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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 16, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

    We’re back – and we have the theatrical scars to prove it

    Laurence Mackin

    The arts blog has been on hiatus for the past few weeks, while dealing with the Absolut Fringe and, more recently, the Dublin Theatre Festival, over on the Festival Hub blog. We’re now wrapping the Hub up in its velvet curtains and carefully storing it for future use, but before we do, here’s one last look at the past few weeks’ activity.

    I finished my festival season with the DruidMurphy cycle – and what a way to end more than a month of productions. This was a superlative series of shows, with hardly a chink in its armour, and proved again that Druid and Tom Murphy are in a class of their own.

    Anu Productions delivered its own knockout blows with The Boys of Foley Street. At some stage, Louise Lowe and Co will have to stop traumatising their audiences, but when the experience is this enthralling, no one will complain. Superlative work of the highest order.

    Much of the pre-festival hype, particularly when it came to the Irish shows, was around Dubliners and The Talk of the Town. The former took Joyce at his most comedic and ran with it, which proved a riot with some, and grated with others. Expect this production to find further leases of life, here or abroad.

    The Talk of the Town lived up to its name – its initial run rapidly sold out and was extended beyond the festival proper. The jury is still out, though, on whether it was a critical success. Maeve Brennan’s life is a fascinating, fractured thing so the production was always going to have to limit its focus. Many people I spoke to were puzzled at the elements Emma Donoghue chose to focus on – and indeed the colourful parts she chose to omit – and an all-too-neat ending left a cloying taste in the mouth.

    One major disappointment of the festival was Public Face III, which failed to light up our lives. The installation fell foul of those damned “technical issues” – a shame on a par with the Fringe’s problems with Fergal McCarthy’s Word River, which apparently failed to get planning permission and had to be cancelled.

    Tristan und Isolde represented a very ambitious undertaking by all those concerned. Wagner in Ireland for the first time in decades, in a production that was pulled together in just six months, by a brand new opera company, with a huge amount of funding at stake? It couldn’t possible succeed, could it? It could, and what’s more it soared.

    Of the foreign shows that came to town, it was the Wooster Group’s first performance in Ireland that was bating the most breath. Hamlet proved a tricksy high-wire act of multimedia mimicry that did its best to disconcert an audience well used to dealing with demanding productions – whether you loved it or hated it, you almost certainly had to see it.

    By the interval I really couldn’t figure out where I stood with Hamlet, but as the play wound to a close, I found the staccato rhythm relaxed just enough to let the text and performances breathe. It was a virtuosic performance – but it could well have turned any infrequent theatre-goers off for life.

    It was another New York company that was stealing the plaudits among the international brigade – Elevator Repair Service rolled into town with The Select (The Sun Also Rises), a furiously energetic adaptation of Hemingway’s novel. This was a full blooded, powerhouse of a production that kept the core strengths of the novel intact without being slavish to the source material. Another short-run wonder was Miet Warlop’s Mystery Magnet, which, without a script or indeed anything approaching logic which the audience could grab on to, stretched the limits of what could be done in a theatre space using smoke, mirrors, gallons of paint and a restless imagination.

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