Cork Midsummer brings it all back home
This year’s Cork Midsummer Festival puts the city on stage. So who will be left to watch it, and will it amount to more than the sum of its parts?
Scannell’s new play looks at the near-fabled Sir Henry’s bar and nightclub, once heralded by dance music bible Mixmag as one of the top clubbing destinations in the world and now just a faded glowstick of memory from 10 years ago. Combining documentary material (interviews with its leading figures, smiley face footage from the dancefloor and stern Primetime reports about Ecstasy use) with the story of a 35-year-old character called Deep House Junkie, Scannell’s piece may sound like a nostalgic exploration of heedless times, but it contains a political charge.
“Cork was pretty grim in the early ’90s,” says Scannell, “losing people through emigration, a place where nothing was going on. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, came the second summer of love and the rise of Acid House in the UK. Cork seemed to do it in its own way.” The venue’s closure in 2003, he points out, roughly coincided with the introduction of the euro: “Just as the club was closing a different kind of excess was on the way. A generation of ravers would finally find themselves in negative equity, slaves to subprime mortgages rather than sub-bass.”
Scannell isn’t the first person to use the rave generation as a political metaphor – the Scottish performer Kieran Hurley did something similar last year with his play Beats – but there’s something revealing about this nostalgia for a time of social and artistic cohesion. Local powerhouse Corcadorca (who stage Ní Riain’s intimate and poetic monologue play The Tallest Man in the World this year) unleashed Enda Walsh’s extraordinary Disco Pigs in 1996, essentially igniting the “Cork school” which counts writers such as Ursula Rani Sarma (a blow-in from Clare), Lynda Radley and Scannell among its alumni. “It’s both a matter of Cork pride, and also a nostalgia for a kind of being together that became a little bit more fractured afterwards,” Creed says of Deep, although he could as easily be describing the art scene. It also hints at the importance of continuity in his festival.
“I’ve seen the impact the festival can have,” says Creed, “as a validation, as a platform, as an opportunity to take risks where the audience might be prepared to see something unfamiliar. I’m very keen to provide the kind of opportunities that the festival provided for me and for other artists.”
Indeed, this year’s programme contains work from various former protégés of the festival. The choreographer and performer Ruairí Donovan began his career at the festival in 2005 and subsequently co-curated the Solstice platform for emerging artists for two years. We Live Here is, to some extent, a continuation of those efforts and it’s encouraging to see new work from Makeshift Ensemble and Creative Connections, both of which grew out of previous festival projects.