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
There’s lots of “rude mechanicals” comedy in The Taming of the Shrew, and the Globe women played it to the hilt. (Hilt. Geddit?) Verbal gags, puns, sometimes a single raised eyebrow – the proximity of the stage to the tiered seating made facial gestures particularly effective – it was hilarious, and beautifully done.
I still found it seriously depressing. It wasn’t just that I had, long before that final speech from the “tamed” shrew about putting her hand under her husband’s foot, lost all feeling in my own feet. It was that it came at the end of a long day devoted, thanks to the variety of intellectual stimulation on offer at Kilkenny Arts Festival, to thinking counter-cultural thoughts.
The day began with a “Walk and Talk” with Bob and Roberta Smith - who is actually just one man, Patrick Brill. He brought a large and disparate group on a walking tour of his various art exhibits around the Marble City. An “art school” at the Heritage Council Community Rooms invites people to make their own art, with various prompts to help, including an onion installation inspired, the artist explained, by Father Ted. “Small onion: far away . . . ”
The bishop’s robing room at the back of St Canice’s has been transformed into an atelier for the Jewish feminist philosopher Hannah Arendt – who is there in person, along with her books. At Rothe House, a soapbox invites all comers to have their say about anything that ails them, and record it for posterity.
In his candy-pink shirt, green flowery jacket and pork-pie hat, Bob and Roberta is the living image of an artist. He’s irreverent and devoted to disorder, but gentle and good-humoured and easy to be around. Along the river, his series of flags pose open-ended questions. What is Good? What is the Troika? One child, he tells us, answered the latter question with “It’s a box that you put money in”.
To a child raised with the tradition of a Trocaire box, it’s an easy mistake to make. Or was it a mistake? “Actually, when you think about it,” says Smith, with a twinkle, “it’s pretty close to the mark.”
In the afternoon, the 2013 Hubert Butler lecture at St Canice’s was given by the humanist philosopher AC Grayling, who preached not his trademark atheism but the gospel of reading – which was fine by his obviously literate audience. He was reluctant to offer advice on specific books but when pressed by interviewer Olivia O’Leary, he suggested Jane Austen, Homer’s Odyssey, Don Quixote and Steinbeck’s The Winter of Discontent.
Grayling also – as a kind of jokey leitmotif – advocated reading in the bath. Does anyone seriously have time to read in the bath any more? Does anyone even have time to have baths any more? What does it all mean? Can you think open-ended counter-cultural thoughts if you can’t feel your feet? Is it any wonder I ended up staggering around Kilkenny on Saturday night, tired and emotional? At least I wasn’t arrested. Imagine trying to plead “too much imbibing of Shakespeare” to the guards around here. Although I suspect they’ve heard worse.