alised re­vival of Sive, John B Keane’s ru­ral tragedy of de­sire and ma­te­ri­al­ism, which packed them in at the Gai­ety, and a re­luc­tant stag­ing of John Os­borne’s por­trait of misog­yny (self-por­trait, some ar­gue) Look Back in Anger ward­ing them off at the Gate, at least one ma­jor theme seemed to be on ev­ery­body’s mind.

It is now three years since Wak­ing the Fem­i­nists stirred new con­ver­sa­tions about long-stand­ing in­equities in our cul­ture, ask­ing the theatre to take a hard look at its prac­tices, its prej­u­dices and unchecked bi­ases, af­fect­ing ev­ery­thing from pay dis­par­ity and act­ing and writ­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to broader so­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Laud­ably, it also in­spired new com­mit­ments to change.

With the added im­pe­tus of Me Too came a be­lated fo­cus on work­place ha­rass­ment in the theatre. When a damn­ing re­port into the be­hav­iour of the Gate’s for­mer artis­tic di­rec­tor Michael Col­gan was fi­nally pub­lished in Fe­bru­ary, it prompted an un­re­served apol­ogy from the theatre’s board and a state­ment that Col­gan had “a case to an­swer” about “dig­nity-at-work is­sues, abuse of power and in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iours”.

What case this may in­volve has yet to be seen. But on stage, the theatre seemed hun­gry for its own an­swers. Un­der new artis­tic di­rec­tor Selina Cart­mell, the Gate was at­ten­tive to the griev­ances of the past but un­der­stand­ably in­tent to turn a cor­ner and, in that alone, to never look back.

The Abbey, in its sec­ond year of new man­age­ment, started its year with Porce­lain, a new play by Mar­garet Perry given an un­de­cided pro­duc­tion. In­spired by the burn­ing to death of Brid­get Cleary on sus­pi­cion of witch­craft, at the hands of her hus­band, it re­vealed it­self as a study in de­pres­sion and fragility, the past echo­ing in the present.

More vig­or­ous was The Un­man­age­able Sis­ters, Deirdre Ki­na­han’s adap­ta­tion of a Michel Trem­blay clas­sic, which imag­ined his work­ing-class Mon­treal women as a shift­ing cho­rus of co-work­ers and rel­a­tives in 1970s Bal­ly­mun, given an im­pres­sive en­sem­ble by di­rec­tor Gra­ham McLaren, in a pro­duc­tion more in love with kitsch de­sign and pat pol­i­tics.

Both plays touched on re­pro­duc­tive rights, but the most salient ex­pres­sion be­longed to Tara Flynn’s ex­cel­lent Not a Funny Word ,a co-pro­duc­tion by the Abbey and Thi­sis­pop­baby. Be­fore the ref­er­en­dum to re­peal the Eighth Amend­ment, Flynn’s com­bi­na­tion of frank con­fes­sion and con­sol­ing com­edy, pre­sented at Where We Live fes­ti­val, felt mag­nif­i­cently and shock­ingly dar­ing. After the ref­er­en­dum, when the coun­try dis­cov­ered the full breadth of its com­pas­sion, it felt like a salve.

Du­bi­ous­con­sent

It was not, how­ever, a year to be soothed. Caitríona McLaugh­lin’s strik­ing and pum­melling re­vival of Ma­rina Carr’s On Raftery’s Hill

could only be faulted for the brevity of its run. Ask­ing for It, Mead­hbh McHugh and An­abelle Comyn’s imag­is­tic and claus­tro­pho­bic adap­ta­tion of Louise O’Neill’s novel about the rape and vil­i­fi­ca­tion of a young girl, came with a dis­tress­ing sense of time­li­ness in the wake of the Belfast rape trial. When Ki­na­han’s next play for Fisham­ble and the Abbey, Rath­mines Road,

opened some months later, fea­tur­ing a rape sur­vivor’s con­fronta­tion with her at­tacker from long ago, it came im­me­di­ately after Brett Ka­vanaugh’s sim­i­larly dis­tress­ing US Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings. Even a piece of bright nos­tal­gia, such as the Gate’s pro­duc­tion of The Snap­per, touched on is­sues of du­bi­ous con­sent.

It says some­thing about the pre­vail­ing mood of the times that even the more crowd-pleas­ing of­fer­ings this year had darker fix­a­tions. Enda Walsh’s ab­sorb­ing adap­ta­tion of Max Porter’s for­mally ad­ven­tur­ous and heart-break­ing novella Grief is the Thing with Feath­ers gave Cil­lian Mur­phy the mak­ings of a bravura per­for­mance, within a pro­duc­tion that both howled with de­spair, erupted with play­ful­ness and packed some af­fect­ingly sly sur­prises.

The Gate’s twisted fair­ground pro­duc­tion of Stephen Sond­heim’s As­sas­sins scratched the un­der­belly of Amer­i­cana. While it later achieved the coup of cast­ing Ruth Negga as a brit­tle, boy­ish Ham­let, fac­ing im­pos­si­ble odds to re­store jus­tice to a vastly cor­rupt court, it was Druid’s Richard III that seemed to bet­ter ex­pose the mech­a­nisms be­hind tyranny.

When even come­dies and mu­si­cals skewed bleak, from Fion­tan Lar­ney’s im­pres­sive Fringe de­but Beat to Pat Kinevane’s lat­est solo show, Be­fore, you could be for­given for think­ing there was no room for pos­i­tiv­ity.

But that wasn’t quite right. Sonya Kelly de­liv­ered glo­ri­ously funny de­pic­tions of re­la­tion­ships at cri­sis points in Druid’s Fur­ni­ture at Gal­way In­ter­na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val; new com­pany The Lo­cal Group made art­ful work about tra­di­tion and mi­gra­tion in Foyle Punt; and a strong Dublin Fringe Fes­ti­val showed burn­ing tal­ent in new works The Cat’s Mother, by Erica Mur­ray, the di­vinely funny Dream­gun Film Reads and the arch and au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal as­ser­tions of Pom Boyd’s Shame.

That last play, due for re­vival in 2019, had some con­gru­ences with Gina Mox­ley’s The Pa­tient Glo­ria, a vi­tu­per­a­tive satire of male priv­i­lege whose blun­der­buss sar­casm yielded mixed re­sults. That, how­ever, seemed like the gen­uine ex­pres­sion for an en­rag­ing and en­raged time.

Still, Anu Pro­duc­tions’ peer­less prom­e­nade show The Lost O’Casey, fea­tured at this year’s Dublin Theatre Fes­ti­val, seemed more in­struc­tive, tak­ing the char­ac­ters of a long-for­got­ten Seán O’Casey play and send­ing them skit­ter­ing through modern Dublin, a city again riven with poverty, in­equal­ity and home­less­ness. O’Casey’s pro­tag­o­nist, Nan­nie, failed by the State, promised to leave “a Nan­nie-shaped hole in the Lif­fey”, and Sarah Mor­ris’s extraordinary and in­ti­mate per­for­mance pleaded for the sim­ple dig­nity of be­ing ob­served and re­mem­bered. Maybe one day we’ll learn a les­son that lasts. But for the mo­ment, there was every rea­son to be an­gry.

Ruth Negga as Ham­let; Cil­lian Mur­phy in Enda Walsh’s Grief is the Thing with Feath­ers

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