The young ones: brave new writing takes over Irish theatres
Irish theatre is bursting with energy – but youth is all these artists have in common
‘Boys and Girls’ by Dylan Coburn Gray
Shaun Dunne in ‘I Am a Homebird’
Let’s lay most of the criticisms of theatre being created by young theatre makers on the fist-thumping table: they are arrogant; post-dramatic form papers over the cracks; they can’t write stories; it’s just a bunch of twentysomethings talking about themselves; the work is self-indulgent and with a sense of entitlement.
This is mostly nonsense. But does “young” theatre in Ireland have a distinctive voice or direction? And what kind of form appeals to contemporary writing and devising? One thing for sure is that there is a lot of theatre being made by young people right now. The Dublin Fringe Festival favours novelty, but in 2013 it was full of kids – in a good way. Dublin Theatre Festival occupies a different sort of space, yet the young and established Shaun Dunne has written I’ve To Mind Her, presented by Dublin Youth Theatre and directed by Gary Keegan.
Dylan Coburn Gray, who won the Fishamble New Writing Award at the Fringe for Boys and Girls, has theatre practitioners for parents. You could not get more “young theatre” than this production, and, according to Irish Times theatre critic Peter Crawley, it soared. “To the hand-wringers who see the slow death of culture in each new generation grinding art into mulch or, worse still, letting their powers of creation begin to sag under cheap communications of LOLs and hashtags,” Crawley wrote, “this stunning Dublin hymn makes it seem like sour grapes. If you want brave new writing, here is your salvation.”
Coburn Gray joined Dublin Youth Theatre when he was 16 and wrote a piece for them when he was 20. “It’s only in the last year and a half or so that the switch has gone from being a musician making theatre to being a theatre maker who plays music.”
He is clearly enamoured with theatre, flying through lists of shows that informed him as a youngster. As for now? “The people who agitate loudly get the most press. That doesn’t mean that’s all that’s out there,” Gray says, citing the diversity of productions at the New Theatre.
TheatreClub barges in
A company that shouts very loudly indeed is TheatreClub. “When we started, we barged our way in and insisted,” says Shane Byrne of TheatreClub, also made up of Grace Dyas and Doireann Coady.
“We cared lots about making things contemporary, and we cared about form, but we were also interested in the social aspect of it and what theatre means to us. We felt a personal power that you gain from theatre – what it can do for you.
The divide between “established” and “emerging” theatre is also blurring. “I don’t understand when you’re supposed to be established. It’s okay for us all to be different,” says Byrne. “There’s room for everyone at the table. It’s okay for everyone to have different aesthetics. There are people who want to put on a play, and they wear costumes and it’s set in 1910, and it’s not about the economy – it’s a love story. There are other people who want to put on a show and get into a balloon and paint themselves blue. It’s hard to describe what’s going on right now. I feel excited.”