Seeing the city in a different light
Cork Midsummer Festival is taking audiences into odd spaces, from the Barry’s Tea factory to hotel rooms that need cleaning, with a theatrical programme that almost feels like a constant work-in-progress, writes PETER CRAWLEY
AT FIRST, THE Argentinian director Gerardo Naumann is hard to spot among several figures in high-visibility vests and white paper hats, all busy on the assembly line of the Barry’s Tea factory in Cork. When I find him he is quietly assembling a stack of tea boxes on a wooden palette, contemplating the structure as though it were a puzzle. He asks Greta McKensie, the general production-line operative, about the precise gaps that must be left between the boxes, and for a while it is hard to tell who is supervising whom.
Rehearsals for his production La Fábrica (The Factory), to be performed here for visiting audience members, resume shortly after, and Greta, wearing a collar microphone so we can hear her over the noise of industry, begins to assemble her story.
Working as she speaks, Greta talks about the specifics of the job, her co-workers, her life and her thoughts about the product as it leaves Cork for, potentially, anywhere in the world. “I’m the last person to touch the box before they do,” she tells us. “I’ll never see them and they’ll never see me.” During Greta’s section, one of several speeches delivered by Barry’s Tea employees in situ, it dawns on you that were it not for this performance, we would never see her either. That, though, is one of the aims of Ciudades Paralelas (Parallel Cities), a programme of eight events taking place in various “functional spaces” around Cork, curated by the Argentinian theatre-maker Lola Arias and the German theatre-maker Stefan Kaegi – to make the invisible visible, to show the city in different lights.
It is also why, during this year’s Cork Midsummer Festival, you may find yourself following a choir as they sing Renaissance liturgy through Cork Courthouse in Christian Garcia’s In The Name of The People. Or why you may peep through the windows of two houses on St Patrick’s Hill at night to spy on their residents for Dominic Huber’s Prime Time. Or read from giant displays in Kent Station as they spiel out imaginative commentary about the commuters below during Mariano Pensotti’s Sometimes I Think, I Can See You. Then move briskly through the Maldron hotel rooms as you learn the stories of those that clean them in Lola Arias’s Chamber Maids.
Tom Creed, delivering his first programme as director of Cork Midsummer Festival, first saw these pieces last year in Zurich and considered the performances “an extraordinary gift for me as a visitor; to have a kind of backstage tour of the city. I imagined what it might be like for a festival to present its own city to its own people in that way.”