Do you know the way to Galway International?
The rebranded Galway International Arts Festival is pointedly here, there and everywhere
John Mahoney and Penny Slusher in Chapatti
Stephen Rea and Cillian Murphy in Ballyturk
Dance of the Lobsters. Chapatti. Hallali . . . Why does so much of the programme for this year’s Galway International Festival sound so delicious? It’s as though the slogan that accompanies the rebranded festival – “A creative collision at the edge of Europe” – had been interpreted as a form of fusion cooking to tickle curious palates. As an international festival with an intimate location, though, it begs the familiar questions of globalisation, namely, how do we distinguish between what is ordered in and what is home-cooked?
Chapatti, the festival’s co-production with Chicago’s Northlight Theatre, is certainly not the best show at the festival, but it offers a neat illustration of its reach. Written by Christian O’Reilly, a locally based playwright, and delivered to the long-time, regular visitor John Mahoney last year, who ushered it into production in the US, it is as close to a definition of “Galway International” as anyone might muster, with curious consequences for its identity.
It is set in Dublin, but offers an image of Ireland through American eyes, not as an egregious cartoon, mercifully, but as a story muddled by unrecognisable accents and generic compromises: a feel-good comedy about suicidal depression. It also seems to say something about American theatre economics, a depiction of romance among older generations that chimes with the interests of the “subscriber model”, but translates as easily anywhere. It is a curious, fascinating homecoming.
Enda Walsh Land
You could say something similar about Ballyturk, perhaps, whose programme confirms its setting in precise terms: “No time. No place.” Enda Walsh is a stickler for details. It belongs, however, to a land that Walsh himself creates and densely populates – much as Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi do in the play – and its language and customs seem familiar: imprisoned people madly propping up their reality through performance, riven apart by the arrival of a stranger. This is Enda Walsh Land, and Landmark’s absorbing co-production with the festival, its second following Misterman, has made Galway its official stand-in. Wherever it goes now – Dublin, Cork and London are next – it has a fixed origin: Galway International.
Room 303, Walsh’s installation piece at the Absolut Festival Gallery, might have sounded at times like a placeless companion piece, in which Niall Buggy’s disembodied voice wonders about the inner lives of flies (as they do in Ballyturk) and draws hapless comparisons to a human’s brief innings. Yet I am quite entranced at how specific places can seem just as universal. “You remember it. You were there,” says Raymond Scannell of Sir Henry’s nightclub, Cork’s long-shut hard house venue, and the fulcrum for his beautifully elegiac ode to a nation in transition. Actually, I don’t and I wasn’t, but the vividness of his performance has me utterly convinced.
That may also be why, in the Festival Big Top, a rock concert of raw, driving emotion played by – who else? – The National finds it easy to dissolve borders. Which National anthem is this, you wonder occasionally, before identifying the hook. You could be anywhere. And to feel that way, paradoxically, you have to be there.