Books in the bath, dancing from Dusk till dawn and other Kilkenny attractions
The Taming of the Shrew is a ghastly play but, like much else at Kilkenny Arts Festival, it’s handled with wit and made wonderful
Four-year-old Ruadhan Collier explores Miracoco, a luminarium designed by Architects of Air UK as part of of the Kilkenny Arts Festival. Photograph: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland
It began at St Canice’s Cathedral in August 1974. In those days the festival known as “Kilkenny Arts Week” was made up of mostly classical music, with an ancillary programme of poetry readings and visual arts. The festival has changed in the 40 years since. So has classical music. So, for that matter, has Kilkenny. What hasn’t changed is the variety and quality of the material on offer. Spend three days at Kilkenny Arts Festival in August 2013, and here’s what you can do and see.
Friday: Sex in the Cathedral
This year’s opening concert at St Canice’s was a solo gig by Neil “Divine Comedy” Hannon, whose cheeky rhymes and quirky love songs certainly wouldn’t have been on the musical menu 40 years ago. With just a guitar and a grand piano, Hannon charmed his capacity audience by offering snippets from a guidebook to the cathedral as he voyaged through his back catalogue, from Your Daddy’s Car from 1993’s Liberation, through old favourites Everybody Knows That I Love You, Generation Sex and That Theme from Father Ted all the way up to The Complete Banker, Assume the Perpendicular and At The Indie Disco from his 2010 album Bang Goes The Knighthood.
A tribute to the music of his youth, the latter offers the line: “Give us some Pixies and some Roses and some Valentines . . . ” Hmm. Maybe music hasn’t changed all that much. One way or another, everyone came out of St Canice’s on Friday night with big smiles on their faces.
Saturday: the girls in their summer clothes
It was a very different story on Saturday night, trudging home from Shakespeare’s Globe On Tour’s The Taming of the Shrew, performed outdoors to a crammed Castle Yard at Kilkenny Design. It’s a three-hour play; and despite the generally balmy temperatures of summer 2013, when you sit for three hours outdoors on an Irish August night, you get very, very cold.
So thank you, thank you, thank you to the people who were sitting in the same row as me, who arrived with sleeping bags, flasks of soup and a glorious woolly blanket that they insisted on pulling over my knees. You saved my life, guys.
My spirit was a different matter. The Taming of the Shrew is a ghastly play. You can either read it as profoundly misogynistic, or as so obviously farcical that it’s actually a feminist statement in reverse. (Great choice, Willie – thanks.) This touring production boasts an all-female cast; so you have women dressing up as men and striding about the stage being cruel to, and disparaging about, women.
Did that make a difference? Yes, it did. Did it make a point about gender stereotyping? Yes, it did. Were the female actors hugely accomplished, not just in the delivery of Shakespeare’s lines but in producing a range of musical accompaniments from raucous folksong to ballsy jazz? Yes, and twice yes.